What happened to the $2 bills?

New York
CNN business

Inflation has made it hard to buy much with a dollar these days.

$1 pizza is gone. Dollar stores aren’t dollar stores anymore.

So wouldn’t it make more sense to start paying with $2 bills?

“If you had a $2 bill, great,” said Heather McCabe, a writer and $2 bill evangelist who runs the Two Buckaroo blog chronicling her spending sprees and the reactions of others. “It’s a very useful thing to pay a small amount.”

However, the $2 bill is the unloved child of a paper currency.

It is considered an oddity by some and despised by others in the United States. The myths surrounding the $2 bill — nicknamed “Tom” by fans because of the portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the front — are endless. Many Americans believe that $2 bills are rare, that they are no longer printed or have gone out of circulation.


The Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) will print up to $204 million in 2 bills this year, based on an annual order from the Federal Reserve System. In 2020 there were 1.4 trillion dollars worth of 2 bills in circulation, according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve.

But $2 bills represent only 0.001% of the value of the $2 trillion in circulation.

BEP doesn’t have to ask for new $2 bills every year like it does with other bills. That’s because $2 bills are rarely used and last longer in circulation. The Fed sorts them every few years and works on the inventory.

“A lot of Americans have pretty dubious assumptions about the $2 bill. Nothing has happened to the $2 bill. It’s still being made. It’s circulating,” McCabe said. “Americans misunderstand their own currency to the extent that they don’t use it.”

The United States first issued $2 bills in 1862, when the federal government began printing paper money. Alexander Hamilton’s portrait was on both until a new series with Jefferson was printed in 1869.

But deuce was not popular and never caught on with the public.

One main reason: the $2 bill was considered bad luck. Superstitious people would tear off the edges of the banknote to “reverse the curse”, making the notes unfit for use.

“Anyone who sits down at a game of chance with a two-dollar bill in his pocket is thought to have a jinx,” said a 1925 New York Times article. “They have been avoided as bad stars.”

The two were also known for keeping a controversial company. It was associated with gambling, where it was a standard bet at the hippodromes, and with prostitution.

And throughout the 19th century, friendly candidates often used $2 bills to buy voters. Someone with a $2 bill sold a vote to a crooked politician.

In the 1900s the Treasury Department tried several times without success to expand the use of the $2 bill. In 1966, he stopped printing invoices for “lack of public demand”.

But a decade later, as the United States approached its bicentennial, the Treasury designed a new series of $2 bills with a portrait of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back.

The goal was to reduce the number of $1 bills in circulation and save the Treasury in production costs.

But the relaunch in 1976 failed. People saw the new version as a collector’s item and hoarded them instead of going out and spending them.

The Postal Service only offered the stamp on April 13, the first day they were issued in honor of Jefferson’s birthday, inadvertently adding to the notion that they were commemorative notes — a misconception that persists to this day.

“The press and public now tend to associate the $2 bill with the Susan B. Anthony dollar under the blanket heading of ‘fiascos,'” said the New York Times in 1981.

There’s no rational reason why $2 bills shouldn’t be as popular as other bills, said Paolo Pasquariello, a finance professor at the University of Michigan. But people show a preference for multiples of 1 to 5, he said.

Another reason $2 bills never took off: The cash registers invented in the late 1800s were never designed to store them, so tellers didn’t know where to store them.

“There was no cash register change for $2 bills,” Heather McCabe said. “The infrastructure for paying for things did not change. How people work was not adapted to that bill.’

If cash registers had a familiar slot for the $2 bill, the bill would be more popular, he argued.

But there are people who swear by $2 bills. In fact, communities and subcultures have developed around them.

US Air Force pilots who fly U-2 spy planes always keep a $2 bill in their flight suits.

Since the 1970s, fans of the Clemson University Tigers football team have been paying $2 bills—“Tiger Twos”—at restaurants, bars, stores and hotels in other cities and towns. The tradition began as a way to prove to Georgia Tech in Atlanta that it would benefit the city to host games against Clemson.

“They have a level of fame. There is an excitement,” said American Numismatic Society curator Jesse Kraft. “But in terms of getting it back into circulation, that’s the missing key.”

Kraft is in favor of wider adoption of $2 bills.

Clemson fans mark theirs

He notes that printing a $2 bill for the Treasury is half as expensive as larger denominations, which have more expensive security features on the paper. It is also more efficient to print $2 bills than $1 bills because the Treasury can print twice the same amount and requires less storage.

John Bennardo, who made the 2015 film “The Two Dollar Bill Documentary,” has made it his mission to “educate and enlighten people and start using $2 bills in their lives.”

In short, he concludes, $2 bills are undervalued in the United States and are a way for strangers to meet and bond.

“You’ll remember if you use a $2 bill,” Bennardo said. “It has this ability to connect people in a way that other bills don’t. It opens up a conversation between you and the cashier.’

“It is a practical bill with inflation. But it is also social money.”