United States two-dollar bill

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Image:US $2 obverse.jpg Image:US $2 reverse.jpg

The United States two-dollar bill ($2) is a denomination of U.S. currency. Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson is featured on the obverse of the note. The painting The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull is featured on the reverse. The current reverse and obverse (with features of a Federal Reserve Note) have been used since 1976.

In spite of its relatively low value, the two dollar bill is one of the most rarely-seen denominations of U.S. currency. This is partially due to the low production of the note; approximately 1% of all notes produced today are $2 bills. Two dollar bills aren't frequently reissued in a new series like other denominations. This is because bills are printed according to demand. 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. Demand for $2 bills is low enough that one printing can last for many years. There is still a large supply of series 1976 bills that have not been circulated.

When the current note was first issued in 1976, it was met with general curiosity, and was seen as a collectable, not as a piece of regularly circulating currency, which the Treasury intended it to be. The main reason it failed to circulate was that businesses never really requested them as part of their normal operations to give back out in change. This failure is linked to the gradual disappearance of the former $2 note, the $2 United States Note, featuring Monticello on the reverse, printed and issued from 1862 to 1966.

United States Notes were issued under the requirement that no more than $300 million worth were to be in circulation at any one time. The continued growth of the nation made this number a hindrance. Since $2 bills were only printed as United States Notes, they gradually disappeared from everyday use, and came to be treated as novelties.

When the $2 United States Note was discontinued with Series 1963A, this negligibility and general non-use was cited by the Treasury Department as their reason for not issuing a replacement $2 Federal Reserve Note at the time.

It is still a common perception that the $2 bill is rare, and when the general public encounters them, the bills are frequently hoarded and not circulated. According to the Treasury, they "receive many letters asking why the $2 bill is no longer in circulation." [1]. In response, the Treasury states: "The $2 bill remains one of our circulating currency denominations. According to BEP statistics, 590,720,000 Series 1976 $2 bills were printed and as of February 28, 1999, there was $1,166,091,458 worth of $2 bills in circulation worldwide."

Many have reasoned that the only way for this self-perpetuating cycle to end and for the $2 bill to be accepted would be for the $1 bill to be removed from circulation and replaced by the $1 coin. The American public's general disapproval of the $1 coin could possibly spur renewed interest in the $2 bill as a more convenient alternative to receiving back more than one coin at a time. However, due to factors such as the Save the Greenback group, this seems unlikely to happen in the near future.

Though many cash registers accommodate it, its slot is often used for things like checks and rolls of coins. Few money-handling machines (such as vending machines) accommodate it, but self-checkout lanes have been known to do so, even if the fact that they are accepted is not stated on the label. Although they are not handed out arbitrarily, two dollar bills can sometimes be found at banks by request. Oftentimes if a bank has none in stock, they will order them, so long as the customer takes a certain quantity of the order. Two dollar bills are also appropriately given as change at the gift shop of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate.

All $2 bills produced today are Federal Reserve Notes. Two dollar bills are delivered by Federal Reserve Banks in green straps of 100 bills ($200). They are often packaged in bundles (10 straps/1000 bills, or $2000) for large shipments, like all other denominations of U.S. currency.



Large size notes

(7.375 inches x 3.125 inches)

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  • 1869: The $2 United States Note was redesigned with the now familiar portrait of Thomas Jefferson to the left and a vignette of the United States Capital in the center of the obverse. This note also featured green tinting on the top and left side of the obverse. Although this note is technically a United States Note, TREASURY NOTE appeared on it instead of UNITED STATES NOTE.
  • 1874: The Series of 1869 United States Note was revised. Changes on the obverse included removing the green tinting, adding a red floral design around WASHINGTON D.C., and changing the term TREASURY NOTE to UNITED STATES NOTE. The reverse was completely redesigned. This note was also issued as Series of 1875 and 1878.
  • 1880: The red floral design around WASHINGTON D.C. on the United States Note was removed. This note was also issued as Series of 1917.
  • 1886: The first $2 Silver Certificate with a portrait of United States Civil War General Winfield Scott Hancock on the left of the obverse was issued.

