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$2 bill to get its turn in the spotlight


It’s the underdog of U.S. currency, the greenback more likely to be found tucked inside a dresser drawer or wallet than a cash register.

The $2 bill makes up just 3 percent of all paper money circulating in the states.

Now, it’s about to get its time in the limelight, thanks to a Delray Beach, Fla., man who has always loved it. John Bennardo is crisscrossing the country to film a documentary that’ll tell the story of the two and its “magic.”

“I think everyone’s curious about it,” he said. “When you spend one, there’s always a reaction.”

Turns out it also makes for quite a story.

The quirky bill with Thomas Jefferson on the front and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back is more than just a collector’s item. It’s a regular at some strip clubs, a piece of a longtime Clemson University tradition and a tool used to show a group’s economic influence.

While many save $2 bills, others make a point to spend them — just to see what happens next.

Bennardo was always one to save them. By last summer, the Immagine Productions owner and Lynn University professor of film and television editing had 11 of them in a desk drawer, sitting inside an old checkbook box, never to be spent. It got him thinking: What is it about the two?

And “The 2 Dollar Bill Documentary” was born.

Amy Byer Shainman, a Jupiter, Fla., resident and breast cancer advocate who is also passionate about the bill, joined on as executive producer. She said she has kept a two her high school crush gave her for more than 25 years without knowing why.

“There’s a mystique surrounding the $2 bill, a mystique that it’s rare and anything that’s rare is a matter of intrigue,” Byer Shainman said.

After raising about $18,000 for the project on Kickstarter.com, Bennardo got to work last summer.

Some of his stops were in South Florida. There’s Ettra Gallery in Delray Beach, where he talked to a man who turns $2 bills into art. Then there’s his Miami shoot with American Healthy Vending, who explained why most machines don’t take twos. And, Bennardo only had to go to Miami to capture Clemson’s tradition at work during the Orange Bowl.

Beyond that, he has traveled to several states — including Texas, New York, Michigan and Oregon — and interviewed about 50 people in all. Along the way, Bennardo’s discovered a whole society of others who share his and Byer Shainman’s enthusiasm for the offbeat bill.

Among them is Heather McCabe, a copywriter from Brooklyn, N.Y., who requests $2 bills from her bank and spends them at local businesses in hopes of seeing the currency catch on. She chronicles the reactions she gets on her blog, Two Buckaroo.

McCabe, 39, started spending twos about 15 years ago because she liked the added interaction with people behind the counter.

“It became something a little more special,” she said. “And plus, it always felt like an experiment, like, ‘What’s going to happen when I spend this $2 bill?’ It never gets old.”

Most people smile at the sight of the unusual bill and share a story about their experiences with it, McCabe said. Some take two singles out of their own wallets so they can pocket the deuce. Others refuse it, though McCabe said that’s the least common outcome.

Many people believe the bill, which the federal government began issuing in 1862, was taken out of circulation. Because of that, you can find regular old $2 bills marked up to double their value on eBay, when they can easily be picked up at the bank for, well, $2.

There was a 10-year period that the government stopped printing twos. But that ended in 1976, when they were brought back — with much fanfare — to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial.

If they had just disappeared, Bennardo said, “we wouldn’t have this great piece of Americana saved. And I wouldn’t have a movie.”

As of last year there were a billion $2 bills in circulation, according to the Federal Reserve. Forty-five million more went into production in October at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth — and Bennardo was there, filming.

Still, twos are rare.

“They’ve always been kind of an odd bill because the standard cash drawer is set up for $1s, $5s, $10s or $20s,” said Tony Swicer, a West Palm Beach resident and president of the Florida United Numismatists — a group for people who are passionate about currency.

“Some people think they’re good luck, some people think they’re bad luck. It’s really funny and there’s no reason for either one.”

There are theories that the can be rid of its “bad luck” by tearing off its corners — an idea Bennardo explored for his film.

At the same time, the two has been embraced by some groups and industries. Strip clubs hand them out because people see them as “funny money” or don’t want them, so they easily hand them out to dancers.

Several groups have used them to prove their economic clout. Bennardo interviewed members of one such group, supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in Michigan, who deliberately spent twos around the state to show their spending power.

Similar campaigns have been launched by other groups, from nudists in Pasco County, Fla., in 2007 to unemployed steel company workers in Utah in 2003, to members of the NAACP in the 1980s.

Clemson University students spend $2 bills stamped with tiger paws in cities that host the school for football bowl games. It’s a tradition that began in 1977, when Georgia Tech decided to stop playing football against the school.

But to Matthew Zaklad, another $2 bill enthusiast, the appeal of the currency is the way it brightens peoples’ days and the connections it forges.

“They are one of those rare things that consistently triggers a memory of something good and often familial,” said Zaklad, 41, a business consultant who lives in Manhattan.

Bennardo, who has pursued stories including that of a World War II vet reunited with a $2 bill he and other wartime buddies signed 70 years ago, agreed, saying that’s at the heart of his movie.

“I think that’s what the film is going to show us, is that this bill is more than we think it is,” he said.