If you were to ask numismatists which denomination of paper money is least useful, nearly all would agree: “the $2 bill.” On the other hand, if you were to ask them about their favorite current note, they would also probably answer: “the $2 bill.” In that seeming contradiction, many stories can be told about our hobby and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Is the $2 note unloved? It certainly has no home in the modern cash register!
As even novice collectors know, the $2 note is not the silliest denomination in our supposedly “decimal-based” system. We have all seen obsolete notes for 12½ cents, or 33⅓ cents, $3, $4, and a multitude of fanciful creations. Not to ignore the 15-cent fractional note.
In contrast to today, $2 bills were not uncommon in the series of large-size currency. The first federal $2 notes were issued as legal tender issues (later designated as United States notes); the Series 1862 $2 legal tender note featured a portrait of Alexander Hamilton, while the Series 1869, 1874, 1875, 1878, 1880 and 1917 all featured Hamilton’s chief rival, Thomas Jefferson. The $2 silver certificates featured Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock for Series 1886, Treasury Secretary William Windom for Series 1891, and were part of the famous Series 1896 Educational notes. The final large-size $2 silver certificate featured a small vignette of George Washington.
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In the Treasury note or coin note series, the $2 denomination made a brief appearance in the Series 1890 and 1891 issues, featuring a vignette of Gen. James McPherson, hero of the Battle of Vicksburg.
Perhaps the second-most famous large-size $2 note is the “Lazy Deuce” note issued among the First Charter national bank notes, both with the Original Series national bank notes and the Series of 1875.
Small-size notes make debut
With the issuance of small-size notes, the $2 made its first appearance as a United States note, with Jefferson on the face and his home at Monticello on its back — a proper pairing of vignettes. These were issued in the plethora of Series 1928, 1953, and 1963 issues.
A newly designed $2 release appeared in celebration of the Bicentennial as the Series 1976 Federal Reserve note, featuring the same portrait of Jefferson on the face and a shortened version of John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence painting on the Back. This, again, is an appropriate pairing, especially coinciding with America’s Bicentennial celebrations. Interestingly, a similar vignette was used previously on the back of the $100 national bank notes from the First Charter Period.
You may be shocked to discover how many dealers and auctioneers describe this painting (incorrectly) as the Signing of the Declaration. It isn’t!