The United States and its currency seem inseparably linked, but for much of the country’s history, an official, standardized U.S. dollar didn’t exist. In its place was a Wild West of currencies from competing banks located across several states. In their zeal to earn goodwill and customers, a few of these institutions even minted some rather creative banknotes. These bills didn’t feature the chiseled visage of General Washington or other real-life American leaders, but instead the pudgy, bearded face of St. Nick, among other figures.
For the St. Nicholas Bank of New York City, featuring the bank’s namesake on its currency made some sort of sense. But other banks, seemingly unaffiliated with Father Christmas, also issued Santa money. For example, the Howard Banking Company issued its Sinter Klaas note in the 1850s, which depicted a St. Nick scene from Dutch legend. A total of 21 banks in eight states created notes featuring Santa Claus, with seven of them even printing an entire Santa Claus vignette on their currency. These fun funds came to an end in 1863, when the National Bank Act created a national currency in an effort to standardize banking throughout the U.S. While these Santa bills are now considered “obsolete,” the notes remain highly prized in certain collecting circles and are doing much more than just ho-ho-holding their value.
Most paper — think newspapers, cardboard, and notebooks — is primarily composed of wood pulp. But this kind of paper could never handle the rough life of a U.S. dollar. Instead of relying on trees, all U.S. currency uses the same blend of cotton (75%) and linen (25%) with red and blue synthetic fibers running throughout. This blend is what gives greenbacks their distinctive feel as well as their increased durability compared to normal paper. According to the U.S. Currency Education Program, USDs can survive 4,000 double folds (front and back) before tearing.