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  • 1890: Two dollar Treasury or "Coin Notes" were issued for government purchases of silver bullion from the silver mining industry. The reverse featured large wording of TWO in the center and a numeral 2 to the right surrounded by an ornate design that occupied almost the entire note.
  • 1891: A new $2 Silver Certificate was issued with a portrait of U.S. Treasury Secretary, William Windom in the center of the obverse.
  • 1891: The reverse of the Series of 1890 Treasury Note was redesigned because the treasury felt that it was too "busy" which would make it too easy to counterfeit. More open space was incorporated into the new design.
  • 1896: The famous "Educational Series" Silver Certificate was issued. 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 Morse surrounded by an ornate design that occupied almost the entire note.
  • 1899: The $2 Silver Certificate was redesigned with a small portrait of George Washington surrounded by allegorical figures representing agriculture and mechanics.
  • 1918: The only large-sized, Federal Reserve Note-like $2 bill was issued as a Federal Reserve Bank Note. Each note was an obligation of the issuing Federal Reserve Bank and could only be redeemed at the corresponding bank. The obverse of the note featured a borderless portrait of Thomas Jefferson to left and wording in the entire center. The reverse featured a World War I battleship.

Small size notes

(6.125 inches x 2.625 inches) Image:US-Series-1953-$2-Obverse.png Image:US-Series-1953-$2-Reverse.png Image:US $2 bicentennial.jpg

In 1929, when all U.S. currency was changed to its current size, the $2 bill was kept only as a United States Note. The obverse featured a cropped version of Thomas Jefferson's portrait that had been on previous $2 bills. The reverse featured Jefferson's home, the Monticello. The note's seal and serial numbers were red. The Series of 1928 $2 bill featured the treasury seal superimposed by the United States Note obligation to the left and a large gray TWO to the right.

In 1953 the $2 bill received design changes analogous to the $5 United States Note. The treasury seal was made smaller and moved to the right side of the bill; it was superimposed over the gray word TWO. The United States Note obligation now became superimposed over a gray numeral 2. The reverse remained unchanged.

The final change to $2 United States Notes came in 1963 when the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse over the Monticello. And, because dollar bills were soon to no longer be redeemable in silver, WILL PAY TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND was removed from the obverse. These $2 bills were officially discontinued in August of 1966.

In 1976, the Treasury Department reintroduced the $2 bill as a cost-saving measure. As part of the United States Bicentennial celebration, the note was redesigned and issued as a Federal Reserve Note. The obverse featured the same portrait of Jefferson, a green instead of red seal and serial numbers, and an engraved rendition of John Trumbull's The Declaration of Independence on the reverse. It is commonly thought that the picture on the back of the bill is the Signing of the Declaration of Independence but it is not. It could be of the Committee of Five (that wrote the Declaration of Independence) submitting it to the Second Continental Congress. It is also thought the painting is a combination of the submission of the document and the signing (neither event occurred on July 4, 1776.) First day issues of the new bicentennial $2 bills could be taken to a post office and stamped with the date "APR 13 1976". In all, 590,720,000 notes from Series 1976 were printed. The bills proved extremely unpopular and printing was stopped.

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 offers a potential counterpoint to this. Also, one could have used the redundancy argument to predict that the dime (being worth two nickels) and the $10 (being worth two $5 bills) would likewise be failures, but this has not been the case. Other, more colorful, stories about the reasons for its failure exist.

In 1996 and 1997, 153,600,000 bills were printed [2] as Series 1995 with the signatures of Robert Rubin and Mary Ellen Withrow. In 2004, 121,600,000 of the newest $2 bills, Series 2003, were printed bearing the signatures of John W. Snow and Rosario Marin. Both of these issues have the same design as the Series 1976 $2 bill.

There are currently no plans to redesign the $2 bill.

Collectible $2 bills

Most $2 bills are not collectibles

Most $2 bills are "uncommon enough to often be hard to find, but not uncommon enough to be really valuable". However, there are exceptions:

  • Bills that are Series 1963A or older (these are United States Notes, and will have a red Treasury seal and red serial numbers, as opposed to the green Federal Reserve Notes printed today, and will have no seal from an issuing Federal Reserve Bank)
  • Bills with an interesting pattern in the serial number
  • Bills with a star in the serial number (Star note)

The last two are true for most bills.

