Greetings from Rome. Rome, Italy’s capital, is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city with nearly 3,000 years of globally influential art, architecture and culture on display. Ancient ruins such as the Forum and the Colosseum evoke the power of the former Roman Empire. Vatican City, headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, has St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, which house masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes.
It has taken me to come to Rome to learn about two currencies I knew nothing about. The Lira and US 2 dollar bill note. The lira was introduced in Europe by Charlemagne (c. 742–814), who based it on the pound (Latin: libra) of silver. No lira coins were struck during the Middle Ages, and the lira remained strictly a money of account.
By the 16th century several of the Italian states actually struck lira coins, but they varied considerably in weight. One of the states that used the lira was the kingdom of Sardinia, and this monetary unit was adopted in all of Italy when it became unified under Sardinian leadership.
In the United States, the story of the $2 bill starts in 1862, when the federal government printed its first nationalized paper bills, Bennardo says. The $2 bill was in that first printing, along with the $1 bill, but it took a while for paper money to catch on.
That’s because a lot of folks made less than $15 a month before the turn of the century. Inflation slowly brought the value of paper money down, but then the Great Depression hit. “This was a time when our country did not have much wealth, and a lot of things cost less than a dollar,” Bennardo says. “So the $2 bill really didn’t have much of a practical use.”
The economy recovered, but the $2 bill eventually found itself in a strange price point. It became the the perfect note for some rather nefarious purposes. “Politicians used to be known for bribing people for votes, and they would give them a $2 bill, so if you had one it meant that perhaps you’d been bribed by a politician,” Bennardo says. “Prostitution back in the day was $2 for a trick, so if you were spending $2 bills it might get you into trouble with your wife. $2 is the standard bet at a race track, so if you were betting $2 and you won, you might get a bunch of $2 bills back and that would show that you were gambling.”
My friend after giving me to note for the two dollar bill told me how rare the note is, that there are some US citizens who have never seen the bill and on many occasions calls have been made to the police, when making payments with the bills with the assumption that its a fake note. The Lira on the other hand has gone to its grave. Here in Rome, while I was on my morning run, I encountered two pieces on Lira notes.
Here in Italy, it’s not easy finding this notes and today was a lucky day for me because I get to see one. As a collector, this has revealed a lot about the Italian History. I am on my Roman holiday.
When in Rome, do what the Romans do.