Claim: $2 bills are considered unlucky in the U.S.
Origins: Many commonplace objects are said to be inherently imbued with luck, good or ill, so it should not astonish us that one particular denomination of currency, the
Clerks have been known to refuse them (and not because they thought the bills counterfeit, as in the famed Taco Bell
strong, in others almost
American $2 bills were first issued as legal tender notes in 1862. Contrary to what is commonly believed, the
Two-dollar bills have never been popular. In 1925 the U.S. government made an unsuccessful attempt to popularize them by inserting one in each pay envelope given to federal employees. Several newspapers offered to aid in the campaign by giving prizes for two-dollar bills containing certain serial numbers. The Post Office Department, however, pronounced this practice a lottery and therefore a violation of the postal laws.
Those who shy from the $2 bill give a variety of reasons for their antipathy:
- At one time a session with a prostitute cost $2, thus possession of one of those bills proved its holder had been consorting with ladies of the evening. Under this line of thought, at the very least the bill at some point in its career had been through a joy house and was now forever tainted.
The reasoning here is flawed: just because a thing costs two dollars does not mean exact change must be used to pay for it. Besides, a gent who’d just engaged the services of a hooker wouldn’t be returning home with the telltale
$2 billin his wallet, because he would have just spent it. (And yes, in the 1930s two dollars would have bought you a five-minute interlude with the gal of your choice at a low-end brothel. Fellows generally left their shoes on during those quick encounters.)
- In the days when election-rigging was the norm, campaign bosses would hire men to vote for their candidate. The ringers would be trucked in, given names from the voters’ list to claim as their own, and the name of the man they were to vote for. Once they’d done the deed, they would each be rewarded with a
$2 bill.The same fellows would be moved from polling place to polling place, each time to assume new names, vote for the same guy, and be paid again. Having $2 billsin your wallet was therefore proof you’d sold your vote.
It would be naive to believe vote selling never went on, but that does not necessarily mean two dollars was the standard price for a vote or that, even if it were, the wage was paid with a
$2 billrather than two singles (or, much more likely, two silver dollars).
- The standard bet in American horse racing was two dollars, and winners were paid with
$2 bills.Ergo, possession of a sheaf of these notes was prima facie evidence that one had been betting on the hay burners. Given the prohibitions against gambling (in the not-so-distant past it was considered an activity thoroughly steeped in sin), no respectable person wanted to be associated with it, not even by happenstance.
Although $2 was the most common amount to bet on the ponies, the parimutuel nature of racing’s betting system meant that winners didn’t receive exactly the amount they bet: a successful
$2 bettorwould be paid $4.30 or $8.40 or $10.70 or some other amount, depending upon the odds established for the various horses in the race at post time. That some bettors may have used $2 billto place their bets doesn’t mean everyone’s winnings were paid in $2 bills.
Aside from ladies of the night, horse races, and bought votes, another reason given as the likely source of the
Whatever the cause,
Barbara “two for the road” Mikkelson
Last updated: 7 January 2015
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