From the treasury

$2 bills

In addition to getting $2 bills from banks and less often through everyday circulation, you can also purchase $2 bills from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. One such example is the $2 Independence Note, but the note sells for several times the face value of the bill, probably because of the material it comes with and other considerations. Other special notes offered at times are much more collectible. One such example, the product $2 Evolutions, was an "uncirculated Series 2003 $2 note and $2 star note with matching low serial numbers." It completely sold out within 30 minutes of its release.

Uncut currency sheets

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Something of interest, though not truly collectible, is the uncut currency sheets that the BEP's store offers. A 32-subject (32-note) sheet costs only about $20 over the face value of all the bills in the sheet, which is $64.

Most dollar denominations can be bought in sheets, though 32-note sheets are only available for $1, $2, and $5 denominations through the BEP's website, possibly because of the high costs that would be inherent with larger denominations' sheets. Other sheets are available that have been cut from the original 32-subject sheet. These include half (16-note), quarter (8-note), and eighth (4-note) sheets for $2 bills, with prices about $10 to $15 over the face value of all the bills in the sheet.

An interesting question is whether or not bills properly cut off the sheet can be used as legal tender. The common questions section on the BEP's site does say that "the notes are genuine legal currency," but the legality is still a bit uncertain.

The two-dollar bill in American consciousness

Urban legends

Whether or not the following stories are true is unknown.

Marked money

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. This story being constantly retold reflects how some Americans view the two dollar bill.

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.

A similar story [3] involves the use of two dollar bills by Clemson University fans when their football team travels to away games. Some two dollar bills are even stamped with the school's logo, an orange tiger paw, to reinforce the message that the money came from a Clemson fan.


A different story is documented on Snopes. In the story, a Taco Bell patron attempts to pay for a burrito with a two dollar bill. The cashier and the store manager both refuse to accept it as valid U.S. currency, thinking there is no such thing as a $2 bill. When the patron insists on paying with it, they call security who then explains that $2 bills are valid U.S. currency.

Others have written in to Snopes to report similar incidents.

Documented stories

In February of 2005, [4] an annoyed patron of Best Buy was attempting to pay for an electronics installation that had been originally promised to be free, with 57 $2 bills. The cashier refused to accept them and marked them as counterfeit. The cashier then called the police and the patron was handcuffed until a Secret Service Agent arrived and straightened things out. The suspicion was supposedly caused by ink smearing on the bills which is not totally uncommon.

Folk beliefs

Two dollar bills have been considered unlucky, particularly by gamblers in the past. The origin of this idea is thought to stem from the lowest value card in a deck of cards being the "deuce." Gamblers would often tear or cut one corner of the two dollar bill when they received it in order to counter the bad luck that might occur. It was at one point not uncommon to find a two dollar bill with two, three or even all four corners torn or cut off.

Some wait-staff also have a ritual to counter the bad luck from a two dollar bill, by kissing or pretending to kiss the bill when it has been received.

Practitioners of hoodoo, a form of African-American folk magic, often see in the two-dollar bill a symbol of "reverse bad luck" -- that is, something nominally unlucky that can bring good luck. Thus it is common to tear a corner off the two-dollar bill and place it inside a mojo made with the intention of increasing good luck in gambling. A two-dollar bill may also be written upon with a monetary wish, such as "Return to Me," before being put back into circulation.

For many years during the early 20th century, two dollars was considered "whore's wages" and for this reason, the two-dollar bill acquired a reputation for good luck among some prostitutes. The blues singer Lucille Bogan, in her famous dirty blues song "Shave 'Em Dry," sang about the two-dollar bill in this connection.

Currency tracking

Approximately half a million $2 bills are entered at the American currency tracking website Where's George?. A certain niche of site users have made the $2 bill their preferred denomination, and use it frequently. An unofficial club called "Top Toms" has even appeared for those who have entered 2000 or more $2 bills into the system. The hope of the Top Toms, is to increase the circulation of $2 bills by demanding them from banks. Many of the Top Toms will also mark "This is not a rare bill." on the notes before introducing them into circulation. Several dozen people are on this list, and many more aspire for this goal.


The "History" portion of this article is adapted from the following:

  • Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money, 17th edition published by Krause Publications

The "Superstition" portion of this article was drawn from:

United States currency and coinage
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