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It's All About the Thomases

Thursday, November 9, 2006

America's little-used $2 bill, usually found in souvenir drawers, is on a roll. From mom-and-pop retailers to strip-club owners, the bill is shedding its play-money image and turning up in more and more wallets.

In 2005, depository institutions ordered $122 million in $2 notes, according to Federal Reserve statistics. That is more than double the average amount ordered from 1991 to 2000.

"We noticed the increase in demand beginning in 2001," said Michael Lambert, assistant director for cash at the Federal Reserve. That year, banks ordered $92 million in $2 notes and ever since, the orders have grown.

The bill, with a picture of Thomas Jefferson on the front, is printed by the government. The currency unit dates back to 1776, with reprintings along the way.

To the puzzlement of foreign-coin fanatics and domestic experts, the $1 bill remains far more popular, even though it's more likely to clog a wallet. At the end of 2005, $8.6 billion in $1 notes and $3.26 billion in $1 coins were in circulation, federal statistics show.

Still, $2 bill usage is increasing, with banking and currency experts not certain what is fueling the surge. A few possibilities are inflation, the introduction of the Sacagawea $1 coin in 2000, and even, according to some, immigration.

Regardless of the reason, anecdotal evidence shows that at the local level, vendors and customers are getting more comfortable with $2 bills.

One group that has embraced the note is the exotic-dancing industry. Strip clubs hand out $2 bills when they give customers their change, and the bills end up in dancers' garters and bartenders' tip jars.

"The entertainers love it because it doubles their tip money," said Angelina Spencer, a former stripper and the current executive director of the Association of Club Executives, an adult nightclub trade group.

In addition to the inflation factor, Robert Hoge of the American Numismatics Society thinks $2 bill demand may be getting help from immigration flows, particularly from Canada and Europe, where currency denominated in twos is common.

Peter Morici, professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, thinks that with the introduction of the Sacagawea, named for a famous Native American woman, people are beginning to realize an inconvenience of $1 bills. "In order to have a successful $2 bill, you have to have a successful $1 coin," he said.

-- Reuters

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