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Gerald Tebben

Five Facts

Gerald Tebben

Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.

Coin World’s bloggers are not edited by Coin World’s editorial staff and blog posts reflect the views of the individual author.

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Archive for 'December 2014'

    Santa's paper money: Collecting Christmas

    December 9, 2014 10:23 AM by

    'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

    Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

    The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

    In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

    The children were nestled all snug in their beds;

    While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

    And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

    Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

    When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

    I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

    —Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas

    The modern celebration of Christmas as a holiday, was formed in no small part on Dec. 23, 1823, when  A Visit from St. Nicholas, also know as The Night Before Christmas, was published in the Troy Sentinel in Troy, N.Y.

    The poem established that Santa Claus rode in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, magically rose up chimneys and carried a pack of toys for good little girls and boys.

    Images inspired by the poem were placed on notes issued by more than 20 banks in eight states before the Civil War, when federal bills replaced privately issued bank notes.

    One of the banks that issued Santa Claus notes was—not surprisingly—the Saint Nicholas Bank of New York City. When the bank became a National Bank during the Civil War it’s Santa vignettes dropped from circulation.

    The Saint Nicholas vignettes on bills show Santa riding his sleigh, getting ready to go up a chimney, tiptoeing past a sleeping child and smoking his pipe.

    “Since banks often chose vignettes that would lead customers to have faith in the bank, it is not surprising that Santa Claus vignettes were chosen by some banks to help acquire confidence and goodwill,” former Heritage Auctions cataloger Kathy Lawrence wrote in an introduction to the 2012 sale of Roger H. Durand Santa Claus Collection.

    She noted,  “The banks may have also hoped that customers would set a lower denomination note aside as a keepsake due to the Santa vignette as well.”

    The notes are wildly popular with paper money collectors, difficult to find and expensive. When the notes appear at auction, they regularly sell for thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.

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    Collecting Christmas: Dec. 25 business in Colonial New England

    December 1, 2014 4:08 PM by

    For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.   

    General Court, Massachusetts Bay Colony, May 11, 1659

    Christmas Day wasn’t always a day of celebration. Puritans considered winter revelry pagan and papist and outlawed celebrating the day, going so far as to fine offenders five shillings. (That fine in lightly circulated 1653-1660 Willow Tree shillings would be worth more than $1 million to collectors today.)

    Christmas Day was a regular workday in America in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Following the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and America’s embrace of Santa Claus and the Christmas tree in the mid-1800s the holiday took its now familiar form. It did not become a federal holiday until 1870.

    Christmas wasn’t banned in colonial New Hampshire in the early 1700s, but it wasn’t kept well, either. It was just another day.

    On Dec. 25, 1734, a group of 18 merchants and a “great number” of leading citizens of Portsmouth, N.H., issued 6,000 pounds worth of interest-bearing paper money. The bills, issued in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 7 and 10 shillings, paid 1 percent interest and were redeemable on Christmas Day, 1746.

    In Early Paper Money of AmericaEric P. Newman writes the bills were issued after the Crown forbade further paper money issues. However, the bills were not universally accepted. Boston merchants pledged not to accept the bills. Massachusetts prohibited their circulation, under a penalty of a 21 shillings fine. Even the governor of the province inveighed against them.

    Today these relics from a time when Christmas wasn’t a day of celebration are scarce and expensive. On the rare day that one appears at auction, it sells for thousands of dollars. In 2005, Stack’s sold a Fine – Very Fine 1 shilling note for $9,500.

    Next: Santa’s paper money

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