NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Very few people use it. Merchants and cab drivers are never quite sure what to do with it. And although its history pre-dates American independence, the average citizen may not even know it exists.
But the $2 bill may soon have another 15 minutes of fame.
Moneymakers in Washington are contemplating printing a new series of the $2 bill, which is by far the least-used small note in circulation. The last time the notes were issued was in 1996 (it bears a 1995 series stamp), when about 164 million were made.
Since then, supplies of the notes kept in the Federal Reserve's vaults have dwindled down to about 9.5 million. To replenish that low inventory, the government is considering a re-issue during the coming fiscal year, which begins October 1.
"The Fed orders currency annually based on demand," explains Fed spokesman David Skidmore. "We have not placed an order yet for new $2 bills, but we are definitely considering it."
The current $2 bill bears the likeness of Thomas Jefferson on the front, and a scene of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back. The first series with Jefferson's portrait appeared in 1928. But the $2 bill as a currency unit goes back to June 25, 1776, when the Continental Congress ordered the first series in the denomination.
Since the $2 bill hasn't been printed in eight years, it's natural that a reprinting would one day be necessary. "Even for a bill that isn't used that much," says Skidmore, "over time there's enough demand that inventories eventually wind down."
If the Fed does decide to order a new series, one thing is certain: there won't be a redesign, like the imminent colorized $20 note. "We're not going to redesign the note," says Claudia Dickens, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "That's definite."
Although the note will look the same, the series year would change to 2003. It would also bear the signature of the current Treasurer of the United States, Rosario Marin. (Although Marin has announced her resignation, the honor remains hers if the order is made this year.)
Still, a new series and the attendant publicity are unlikely to push the $2 into wider usage. "For most people, the $2 bill is a novelty," says Tom DeLorey, a spokesman for the Chicago-based numismatic firm Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. "They just don't use it much."
As a currency enthusiast, however, DeLorey keeps a bunch of the bills in his wallet. "This morning, I gave one to a cab driver," he says. "He looked at it kind of funny, then tucked it away in his pocket as a keepsake."
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Saving, not spending, seems to be what most people do with them.
That won't change unless the government does something drastic. "The only way the $2 bill is going to circulate widely is if the government stops issuing the $1 bill," says DeLorey.
That's doubtful. "Treasury's official position is that we like the $1 bill, the $2 bill, and the dollar coin," Dickens says. "We intend to keep issuing all of them."