Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

The Changing Luck of the $2 Bill

[photo: $2 note with one corner removed]

Many $2 bills, including this 1896 "Educational Series" $2 Silver Certificate, are found with one or more corners torn off – and this subject was mentioned to me in two separate conversations with attendees of a recent coin and currency show in Illinois. One of the collectors, from Dahlonega, Georgia hill country, told me it was not unusual to see a $2 bill with all four corners torn off.

It seems the $2 bill has been seen in some parts of the country since the 19th century as bringing "bad luck" – and the only way to counteract the "bad spell" was to tear off a corner. If a farmer got one in change at the general store or a gambler won one in a poker pot, he was likely to promptly remove a corner! As a result, many $2 bills circulated in America with a missing corner and many worn-out $2 bills turned in at the Treasury for destruction have been missing one or more corners.

There are a number of theories about the tainted image of the $2 bill. First of all, it's called a "deuce" – a word for the devil – "What the deuce (devil) is he up to?" Some point to the standard horse racing bet of two dollars, and possession of $2 bills could hint of a gambling habit. When election-rigging was common, the reward for a favorable vote was often two dollars. So a $2 bill could be evidence that you'd sold your vote! Despite all this unsavory history, many people now believe that $2 bills are lucky – and many people keep a $2 bill in their wallet or purse for just that purpose!