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Encyclopedia > United States Two dollar bill

The U.S. two dollar bill ($2) is a denomination of U.S. currency. The two dollar banknote is still one of the least-common denominations of U.S. currency. Because of its rarity, Americans remain remarkably superstitious about spending it, which further decreases its circulation. It is so rare that cash registers and other money-handling machinery (such as vending machines) do not accommodate it at all. Many Americans have never held or spent one. There are urban legends that claim some vendors have refused the bill, believing it to be counterfeit. [1] (http://www.snopes.com/humor/business/tacobell.htm)

Obverse of $2 bill
Reverse of $2 bill

While being handed a two-dollar bill at a store (as change, for example) is certainly uncommon, it is not unheard of. The surest way to obtain a two-dollar bill, however, is to go to a bank and ask for one. Some people who are otherwise uninterested in currency nevertheless collect the bills.

Two dollar bills are delivered by Federal Reserve Banks in green straps.


The first two-dollar bill in the United States was released in 1776, under a Continental United States Department of the Treasury issued a two-dollar bill at the current size, with a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the front. The 1953A series featured Jefferson on the front and Monticello on the back.

In 1976, the Treasury Department reintroduced the bill as a cost-saving measure (http://wcdc42.com/2dollar/economic_reviews.html#cost). As part of the United States Bicentennial celebration, the note was redesigned. The front featured a new portrait of Jefferson, a version of an early 19th century portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart, and the picture of Monticello on the back was replaced with an engraved rendition of John Trumbull's painting "The Signing of the Declaration of Independence". 590,720,000 notes from the 1976 series were printed. The bills proved extremely unpopular and printing was quickly stopped.

In 1996 and 1997, 153,600,000 bills were printed [2] (http://www.moneyfactory.com/section.cfm/2/51)

Many give as a reason for its failure that its value is redundant, being only twice the value of the $1. However, the fact that the $2 bill (and later coin) succeeded in Canada argues against this. Also, by that reasoning, the Dime (being two nickels) and the $10 (being two $5's) would likewise be failures.

Other, more colorful, stories about the reasons for its failure exist [3] (http://www.snopes.com/business/money/twodollar.asp)

In 1996, Series 1995 was printed. They bear the signatures of Robert Rubin and Mary Ellen Withrow. The newest bills are Series 2003, with the signatures of John W. Snow and Rosario Marin.

The Two-Dollar Bill in American Consciousness

An amusing and perhaps apocryphal story regarding two dollar bills being paid to military servicemen has circulated intermittently in American public consciousness over the years. Unfortunately, the story cannot be verified (and is quite probably false), but the fact that it is constantly retold reflects how Americans view the two dollar bill. And for this reason, it is being retold here.

The basic premise is as follows: a coastal town somewhere has a business district that, while successful financially, is plagued by uncouth Navy servicemen on shore leave. They come in, make a ruckus, get drunk, and generally upset the town's otherwise quiet atmosphere. The locals, who do not appreciate the intrusion, finally get together and lodge a formal complaint with the Navy.

The Navy, in response, decides to teach the arrogant town a lesson in economics and pays a substantial portion of its servicemen's following months' salary in two dollar bills. When the sailors subsequently descend on the town to spend their wages, the local businesses are inundated with two dollar bills; in fact, they realize that they have more two dollar bills than anything else, which certainly grabs their attention.

The message, of course, is that the Navy servicemen on shore leave might very well be boorish and intrusive, but the money they spend represents the livelihood of the store owners responsible for the letter of complaint. Needless to say, they were more patient with the sailors thenceforth.

The fact that this tactic worked, of course, is entirely a result of the two dollar bill's rarity. One dollar bills or five dollar bills would not have been so readily noticed. Two dollar bills drive the point home; there is no way they can be ignored, given that they are almost never seen.


  • The "History" portion of this article was adapted from an article (http://www.moneyfactory.com/document.cfm/18/96) at the website of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
United States currency and coinage
Topics: Federal Reserve note | United States Notes | United States coinage | United States dollar
Currency: $1 | $2 | $5 | $10 | $20 | $50 | $100 | Larger denominations
Coinage: Penny | Nickel | Dime | Quarter | Half-dollar | Dollar

  Results from FactBites:
United States two-dollar bill - Encyclopedia, History, Geography and Biography (3796 words)
The $2 bill initially wasn't reassigned to the Federal Reserve Note class of United States currency and was thus discontinued; the Treasury Department cited the $2 bill's low use and unpopularity as the reason for not resuming use of the denomination.
July 1862: The first $2 bill was issued as a Legal Tender Note (United States Note) with a portrait of Alexander Hamilton; the portrait of Hamilton used was a profile view and is unlike the portrait used currently for the $10 bill.
A documented case of using two-dollar bills to send a message to a community is the case of Geneva Steel and the communities in the surrounding Utah County.
  More results at FactBites »



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