It’s been known as a rarity, a fake, and has had three different versions of itself. I’m speaking about the two dollar bill of course. This bill has had an interesting spot in US numismatic history, and is even the center piece to some urban legends and conspiracy theories. However, despite popular opinion, this bill is still produced and is still considered legal tender. But, why would you want to spend this rare US bill when you could keep it as a colorful historical piece of your collection. Today, I’ll be going over briefly about its history and the different versions that have sprung up over the years.

It started as a “greenback”

The first two dollar bill was printed in 1862 as a US bank note and featured Alexander Hamilton in profile in the portrait of the bill. Interesting little side fact, the term “greenback” came from these bills because of the largely green ink on the reverse of the notes. Anyway, the bill would be redesigned in 1869 to feature the portrait of Thomas Jefferson which is the same portrait used on the bill today. But, the bill wouldn’t always feature Jefferson through its lifetime.

The First Two Dollar Bill in 1862
The First Two Dollar Bill in 1862

Who is that on the 2 Dollar Bill?

Like I said above, Jefferson wouldn’t always be the one gracing the obverse of the $2 bill. In 1886 when the first $2 silver certificate was issued, Civil War general Winfield Scott Hancock, would be the man featured on the bill until 1891. In 1896, an “educational series” silver certificate would feature Samuel Morse (one of the inventors of Morse code) and Robert Fulton (inventor of the steamboat) on the reverse of the bill. The obverse contained a mythical figure bringing the science of electricity and steam to commerce and industry. Additionally, George Washington would grace the portrait of the bill in 1899.

1896 Educational Series Two Dollar Bill
1896 Educational Series Two Dollar Bill

Same bill now in smaller size

In 1928, all US bills were shrunk from their large size to the standard size we know and use today. The $2 bill was issued once again as a US bank note, with Thomas Jefferson on the obverse portrait of the bill. The bill would keep Jefferson as the portrait on the obverse and have his home Monticello on the reverse. This bill would basically stay the same, but would go through several other minor changes from its 1928 series. In 1953, the bill was brought in line to the same procedures as the $5 bill and once again was changed in 1963 before it was discontinued in ’66 however, this would not be the last time this bill would be seen.

Don’t call it a comeback!

In 1976 as a cost-saving measure and as a way to celebrate the US’s bicentennial, the two dollar bill was brought back. This new bill was printed as a federal reserve note, and featured the same portrait of Jefferson from 1928. The reverse would feature John Trumbull’s painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Superstition still surrounds this curious bill as some consider it bad luck to own or carry around a $2 bill. What I can guess where this comes from is because of the tumultuous history of the bill, but it’s just a guess. An interesting urban legend behind the bill is that Steve Wozniak buys them in sheets from the treasury department and binds them in a booklet. Interesting if it’s actually true. Well, there you have it folks, not such a mysterious bill when you spell it all out.

If you’re curious, or would like to add it to your collection. We do carry several different series of the $2 bill. Check them out!

Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.

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Great American Coin Company