PAPER MONEY DEPICTING KRIS KRINGLE REMAINS POPULAR WITH COLLECTORS
By Dustin Johnston
One of the attractions of collecting Obsolete paper money is the extraordinary art and design work that resulted in incredibly attractive banknotes.
In currency terms, “Obsoletes” roughly encompass notes issued by both banks and other types of issuers such as insurance companies, railroads, city, county, state and local governments, and even individuals from roughly the founding of the nation until the conclusion of the Civil War. Each of these issuers introduced paper money into circulation with little or no regulation.
With many tens of thousands of issuers ordering banknotes for use in circulation, a massive array of vignettes were engraved by printing companies to grace these notes. A large number of subjects, including famous personages and landmarks, modes of transportation, animals, American Indians, and patriotic and allegorical personifications, were selected.
One of the most interesting vignette subjects was Santa Claus. Vignette expert and veteran collector Roger H. Durand even wrote a book on the subject in 1993. He identified notes from eight states that incorporated seven different vignettes depicting Santa Claus or Santa Claus and his sleigh. He identified roughly 60 Obsolete notes as well as other financial instruments that depicted Santa Claus or other Christmas-related themes. Not surprisingly, notes depicting Santa are popular with collectors today and attract active bidding whenever they appear.
The depiction of Santa Claus in these vignettes is varied, from a thin Kris Kringle sneaking about a bedroom to larger Kringle in a sleigh with reindeer over rooftops. The varied designs illustrate a period of transition where Santa Claus’ appearance was not standardized. The fat, jolly appearance in a red suit wasn’t widely accepted until after Thomas Nast’s 1881 depiction of “Merry Old Santa,” but it was moving in that direction.
While one would never consider banknotes to include a historical record of Santa’s evolution, Heritage’s FUN 2020 currency auction features one of each of the eight types identified by Durand, the first time since Heritage offered his personal collection in 2011.
DUSTIN JOHNSTON is vice president of currency auctions at Heritage Auctions.
This article appears in the Winter 2019-2020 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.