Issue #245: Are $2 bills super-rare or NBD?

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July 3, 2024 • Issue #245
Dollar Scholar

Hi y’all —

The other day, I went to a drag show in Brooklyn where one of the queens mentioned that an audience member had tipped her with a $2 bill. She was shocked, and so was I: I’d always thought $2 bills were incredibly rare. In fact, I used to keep one in my wallet as a kid in the ‘90s because it felt so special.

Mentally, I’ve been putting $2 bills in the same category as $100s — obviously I know they exist, but I don’t come into contact with them often enough to view them as everyday currency.

Now, though, I’m re-evaluating that belief… and what better time to investigate a bill that features the signing of the Declaration of Independence than July Fourth?

Are $2 bills still rare? Were they ever?

Let’s start off with some history (and a fun fact for your barbecue tomorrow): Two-dollar banknotes are technically older than the United States itself. The original bills in that denomination were authorized by the Continental Congress before the Declaration of Independence was even signed.

Once formally established, the U.S. federal government first issued a $2 note in 1862. At that point, it had a portrait of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton on it. Thomas Jefferson, the third president, started appearing on $2 bills starting in 1869.

They never really took off. Despite brief bouts of popularity in the 1890s and 1940s, the $2 bill has had a pretty rough time breaking into the mainstream. For decades, its price point was associated with bribes, prostitution and gambling. The New York Times called the $2 bill “Treasury’s jinx” in 1925; more recently, CNN denounced it as “the unloved child of paper currency.”

Even the Bureau of Engraving and Printing — the Treasury Department agency in charge of printing dollars — acknowledges this reputation.

“For most of their history, $2 notes have been unpopular, being viewed as unlucky or simply awkward to use in cash exchanges,” the BEP writes in a fact sheet. “$2 notes were often returned to the Treasury with corners torn off, making them mutilated currency and unfit for reissue.”

Today at work someone paid with a 2 dollar bill and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one before, it was like a low-stakes celebrity sighting. Amazing

The Treasury actually stopped printing them in 1966 due to lack of demand, Peter Treglia, vice president and managing directory of currency at Stack’s Bowers Galleries, tells me. In 1976, $2 bills were brought back for the bicentennial, though, and that gave them a slight resurgence…

…as a collector’s item.

Today, “it’s not uncommon for them to be given as a good luck charm” or a gift from a family member, he says, but $2 bills are simply not spent in regular commerce.

There are different theories as to why, but the result is undeniable: When consumers come across a $2 bill, they tend to hold onto it. They don't use it.

So, yes, it might be unusual to spot one in everyday life — but is it rare? Nope, according to Steven Roach, numismatic educator with the American Numismatic Association, a nonprofit that encourages the study and collection of coins, paper money and related objects. He tells me flatly that $2 bills are “not rare in terms of quantity.”

Every year, the Federal Reserve Board places an order for currency from the BEP based on demand (and how much old currency will have to be destroyed due to wear and tear, design changes, etc.). The BEP then fulfills that order and delivers the banknotes to Federal Reserve cash offices, which then distribute them through banks, credit unions and the like.

During the 2023 fiscal year, the BEP produced roughly 2.4 billion $1 bills, 1.3 billion $100 bills and 882 million $5 bills.

It also made 128 million $2 bills.

Comparatively, that’s not a ton. And some years, the BEP doesn’t produce any $2 bills at all — this happened in 2021, 2020, 2017, 2018, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2002, 2001 and 2000. (Whew.)

But Roach says just because the government is printing them doesn’t mean they're out in the world changing hands at the 7-Eleven counter. According to the latest Federal Reserve data, there are 1.5 billion $2 bills in circulation.

For context, there are 14.3 billion $1 bills and a whopping 18.5 billion $100 bills in circulation.

“It's not as common as the dollar bill — or $5, $10, $20, $100 — to circulate,” Roach says. “[People] don’t see it too often, and because of that, they get the perception that it must be rare.”

Most of the bills that aren’t out in the wild are in bank vaults, which means they’re not especially difficult to get, Treglia says. All I have to do is go to the bank and request them: an accessibility that kind of takes away from the mystery of it all.

The bottom line
(but please don't tell me you scrolled past all of my hard work)

$2 bills may seem special because they’re not used in most ordinary transactions. But statistically speaking, they’re not.

“People see them, and they’re like, ‘What is this?’” Treglia says. “They're collectible simply because they’re part of U.S. history, and all money from way back in the day is collectible.”

Two Dollars Cash!
via Giphy

Receipt of the week
check out this wild celebrity purchase
Taylor Swift
via Instagram

I’m sure you’ve seen by now that Taylor Swift brought out her boyfriend, football player Travis Kelce, to perform at her concert last month in London. But did you know she also placed a hefty takeout order before the show? British media reports that Swift ordered roughly $570 worth of food from Kentish Delight, a kebab shop she used to frequent when she lived in England. Sweet like takeout, karma is a snack…

Internet gold
five things I'm loving online right now
1
Remember Smell-O-Vision? A grocery delivery startup in India just took it to the next level, putting a giant ad of its mangoes in The Times of India and then SCENTING THE ACTUAL NEWSPAPER TO SMELL LIKE MANGOES. Now if only I could figure out how to make Dollar Scholar smell like Slurpee…
2
In other mind-blowing news, a torch that helped light the flame for the 2024 Paris Olympics — which *checks notes* doesn’t start ‘til July 26 — is set to sell before the games even begin. Also included in the auction are torches from over 30 other Olympics and 75 winners’ medals.
3
I love this People piece about writer Yulin Kuang’s top beach-read-and-wine pairings. (Two of my favorite things!) A Love Song for Ricki Wilde by Tia Williams gets matched with Chardonnay Bourgogne, while The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol. 2: 1910-1921 is paired with Chablis.
5
Watching Daniel Radcliffe play with his Tony Award just made my day.

401(k)ITTY CONTRIBUTION
send me cute pictures of your pets, please
Mishka
via David Calhoun and Roneza
This is Mishka. Mishka likes to hang onto cool paw-llar bills, even if they aren’t technically rare.

See you next week.

P.S. Do you have any $2 bills stashed away? Will you be watching the Olympics? If you were an international superstar on a world tour, what would you order for dinner? Send hotdogs tjulia@money.com.

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