Paper Money

$2 denomination returns as Federal Reserve note

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 33? 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!

This Bicentennial note issue gave rise to an interesting craze in the collecting community: postally canceled $2 notes. First day of issue cachets are at the core of philately and were embraced by collectors of paper money with the introduction of the Series 1976 $2 note. These kinds of crossover collectibles were called PNCs (for philatelic-numismatic combinations or covers); they typically featured postally canceled envelopes with numismatic inserts and were particularly popular in the 1970s.

Incidentally, versions of Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence were seen on many Obsolete notes before the Bureau of Engraving and Printing rediscovered it. This has been a very popular scene from American history.

While you seldom see a $2 note in circulation, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing continues to market the issue in a variety of forms. At, the BEP’s online store, you can currently purchase $2 sheets on the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, in differing sizes of 32-note, 16-note, eight-note or four-note sheets. 

Frames not included, even though you are paying roughly $4 for every $2. 

The BEP also started selling what it called $2 Single Note Collections starting in 2009, featuring one Series 2003A $2 note from each of the 10 available Federal Reserve Banks (excluding Minneapolis and Kansas City Districts, for reasons unknown). Each note displayed a serial number beginning with “2010.” Single $2 notes were offered starting in 2012. 

Other permutations were sold, including popular Triple Deuce sets, featuring $2 notes with matching serial numbers. Special Millennium $2 notes were sold with serial numbers starting with “2000.”

Visit the BEP website for more details on these many offerings if this is your version of numismatics.

While these special notes were produced intentionally for sale to collectors, the BEP also produced incidental $2 Federal Reserve notes with strong collector interest, including star notes for replacing rejected notes. Since relatively few $2 notes are printed, $2 star notes are that much scarcer.

In conclusion, while $2 bills have been issued for more than a century, they have not been a significant federal issue — certainly not for circulation. 

I will leave numismatists with a question and a challenge. Anyone with time, quality enlarging equipment, and an inquiring mind could perform useful research by investigating the feet of the five-man Drafting Committee as portrayed on the actual painting and its appearances on notes. Something is amiss in several of the engravings! Call it a mismatch of Founding Feet to Founding Fathers, if you wish. Pundits have stated that in one version, Jefferson was standing on John Adams' foot. Your research, your call.

Finally, a quick story, drawing on the observation that collectors find the $2 note fascinating. We are not the only ones! When I was actively involved in the Boy Scouts, I always carried circulated $2 notes in my wallet for Scout purchases. Every recipient was excited to receive this unknown note — and share it with his friends. If you want to enlarge the hobby, you might consider doing likewise. 

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