The Two Dollar Bill
Not an Urban Myth
Originally introduced in July 1862, the Two Dollar Bill has seen very little circulation during its history as legal US currency. This has lead to many urban legends, tall tales, and for some, allegations of counterfeiting. But in fact, the Two Dollar Bill is legal and still printed by the Federal Reserve. Learn all about this unusual piece of US currency!
A brief history of the $2 bill
Contrary to what some people might believe, the two dollar bill is a real denomination in US currency. The two dollar bill was first used by the US Federal Government in July of 1862 and was continuously used until 1966, when the United States Notes (the class of currency the bill was assigned to) began to be discontinued.
Initially, the two dollar bill was not reassigned to Federal Reserve Note class of United States currency, due to the Treasury Department noting that it was unpopular and rarely used. When the United State's Bicentennial came around in 1976, two dollar bill printing was resumed and the bill received assignment as a Federal Reserve Note as well as a new design on the back.
The two dollar bill is still in continuous circulation today. Because demand for the bills is low enough that one printing can be circulated for many years, the two dollar bills you see these days are ones printed from the 1976 Bicentennial series. When the Federal Reserve Banking System runs low on its current supply of $2 bills, it will submit an order to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which will then print more and add them to the current circulation.
Rare But There!
Have you ever had/seen a $2 bill?
The Art $2 Bill
Changes over the years
The art of the two dollar bill also has a rich history. The obverse (front) of the two dollar bill originally featured a portrait of Alexander Hamilton in profile, when it was originally issued as Legal Tender in July of 1862. In 1869 the two dollar bill was redesigned to feature former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson; this design (excluding the elements of a Federal Reserve Note) was first adopted in 1929, making it the oldest design in the history of US Currency.
Around this time, the reverse (back) of the two dollar bill featured an engraving of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate. During the United States Bicentennial, the reverse design was changed to John Trumbull's depiction of the drafting of the United States Declaration of Independence. This makes the two dollar bill the only U.S. Currency note that features two Presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only two future presidents to sign the Declaration.
The Design of the $2 Bill
Changes in size and design
During its history, the two dollar bill has come in several sizes and versions. Prior to 1928, it was issued as a Legal Tender Note. It was roughly 7.4218" in length and 3.125" in height. In 1869, when the bill was redesigned, it received the designation was a Treasury Note even though it was a United States Note.
In 1886, the first $2 Silver Certificate with a portrait of United States Civil War General Winfield Scott Hancock was issued. Another version of the $2 Silver Certificate was released in 1891, featuring a portrait of U.S. Treasury Secretary William Windom.
The famous "Educational Series" $2 Silver Certificate was issued in 1896. The entire obverse of the note was covered in artwork with an allegorical figure of science presenting steam and electricity to commerce and manufacture. The reverse of the note featured portraits of Robert Fulton and Samuel F. B. Morse surrounded by an ornate design that occupied almost the entire note. Only three short years later, in 1899, the $2 Silver Certificate was again redesigned with a small portrait of George Washington surrounded by allegorical figures representing agriculture and mechanics.
From 1929 on, when all United States currency was changed to its current size (6.14" long by 2.61" tall) the $2 bill was only kept as a United States Note. The obverse featured a cropped version of the original portrait of Thomas Jefferson that had been seen on prior $2 bills and Monticello on the reverse.
As part of the United States Bicentennial celebration in 1976, the note was redesigned and issued as a Federal Reserve Note, this time featuring an engraved rendition of John Trumbull's The Declaration of Independence on the reverse.
Rarity of Use = Cause for Confusion
Have you ever seen a $2 bill?
Contrary to what you might have heard from a friend or read online, the two dollar bill has not been removed from circulation and is still a legal denomination of United States paper currency.
The problem lies with the fact that its circulating numbers are far lower then that of the standard denomination bills ($1, $5, $10, etc) and the Federal Reserve system does not request printing runs of $2 bills as often as the aforementioned. Under 1% of all notes currently produced are $2 bills.
The Series 2003 $2 bill was the last printed and bears the names of former Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snow and Treasurer Rosario Marin. As of April 30, 2007 there were $1,549,052,714 worth of two dollar bills in circulation worldwide.
Paying with a $2 bill?
Have you ever had trouble paying with a $2?
Urban Legends and Tall Tales
Surrounding the $2 Bill
Scarcity in circulation of the two dollar bill has caused an overall lack of public awareness to its existence. Most children these days have never seen one with their own eyes. This "rarity" has inspired countless legends and stories about the two dollar bill
Snopes.com has documented stories in which patrons have tried to use the two dollar bill to pay for items or food only to have the cashier accuse them of counterfeiting. Their belief that the two dollar bill is fake has led to tense circumstances, including involvement of the police and the Secret Service in order to clear up the confusion.
The two dollar bill is also not as "rare" as some might want you to believe. Most current two dollar bills are too common to make them collectible items. Conversely, all small-sized two dollar United States Notes with a red seal and older large size notes are obsolete and are collectibles.
If you want to see a two dollar bill for yourself, you can acquire one by request at most banks. Or you can visit Monticello where, appropriately, two dollar bills given as change at the gift shop.