The Bicentennial and the Epic Failure of the Two-Dollar Bill

Celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial on July 4, 1976 included: parades, fireworks, flags, hats, money and all manner of cheesy collectibles.

It was a time of extra pride that we (meaning a rag-tag bunch of farmers to whom many of us are not related, but with whom we stand proudly) had beaten the British. Those orderly-fight-by-the-rules types did not even live in America but nonetheless showed up in their fancy, schmancy uniforms to collect because they had the audacity to think we owed them tax money for the tea.

I suspect that today, any American household with an adult old enough to have celebrated the bicentennial, has some memorabilia lurking under the dust.

If I search hard enough in my house, I can probably find a bicentennial commemorative quarter.  This particular   commemoration for investment’s sake would have made sense except that they minted a billion of the copper-nickel ones and 45 million in “part-silver” for collectors.  Better yet, the government proceeded to sell them for ten more years.

Aside from its Colonial drummer design, the bicentennial quarter is the same as any other American quarter in both physical size and spending power.  The common understanding was that if we saved them, “They’ll be worth something someday.”

Photo Courtesy http://www.garagesalesally.com

My friends and I in our teens at the time, were perhaps the most unlikely group to be avid coin collectors; neither were we informed that “someday” would not likely be in our lifetime.

Today, bicentennial quarters are worth…wait for it…

about twenty-five cents (unless you have an uncirculated one in mint condition, then it might fetch $5 or so on eBay®.) So I asked around to see who might have a stash of them squirreled away.  Result: nada. Even if you had a stash, you’d need someone willing to buy.

Another relic from 1976 that made as little sense then as it does now, is the two dollar bill.  Forget that there was no justifiable need for it, but it appears that no one gave any consideration to the idea that if people began to actually use two dollar bills to pay for everyday commodities, they’d unwittingly bollix a cashier’s job.  And heaven help the dyslexics among us.  That two looks a lot like a five.

Stop the Madness

Cash registers are designed with a money organizer insert containing ten slots in two rows; five long sections to the rear for bills and five short to the front for coins.

At first glance it would seem that the $2 bills would have fit quite nicely.   Not so.

Normally, the $20 bills belong second to the left.  From there are gradually decreasing increments from left to right: $10, $5 and finally one dollar bills.  The reserved space to the far left, or the fifth slot as it were, held personal checks and any bills larger than $20.

Credit card slips and coupons easily slipped in the drawer under the insert until the day’s close of business when counting the day’s receipts.  Not much has changed, except that today, few people pay with cash and fewer with a check.

No big deal you say?  Try this…

The next time you shop and the amount you owe is $5, hand your cashier a roll of pennies, three half-dollar coins, a Susan B. Anthony dollar, and a two dollar bill.  Just be prepared to duck when the roll of pennies comes hurling at your temple.

Two hundred years of not paying taxes for our afternoon tea casually replaced by the coffee-consuming-to-satisfy-the-shareholders that we are today is an interesting trade-off.  Don’t you think?

For more digression, click here.

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