When was the last time you saw a $2 bill? These rare bills are also known as “Toms,” thanks to Thomas Jefferson, whose face decorates them. So, what happened to Toms and why is it rare to spot one? And why did the government stop making a currency that actually saves us money to print?
The History of the $2 Bill
Back in 1862 the $2 bill was introduced to the world for the first time. It was printed along with the $1 bill, but during that time, paper money was a brand-new concept, so it took a while for people to warm up to it—similar to our adoption of the current dollar coin. As the Great Depression hit, the value of paper money was already way down. Since many things during that time cost less than a dollar, the $2 bill wasn’t all that practical to carry.
Tommy Andres from MarketPlace writes, “The economy recovered, but the $2 bill eventually found itself in an awkward price point—it became the perfect note for nefarious purposes. Owning a $2 bill could mean that a politician bribed you (as they were known for doing with $2 bills), you were gambling at the racetrack, or you were spending it at a brothel. Since these activities were considered scandalous, if you had a $2 bill you were viewed as trouble waiting to happen.”
In turn, the Tom got kind of a dirty reputation. Over the years, as inflation brought the value of the $1 bill and $2 bill closer and closer together it became even less necessary. It would be like having a $50 bill and a $55 bill. You probably wouldn’t use both.
Since most people did not see a use for the Tom, the government decided to stop making them in 1966. For 10 years, no Toms were produced. John Bennardo, producer, and director of “The $2 Bill Documentary,” explains that Toms actually saved the government a bunch of money. It’s more cost-efficient to print twos instead of ones. You can print half as many twos and get the same dollar amount.
In 1976, the Treasury decided it would take another shot at the $2 bill, says Andres. It would order the Bureau to print a special bill for the country’s bicentennial, with a big picture of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back. They printed 400 million bills and saved a lot of money by producing half as many ones.
Value of the $2 Bill
So, are $2 bills rare? What are they worth? All modern $2 bills are worth . . . well . . . $2, though the $2 bill is the rarest U.S. currency. Bills newer than 1963 have little or no collector value. The bicentennial bills, however, are the collector bills you see today, and the most anyone has paid at auction is $50,000—that’s a lot of $2 bills! Even those who see modern $2 bills as a collector’s item usually hand them down through family members as a cherished keepsake—which is why a bill in pristine condition may seem like it’s worth more than $2. Regardless, they became special and something to hold on to, not to use.
Roughly 1.2 billion $2 bills are in circulation right now, and they are still being printed. About 75 million came off the press in the last 18 months, but in that same time around 3 billion new $1 bills have come into the world. Out of the $1.2 trillion worth of coins and bills in circulation right now, less than 0.001% are Toms. The printing on these paper keepsakes is based on supply and demand; since fewer Toms are used, fewer Toms are made.
Creating money in the U.S. is the job of the Federal Reserve. The Fed has immense power to tweak not only printed money, but interest rates that affect the economy. Research more about the Fed and the economy by reading our blog A Quick Look at the Fed and How It Impacts You or visit the Mises Institute and the Foundation for Economic Education.
And if you want to know how to protect and grow those $2 bills (and the rest of your money), we invite you to take 2 minutes to sign up for a FREE eCourse to learn the Perpetual Wealth Strategy. You’ll receive access to video tutorials, articles, and podcasts. It literally costs you nothing to become educated on this ideal financial strategy and start building wealth.