All About the Hamiltons

One of the most popular names in America today was overlooked for decades until an unlikely pop culture sensation revived his legacy: Alexander Hamilton. In fact, our first Secretary of the Treasury was due to be removed from the $10 bill until his resurgence in popularity following the 2015 debut of the eponymous Broadway hit. The faces on United States bills have remained the same since 1929 (see a bill from that year here), when it was decided that faces of “permanent familiarity” should be the ones depicted. But that is about to change.

On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, the Treasury announced their intention to keep Hamilton on the $10, and replace Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 instead. How did a Secretary of the Treasury become so popular, and how has Hamilton’s life shaped America’s money?

As anyone familiar with the hit musical and Grammy-winning cast album can tell you, Alexander Hamilton was born out of wedlock “in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean,” only to leave his humble beginnings behind to pursue education on the mainland. Finding himself caught up in the revolutionary whirl of 1770’s New York, Hamilton soon distinguished himself through military strategy and oratory, eventually becoming Washington’s trusted aide-de-camp. During the war, Hamilton also devoted himself to the study of finance, developing a wealth of knowledge that quickly made him the forerunner for the new office of Secretary of the Treasury in the up-and-coming United States. Hamilton’s daring plan to have the new Federal government assume the states’ war debts put him at odds with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and several other Founding Fathers, though his ideas won out in the end. Hamilton did not live to see the long-term effects of his financial plan; on July 12, 1804, the 49-year-old Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. While strongly opinionated and prone to argument, Hamilton was nonetheless beloved by many Americans; his death was widely mourned.

Not mentioned in the musical is the fact that Hamilton also founded the U.S. Mint, and oversaw the first coins made for the new country after the acceptance of the Constitution. He is one of only two non-Presidents on American currency (the other being Franklin, on the $100 bill), and the only person depicted on American currency who was not born in the United States. He has been depicted on 8 types of US currency, in 7 different denominations: the 1862 $2 Note; the 1861 $5 Demand Note and $5 1862 United States Note; the $10 Federal Reserve Note, Gold Certificate, and Silver Certificate since 1928; the $20 US Note beginning in 1869; the $50 denomination of 1862-69 US Notes, 1862-64 Interest-Bearing Notes, 1907 Certificates of Indebtedness, and 1863-63 Compound Interest Treasury Notes; the 1864 $500 Interest Bearing Note, and the 1918 Series $1000 Federal Reserve Note.

Hamilton has been a part of American finance and currency from the very beginning; he has been a constant presence in our wallets, even if not in our minds. It’s fitting that the bombastic first Secretary of the Treasury should retain his place due to an uproarious musical that speaks to the heart of his beloved America.
Did you know? Women, including Martha Washington, Pocahontas, and Lady Liberty, have been on American currency before. You can read all about that history hereThis isn’t the first time a woman on currency has sparked intense debate, either! Do you know the story of the 1891 Silver Certificate scandal? 

All about the $2 Bill

Each  year, the United States Treasury receives many letters from the public wondering why $2 bills are no longer in circulation.  The answer? They are!  The history of the $2 bill is rather long and inconsistent but interesting nonetheless. Decades have passed without any of these bills being printed, making it easy to see why some people might not even know they still exist in circulation.

In 1862, the first $2 bills began rolling off the presses.  Alexander Hamilton was featured on the front until 1869, when it was redesigned to feature Thomas Jefferson instead.  Soon afterwards people began referring to the $2 bill as a “Tom.”

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As with most paper currency at this time, the $2 bill was a much larger size than we see today, measuring 89× 79 mm.  In 1928  all United States Currency was changed to its current size.

The $2 bills issued in 1928 were called United States Notes, but still featured Thomas Jefferson on the obverse.

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After the 1928 issues, $2 bills were not produced again until 1953.  Because they were not the most popular bill in circulation, they printed fewer of them.  This caused people to begin hoarding them, making them even more scarce!

In 1963, the words “In God We Trust” were added to the reverse, right above the image of Monticello.  They continued to print this version until 1966 when it was discontinued.

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On April 13, 1976, the $2 bill was reintroduced to help commemorate the country’s bicentennial and as a way to cut down on costs.  The theory was that the Treasury could print half as many $1 bills by issuing them as $2 instead.  This could have saved the Treasury $26 million at the time.  In reality, a lot of people really liked the 1976 notes and chose to save them as collectors pieces as opposed to spending them.

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Today, $2 bills are growing in popularity, although many people still see them as simply a collectors piece.  This mindset has led to the $2 bill becoming the rarest current denomination of US Currency.  Only 1% of US currency in circulation is the $2 bill.

Low circulation numbers have given the $2 bill another unique purpose. Bank tellers often place a $2 bill in their till, at the bottom of their stack of $1 bills.  They keep the serial number of the $2 recorded, and should a robbery ever occur, they can use that serial number to track the suspect.

Although not the most popular of bills to spend, the $2 bill has certainly been popular to save and collect and has served several important purposes over the years.  We have a large variety of $2 bills or “Toms” listed in our eBay store for you to peruse. Consider adding some to your collection today!