Not so long ago people would say to me – my grandpa included – “a penny for your thoughts”. I always liked that phrase, though I was never paid for whatever was on my mind. Today you don’t hear it so much, because nothing is worth just a penny anymore. You’d be better off giving a dollar. Or two dollars. Maybe then you’d find out what people think.
The other day I was in the drive-thru lane at my bank, and the teller cashed a twenty, returning a small stack of bills – a $1, a $5, a $10… and two $2-dollar bills. I’ve seen plenty of the first three, but when was the last time you came across the double-dollar? U.S. currency may be downright boring compared to the colorful equivalents in other countries, but today I say this: the uncommon $2 is a cool bit of cash.
America’s paper money prints in just seven options today, from the $1 on up to the $100-dollar bill. Fifty years ago you could find several larger denominations ($100,000!), but the big boys were dropped from circulation to deter organized crime. Even today, the $50 and the $100 get second looks for fear of counterfeits. The lion’s share of circulating bills is the $1 on up to the $20. But the one that earns a second look? The $2.
What makes the $2 so tony? Try finding one. I asked my bank how many they have in the drawer at any given time. They said none. In fact, I didn’t just get my couple of $2’s – I had to ask for them – and the teller had to go back to the vault to find them. The $2 just isn’t in demand anymore – hasn’t been for a long time. The U.S. Mint stopped printing $2’s in 1966, but thanks to America’s bicentennial, started the presses again in 1976. The most recent printing of the $2 was 2016 – almost 200 million – but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the U.S. currency clan. If you could shake the globe over a big basket, you’d find 40 billion U.S. bills in circulation right now. But the overlooked $2 represents less than 0.5% of the lot.
I like the $2 because of its unique look. Thomas Jefferson is on the front – oval-framed as in a portrait (only George on the $1 has the same look). The words “Federal Reserve Note” curve gracefully over TJ’s head; on all other bills those words are in a mundane straight line. Finally, the $2 is the only bill without a building on the back, like the Lincoln Memorial or the White House. Instead, you have an edge-to-edge top-to-bottom rendition of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (replacing TJ’s Monticello home from earlier versions).
The two-dollar bill has several chapters of urban legend much more colorful than other denominations. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak purchases $2’s in uncut sheets; then has them perforated and glued like a Post-It pad. He enjoys tearing off several for tipping. U.S. Air Force pilots of the U-2 spy plane keep a $2 in their flight suit; a sort of badge of distinction. $2’s are often used by gun rights activists to show support for the Second Amendment. The website Where’s George? keeps track of the circulation of over five million registered $2’s.
Despite my enthusiasm for the buck-buck, it’s not without its challenges. The $2 is not accepted at most vending machines. The common misconception the $2 is no longer circulating leads to suspicion of counterfeiting. Two years ago at Christa McAuliffe Middle School in Texas, a 13-year-old was denied lunch privileges for using a $2 at the cafeteria window. A man in Baltimore was jailed for using $2’s to pay for a purchase at Best Buy.
My couple of $2’s will stay with me a little while, at least until the novelty wears off. Maybe I’ll spend one of them just to see what happens. Maybe I’ll return the other to the bank vault for safekeeping. Today’s lesson; there’s more to American money than fives, tens, and twenties. $2’s have a place at the U.S. currency table as well, just as they did when first minted in 1862.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.