The Series 2003 $2 bill carries Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and on the reverse a vignette depicting the presentation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Public domain images. Click images to enlarge.
Did you recently come across a $2 bill and wonder what it’s worth? You’re not alone… The $2 bill is one of the seemingly most unusual types of banknotes Americans have the pleasure of (occasionally) stumbling upon today. Quite often, the non-collector’s rare encounter with a $2 bill is associated with an event of good tidings – perhaps the $2 bill is a holiday gift, or it’s given to the recipient as part of a tip. However it is that the unsuspecting Joe or Jolene happens upon the $2 bill, it’s generally a moment met with at least two thoughts: “I didn’t know they made $2 bills!” and/or “what’s this $2 bill worth?”
Suffice it to say, that first thought isn’t all that uncommon, especially among our friends in the non-numismatic community. Let’s be frank here – when did you last see a $2 bill outside of a numismatic shop or banknote collection? Have you ever seen a $2 bill in regular circulation, let alone used one to pay for something? If you’re of a certain age, chances are rather good that you can say you’ve spent a $2 bill as bona fide money – and not just to give to someone as a special sort of tip or a birthday gift to a youngster.
The first $2 bills were printed under the second issue of Legal Tender Notes, produced as Series 1862. In those days, a $2 bill represented a decent sum of money – especially considering that a typical laborer in any of the big East Coast cities may have been earning about 75 cents to $1 during the Civil War era. Over time, the note saw gradually increasing use, perhaps more a function of inflation than preference for the note itself. By the middle of the 20th century, the $2 bill began falling away from common use in circulation.
Why? It didn’t help that, by that time, the $2 bill had become associated with gambling and political bribes – both deeds often done with $2 bills. Still, it wasn’t just the $2 bill’s less-than-innocent reputation that became an obstacle to the denomination’s success in circulation. It was also a matter of practicality. With other similarly denominated bills as monetarily adjacent options, most Americans preferred carrying around $1 and $5 notes instead of $2 bills.
The United States Bicentennial in 1976 was cause for the United States government to honor the nation’s 200th anniversary on banknotes, just as was being done in the mid-1970s with special designs on the quarter, half dollar, and dollar coins. The $2 bill, anchored by an obverse portrait of Thomas Jefferson, had carried a reverse motif of the president’s sprawling Virginia home “Monticello” since 1928. But, for Series 1976 the decision was made to print a famous vignette on the reverse depicting the presentation of the Declaration of Independence in 1976. The ornate design drew accolades from the numismatic community and the general American populace.
As happened with the dual-dated 1776-1976 Bicentennial coins, countless Americans began hoarding the Series 1976 $2 bills, either because these folks deemed the special notes perhaps too beautiful to spend or, maybe, they were thinking these unusual notes were more valuable than they really are. It’s safe to say that a great many non-collectors to this day mistakenly believe that modern-era $2 bills are worth more than face value. So, if you’re one of those persons who thinks the $2 bill is a valuable novelty, it may surprise you to learn that the typical, lightly circulated $2 bill encountered today is worth exactly the amount stated on the note: two dollars.
How can this be? Especially if the $2 bill is so rare…
Well… Is it really all that rare?
While the note is rarely seen in circulation today, the modern $2 bill isn’t all that rare at all. In fact, they are still printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and can be purchased for face value from the typical bank. And let’s look at the production figures of these scarcely seen notes... Billions have been printed, with well more than half a billion Series 1976 $2 notes made alone. In worn condition, these common $2 notes are worth face value. Examples in Crisp Uncirculated grades can bring $3 to $5 each – but that’s still probably a lot less than many non-collectors would imagine these pieces are worth.
There is one caveat when it comes to the valuation of modern $2 bills, and that concerns the Star Replacement Notes – those that show a little character that looks something like a star alongside the serial number. Those $2 Star Notes are scarce, and even in circulated grades can fetch $5 to $50, depending on the series and issuing bank. Older $2 bills are worth larger sums, with those of Series 1953 and 1963 trading for around $5 and up in circulated grades. Worn notes from Series 1928 trade for $10 or more. Large-Size $2 notes predating Series 1928 are worth hundreds of dollars apiece even in worn grades.
The bottom line? If you’ve got some recent $2 notes from Series 1976 or more recent sitting around – and they are worn and carry no special markings, errors, or other oddities, the have no additional monetary value above face. So, hang onto them if you like them, but you’re not throwing away your kid’s college fund if you do.
Still, one needs to practice a little due prudence before forking over a wad of $2 bills in those common, everyday transactions. Paying for lunch with a $2 bill might just land you in prison. At least that’s what nearly happened to one unsuspecting 13-year-old girl who tried paying for her school lunch with a Series 1953 $2 bill given to her by her grandmother; the makeup of the note’s fibrous “paper” material predates compatibility with anticounterfeiting test pens, and the cashier apparently had no idea the note could’ve been legitimate to begin with.
It’s no joke that those old notes look as funny as Monopoly money to many ordinary Americans these days. One Baltimore resident wound up in the pokey for paying stereo installation fees in $2 bills – notes that even the arresting police who arrived on scene believed were fake. It’s just another day in the life of the seldom-seen $2 bill and the maverick folks who attempt to spend these legal-tender oddities.
- Andres, Tommy. “Why Are There So Few $2 Bills?” Marketplace. January 9, 2005. Accessed October 29, 2020.
- Friedberg, Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg. A Guide Book of United States Paper Money. Whitman Publishing, 2016.
- Oberg, Ted. “Lunchroom Lunacy: ISD Cops Investigate $2 Bill Spent on School Lunch.” KTRK-TV ABC 13 - Houston. April 28, 2016. Accessed October 29, 2020.
- Olesker, Michael. “A Tale of Customer Service, Justice, and Currency as Funny as the $2 Bill.” The Baltimore Sun. March 8, 2005. Accessed October 29, 2020.