The Christmas season is over, but its memories linger. One of the
holiday’s most enduring components is Santa Claus. A little known fact
about him is that he got his start in the fourth century as a bishop
on the shores of the Mediterranean in Demre, Turkey. How he got from
there to his near ubiquitous modern-day presence is a story in itself.
Paper Money Guaranty researcher Zachary Habermas recently looked
into one related area of interest to hobbyists — Santa themed bank notes.
While you won’t find Mr. Claus on any modern notes, a surprising
number of obsolete notes depict him, ranging from the familiar to the
downright creepy. But why would banks use his image in the first place?
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Habermas says they had multiple reasons. Since many of these banks
failed after a few years, they wanted to create vignettes that would
build confidence among their customers, and what could be a better
confidence-builder than Santa Claus? Another, perhaps more important,
reason was that people would collect these notes and give them to
children, avoiding redemption, and keeping the bank afloat.
Santa Claus’ appearance was open to wide interpretation. He wasn’t
always as heavy as we see him today. The American version of him
brought here by Dutch settlers in New York was much thinner, as shown
on a note from the Knickerbocker Bank. Other banks, such as the Bank
of Milwaukee, portrayed him as somewhat frightening. Yet, on a widely
counterfeited $5 note from the Howard Bank of Boston, he bore a close
resemblance to the Santa of today with a sack of gifts in a sleigh
being pulled by reindeer.
There are a few other examples, all slightly different, but most
show him as much thinner than he is today.
After the United States government took responsibility for printing
money at the start of the Civil War, these notes became obsolete and
no more were created.
Today, some are quite rare.