When I was a kid, my grandmother used to slip a $2 bill in my birthday card every year. I thought she was being cheap, but it turns out she was providing an easily storable asset that might have appreciated in value if I hadn’t immediately spent it on half a cup of coffee (I was a sophisticated child).
In other words: if you have a stack of $2 bills sitting around from your grandma, they might be worth significantly more than $2.
The faux-rarity of the $2 bill
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Two-dollar bills account for less than 0.001% of all currency in circulation. That sounds rare, and rarity tends to lead to an increase in value, but the scarcity of more recent $2 bills is somewhat illusionary. Older $2 bills in good condition are actually rare, and can be worth more than $1,000, but recently printed deuces are also often hoarded by some collectors who believe the bills will appreciate in value in the future because they’re so rare. But since a large number of $2 bills are being kept from circulation, it’s actually less likely that they’ll increase in value. On the bright side: they’ll always be worth at least a couple bucks.
Condition, age, and serial number determine whether a $2 bill is valuable
Whether you have a valuable two-buck depends on its condition, how old it is, and its serial number. Any misprints that find their way into private hands can be extremely valuable too.
To really determine the condition (or grade) of a piece of paper currency, take it to a professional in the money-collecting world. But as a general rule, if your bill was circulated— spent on penny candy, tickets to see Frank Sinatra, or anything else—it is likely creased, smudged, wrinkled, or worse, and will not be worth as much as a crisp, uncirculated bill. “Crisp uncirculated” is the highest grade of paper money; it describes a note that is in the same condition as when it was printed.
Even the crispest bill won’t be worth more than its face value if it was just printed. As a rule, the older the bill, the more it’s worth, but there are certain years and “special editions” of $2 bills that are of particular interest to collectors. So compare your bill’s year to U.S. Currency auction’s list to get a ballpark of what it might be worth. Keep an eye out for special printings and seal colors.
If all your bills are worth their face value, you still might be able to ring out some extra money from them based on their serial numbers. Palindrome serial numbers and repeated serial numbers are relatively rare, and can increase a note’s value. If you have a star instead of a numeral in the serial number, it’s a replacement bill, and those can be very valuable. It’s difficult to say exactly how much more valuable a desirable serial number makes a bill. As with any transaction, a piece of currency is ultimately only worth what someone else will pay you for it, but if you want to get a better idea of the likely value of your bill, take it to a qualified coin collector or paper money expert for an appraisal.
The surprisingly seedy history of the $2 bill
The current irrelevance of the $2 bill is a product of both inflation and the denominations’ seedy reputation. When the U.S. government began printing paper money in 1862, $2 was worth the equivalent of $60 today, so having a $1 note and a $2 note made sense. Later on, it just didn’t. But the “Tom” (so-called because Thomas Jefferson is printed on the front) was never very popular. It had a bad reputation from the start.
Supposedly, the bill was frequently used to pay for the services of sex workers, leading to people calling it a “whore note” in the 1920s. Also: Race tracks of the ‘30s had $2 bet windows, and would pay out in $2 bills, so if you had a wallet full of “Dirty Toms,” you might be mistaken for a ne’er-do-well or a cad. (Wait, why did my grandmother have so many $2 bills?)
The bill’s vague association with the underworld continues to this day, as it is often used in strip club to double the monetary value of anyone making it rain, and by some gun rights’ activists to signal their support for the second amendment.
Beware of spending a $2 bill
Judging people’s characters for spending $2 bills is largely a thing of the past, but it can still be a tremendous hassle. Because people in positions of authority are often stupid, there are numerous recent incidents of arrests and police investigations that began when a citizen tried to use a legit $2 bill.
Recently, a lunch lady called the police on a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Texas (which is crazy in itself) because she tried to pay for her lunch with a $2 bill. After a thorough investigation into whether the girl was committing a felony, the cops learned the bill was, in fact, legal tender. And today I learned that lunch ladies in Texas use anti-counterfeiting technology to make sure no kids buy their shitty chicken nuggets with fake money.
It’s not just kids who have been targeted. An odd dude named Mike Bolesta, who attempted to pay for a car stereo installation at Best Buy with a stack of $2 bills, wound up in hot water too. The clerk called the cops, and the cops put Bolesta in jail and held him until the Secret Service could verify that $2 bills are indeed real. It’s but one of several similar incidents mentioned in The Two-Dollar Bill Documentary, if the most serious. What I’m saying is, think before you spend grandma’s birthday gift.