The $2 bill is widely considered the black sheep of U.S.
paper currency that has never been very widely accepted by the American public,
nor as widely collected as other denominations.
As the old (but obviously incorrect) saying goes, something is said “to be fake as a $2 bill.” In fact, many
people, especially those of younger generations, think they are fake when they
see them because they have never encountered $2 bills, or hold on to them
because they seem unusual and might be valuable.
When the Continental Congress was considering the first
federally issued money, it initially authorized bills of credit in many
denominations, including $2, but only 49,000 $2 notes were authorized. The
problem is that that paper currency (not only $2 bills) was backed only by the
word of the Congress and rapidly depreciated in value. This led them to forbid paper
currency as legal tender and the issuance of only silver, copper and gold
coinage after the U.S. Mint began operations in 1792.
But during the Civil War with the federal Treasury
department on the verge of bankruptcy, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, an
abolitionist, proposed issuing legal tender notes to aid the Union’s financial
situation. Those first $2 notes from 1862, which measured 7 and 3/8th
of an inch by 3 and 1/8th featured an engraving of Alexander
Hamilton on the faceplate and ornate scrolls with “2” on the backplate.
But it took some time for paper currency to catch on because
of the widespread preference for hard currency, and banks at the time issued their
own paper bills too. Those large bills did not circulate very widely at the
time partly because the average person earned less than a dollar a day, but then
inflation eroded the value of the dollar, which increased their usage.
Other large-size deuces, as $2 bills are known, were also
issued, and starting with Series 1874 Hamilton was replaced by Thomas
Jefferson, who is still on the bills today that are for this reason also known
In 1928 the size was
reduced to 6.14 inches by 2.6 inches, and starting with Series 1928 the backplate
featured Monticello, Jefferson’s home. Until 1965 $2 notes always carried a red
seal, and since then they have had a green seal. In addition, there are scarce
blue seal $2 bills from the series 1918, which are worth from $350 in worn
condition to thousands in uncirculated state.
By the time of the Great Depression when money was scarce,
$2 bills began to be associated with superstition and also with bribes and
other criminal activity. They were used by Tammany Hall (the 19th century
Democratic Party political machine in New York City that helped socialize new
immigrants) to bribe immigrants for votes as well as in gambling and prostitution
(at the time $2 was a popular increment for such activities).
This reputation certainly did not help for the circulation
of the bills, which were actually very cost efficient for the government since it could
make half as many of them as $2 bills and since they lasted much longer (about
6 years as opposed to 18 months for $1 bills) because people were more likely
to hoard than spend them and use them for tips or as gifts.
By the early 1960s the $2 bill rarely circulated, and in
1966 it was officially discontinued because of low public demand. Overall, from
its inception in 1862 until the 1965 bills were printed, a total of 1.6 billion
This series saw the red seals on earlier $2 bills moved from
the right side to the left side of the bills. Some Series 1953 $2 bills are scarce
such as 1953-C * bills since only 360,000 were made and uncirculated examples
are worth about $100.
If a $2 bill has a star next to its serial number, that
means it is a Star Replacement Note, which are scarce and even circulated ones
are worth from $5 to $50.
These notes have been printed since 1910 to replace
misprinted or otherwise faulty notes, and the use of the star and a unique
serial number is to help the government keep track of how many bills are out
there. The number of star notes is much smaller than regular notes, which is
why they are very collectible.
In 1969 then director of the Bureau of Printing and
Engraving James Conlon suggested reissuing the bills as a cost saving device.
In 1970 a commission studying how to commemorate the upcoming Bicentennial of
the United States in 1976 with coins and medals proposed issuing a $2 bill with
a special design for the event.
In 1974 congressional legislation was introduced to print $2
Federal Reserve notes with a design emblematic of the bicentennial of the
American Revolution on the reverse, and one chose by the Treasury Secretary on
the obverse. The Federal Reserve commissioned a study that founded that while
there was no latent demand for the $2 bill, if they were issued in large
quantities, the public would use them.
On April 13, 1976, Jefferson’s 233rd birthday, the
reissuance of the $2 was effective and featured an obverse with a portrait of
Jefferson based on a painting by Gilbert Stuart, and a reverse with a scene
from the signing of the Declaration of Independence based on an 1818 painting
by John Trumball.
Jefferson remains the only person to appear on both sides of
U.S. paper currency.
How much are $2 bills worth?
$2 notes from Series 1976, 1995, 2003, 2003A, 2009 and 2013 still
circulate. In circulated condition they are only worth their face value, while
in nice uncirculated condition are worth $5-10.
The Series 1928 notes command $60 circulated and $100
uncirculated, while Series 1953 are worth $10 and $25 respectively, and Series
1963 about the same as 1953 notes.
A collection of each of those types of notes is not hard to
obtain except for the star notes.
The larger size bills issued prior to 1928 are very
collectible and even if very worn are worth $100. Uncirculated examples command
from $500 to tens of thousands and should be professionally evaluated and graded
by a service such as those offered by PMG – Paper Money Guarantee (www.pmgnotes.com), which is affiliated with
Collecting $2 bills can be a rewarding experience since many
of them were printed in much smaller numbers than other paper currency and
because of the unique role this denomination has had in American history.
This content was originally published here.
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