I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas: The History of Santa Claus Bank Notes
You might expect to see Santa Claus on your rooftop on Christmas Eve, but how about seeing him on your money? In America during the 1800s, it wasn’t an unusual sight!
American bank notes as we know them today feature images of significant American figures and are produced by the U.S. Mint, but that wasn’t always the case in our country. Private banks issued paper currency until around 1863, when Congress established a national banking system. Shortly after this establishment was put in place, all money produced by private banks became obsolete currency.
Sometimes, the notes issued by these private banks would even celebrate certain holidays. With many states recognizing Christmas as an official state holiday around the 1850s, private banks began to print banknotes that featured Santa Claus. In fact, some banks hoped that their clients would give the banknotes as a keepsake to their children on Christmas. By 1870, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving had assumed full responsibility for the production of banknotes and Santa Claus notes had ceased to be manufactured.
While common at the time of their creation, these banknotes have become increasingly rarer, and have now carved out a niche among collectors. The most famous collection of Santa Claus bank notes is known as The Roger H. Durand collection, which was sold during the 2011 FUN Signature Currency Collection auction for a grand total of about $266,000. This prolific collection included 33 separate Santa Claus Banknotes from all eight states that produced them: New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. In addition, this collection included a Santa Claus vignette as well as a scrip from Georgia.
Although there were numerous Santa Claus banknotes struck across the country, there are only seven known depictions of Santa Claus seen on these notes. The reason that there are so few portrayals of Santa on these notes is because banks that wanted to print one would work with printing companies. These printing companies would have a variety of premade vignettes that would be distributed amongst all of their clients. Since there were a limited amount of Santa vignettes available, only a handful depictions could be used on the notes.
These portrayals of Santa Claus include a classic American depiction of a plump, round bellied man riding a sleigh pulled by reindeer; a skinnier Dutch version, known as Sinterklaas; a small elf toiling away on a workbench; and a man tiptoeing with a sack of gifts by a child’s bed.
Interest in bank notes featuring Santa Claus grew after Larry L. Ruehlen’s book on Christmas currency was published in 1973. Eventually, this led to the issue from White Mountain Bank of Lancaster, New Hampshire ranking #23 on the Top 100 Bank Notes listing. Other famous examples of these notes include those that were printed by the Saint Nicholas Bank of New York, as Santa is the namesake of the establishment.
If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for your loved ones, consider grabbing one of our gold bank notes!