December 19, 2009

$2 bill: Twice as nice

At the last Big Quiz Thing, someone paid part of the admission with a $2 bill. One from the 1976 printing, even, and in immaculately crisp condition. I never noticed how much this picture of Thomas Jefferson looks like John Mellencamp.

Another BQT first. As you know, the $2 is a rare bird, although they are still officially in circulation (meaning the Federal Reserve doesn't tear them up when it gets them, like the $500 or $1,000 or evidence of alien landings). Turns out, most of the $2 bills out there are from '76, when the government redesigned it and pushed the bill to honor the bicentennial. ($2 equals 200 pennies—bit of a stretch.)

There are a handful of stories about the $2. One might take some interest in the discussion of why no one uses them; I imagine it has something to do with bullshit American intractability. But apparently, they're experiencing something of a revival at smarter strip clubs, which give them as change to encourage more profitable tipping. Then this factoid: The $2 bill is the only active American currency featuring images of more than one President (Jefferson and Adams—future Big Quiz Thing question!). And of course, Snopes.com fans, there are the amazing but true tales of dingbat cashiers who refuse to accept them and insist they're counterfeit. Finally, and this is one of the few bits of knowledge I've retained from three tortuous years at Jefferson Elementary School, there's something interesting on the reverse: It's a reproduction of John Trumbull's painting The Declaration of Independence, depicting the signing thereof.
Take a glance underneath the table at right (where the signing is happening), and notice the foot just to the right of the tablecloth corner nearly touching the floor.
Hmm… Whose foot is that? Logic would dictate it's paired with the one immediately to our left of it, and thus belongs to Jefferson, but while the tall Virginian was a fantastically talented guy, most historians agree he could not bend his knee to make his leg shaped like a lightning bolt. Maybe Robert Livingston, to Jeff's right, is doing an extreme plié, but probably not. So what's the deal? Government conspiracy? Foil for counterfeiters? Crappy printing? Most likely the latter, especially based on Trumbull's painting, which makes it crystal clear that the foot is Tommy J's.

So hey, who gave me the $2 bill? Where did you get it? Let's do a little mini Where's George? experiment.

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