Paper Money

Holiday not yet over: Check out the Santa Claus notes

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. 

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