Inflation has made it difficult to buy much with a dollar these days.
The $1 pizza is gone. dollar stores are not dollar stores more.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to start paying with $2 bills?
“If you had a $2 bill, perfect,” said Heather McCabe, writer and $2 bill evangelist who runs the Blog Two Buckaroos recounting their expenses together and the reactions of others. “It is a very useful thing to pay for a small sum.”
Yet the $2 bill is the unloved child of paper money.
It is considered a curiosity for some and despised by others in the United States. The myths around the $2 bill – nicknamed “Tom” by fans because it features Thomas Jefferson’s portrait on the front – are endless. Many Americans believe that $2 bills are rare, no longer in print, or no longer in circulation.
The Bureau of Engravings and Printings (BEP) of the Treasury Department to print up to 204 million $2 bills this year, based on an annual order from the Federal Reserve. There were 1.4 billion $2 bills in circulation in 2020, according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve.
But $2 bills are only 0.001% of the assess of the $2 trillion of currency in circulation.
The BEP does not need to request new $2 bills each year, as it does for other bills. This is because $2 bills are used so infrequently and they last longer in circulation. The Fed orders them every few years and reduces inventory.
“A lot of Americans have pretty dubious assumptions about the $2 bill. Nothing happened to the $2 bill. It’s still being made. It’s being distributed,” McCabe said. “Americans misunderstand their own currency insofar as they do not use it.”
United States issued for the first time $2 bills from 1862, around the time the federal government began printing paper money. The portrait of Alexander Hamilton was on both until a new series was printed in 1869 featuring Jefferson.
But the devil was unpopular and never gained a foothold with the public.
One major reason: the $2 bill was considered bad luck. Superstitious people tore off the corners of the banknote to “reverse the curse”, rendering the banknotes unusable.
“He who sits in a game of chance with a two-dollar bill in his pocket is considered to be in the grip of a spell,” The New York Times said in a 1925 article. “They were avoided because they were poorly starred.”
The two were also known for their controversial companionship. It was associated with gambling, where it was the standard bet at racetracks, and with prostitution.
And in the 19th century, crony candidates frequently used $2 bills to bribe voters. Someone holding a $2 bill was thought to have sold a vote to a crooked politician.
During the 1900s, the Treasury Department made several unsuccessful attempts to popularize the use of the $2 bill. In 1966 he gave up and stopped printing bills “for lack of public demand”.
But a decade later, as the United States approached the bicentennial, the Treasury designed a new series of $2 bills with a portrait of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the reverse.
The goal was to reduce the number of $1 bills in circulation and save Treasury money on production costs.
But the revival in 1976 failed. People viewed the new release as a collectible and hoarded them instead of going out and spending them.
The Postal Service only offered to stamp them on April 13, the first day they were issued in honor of Jefferson’s birthday, unwittingly adding to the idea that they were commemorative bills – a misconception that persists to this day.
“The press and public now tend to link the $2 bill with the Susan B. Anthony dollar under the general heading of ‘fiascos,'” the New York Times said. said in 1981.
There’s no rational reason why $2 bills aren’t as popular as other bills, said University of Michigan finance professor Paolo Pasquariello. But people show a preference for multiples of 1 and 5, he said.
Another reason $2 bills never took off: cash registers, invented in the late 1800s, were never designed with a place to hold them, so cashiers didn’t know where store.
“There were no changes to cash registers for $2 bills,” Heather McCabe said. “The payment infrastructure for things hasn’t changed. There has been no adjustment in the way people work with this bill.
If cash registers had a familiar slot for $2 bills, the bill would be more popular, she 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 paid and tipped with $2 bills – “Tiger Twos” – at restaurants, bars, shops and hotels in other cities. The tradition began as a means of prove to Georgia Tech in Atlanta that it would be beneficial for the city to schedule games against Clemson.
“There is a certain degree of popularity for them. There’s a sense of excitement,” said Jesse Kraft, curator at American Numismatic Society. “But in terms of getting them back into circulation, that’s the missing key.”
Kraft is a proponent of wider adoption of $2 bills.
He notes that it is about half as expensive for the Treasury to print a $2 bill as higher denominations, which come with more expensive security features on paper. It is also more efficient to print $2 bills than $1 bills because the Treasury can print twice as much for the same amount of money and requires less storage.
John Bennardo, who made a 2015 film of about 2 dollars called “The Two Dollar Bill Documentary”, has made it its mission to “educate people, enlighten them and start using 2 dollar bills in their lives”.
In short, he concludes, $2 bills are underappreciated in the United States and are a way for strangers to meet and engage.
“You’ll remember if you use a $2 bill,” Bennardo said. “He has this ability to connect people in a way that other bills don’t. It opens up a dialogue between you and the cashier.
“It’s a practical bill with inflation. But it is also a social currency.