Santa Dollars

Have you ever see a U.S. dollar bill with the image of a smiling Santa Claus, instead of the usual George Washington portrait? These banknotes are called ‘Santa Dollars’ or ‘Santa Claus Dollars’, and are regular dollar bills on which a seal (or sticker) with Santa’s image is attached.

The Santa Dollar is legal tender and both bankable and spendable, approved by the Department of the Treasury of the United States Secret Service on February 19, 1986 and January 13, 1994 under Statue 333 USCA and is filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office No. 1674185. Over the years, the dollars and greeting cards have become popular Christmas Collectibles.

The Santa Dollar program is an interesting way for companies to work with charities of their choice.The business selling the Santa Dollars receives a package from Marketing Productions which includes santa stickers, Santa Dollar cards, and envelope. It is then on the business to retrieve uncirculated dollar bills from the bank and attach the santa sticker on the dollar bill atop Washington. For customers at the business, it cost $2.50 to purchase the Santa Dollar.  The $2.50 breakdowns as follows: $1 is given back to the business who initially supplied the dollar bill made into the Santa Dollar, $1 is given to the charity, and .50 cents goes to Marketing Productions who distributes the package materiels.

Since 1985, Santa Dollars have raised tens of millions of dollars for various charities across the United States. Corporate leaders, as well as small businesses, have worked to raise funds for the needs of their communities. They have joined hands to form a network of hope. The efforts of all these dedicated people have created the “magic” that has fueled the Santa Dollar program. Some of these charities include American Cancer Society, Boys & Girls Club of America, Humane Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, March of Dimes, St. Jude Hospital, and hundreds more.

The company has since expanded to other holidays with Angelic Notes, Bunny Bucks, Cupids Cash, and Birthday Buck a Roos.

United States High Denomination Bills

Large denominations of United States currency greater than $100 were circulated by the United States Treasury until 1969. Since then, U.S. dollar banknotes have only been issued in only seven denominations: $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. But in the 1920’s the United States Treasury issued bills ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 denominations.

 

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Salmon P. Chase

Featured on some of these bills were William McKinley ($500), Grover Cleveland ($1,000), James Madison ($5,000), and Salmon P. Chase ($10,000). Salmon P. Chase might not be as familiar as those of the presidents featured on the other big bills, but once upon a time Chase was huge  in American politics. Chase, a mid-19th century politician, served as Chief Justice of the United States, spent stints as Ohio’s governor and senator, and was Lincoln’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

 

When the federal government started issuing greenback notes in 1861, Chase, as Secretary of the Treasury, was in charge of designing and popularizing the new currency. Although putting his face in everyone’s pocketbooks never propelled Chase to the presidency, when the Treasury started issuing the new $10,000 bills in 1928 they put Chase’s portrait on the obverse to honor the man who helped introduce modern banknotes. Even if you don’t have a $10,000 bill Chase’s name might still be in your wallet. Chase National Bank, the forerunner to Chase Manhattan Bank, was named in his honor.

It may be hard to imagine when such a large denomination of bills would come in handy especially in our modern day when we mainly handle cash electronically. Matthew Wittmann, an assistant curator at the American Numismatic Society, explains this by stating that, back then, it was only worth a fraction of that value. “[the] $1,000 note seems incredible, but what it reflects is actually how little paper dollars were valued,” Wittmann said. “It might only have been worth $20 in ‘real’ hard money at the time.”

 

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A $1,000 Gold Certificate, Series 1928, Depicting Grover Cleveland


Lee Ohanian, an economics professor at the University of California, also explains that the larger bills were mostly used to rapidly purchase supplies like ammunition during the war.  In the decades after the war, large denomination currencies were mostly used in real estate deals or inter-bank transfers. “They facilitated really, really large financial transactions that primarily were being carried out between banks or other financial intermediaries,” Ohanian said. Before sophisticated wire transfer systems were fully developed, it was simply easier and safer just to fork over a $5,000 bill to settle up with a fellow bank. Once transfer technology became safer and more secure, there really wasn’t much need for the big bills anymore.

 

Although the high bill denominations are still technically legal tender in the United States, they were last printed on December 27, 1945, and officially discontinued on July 14, 1969, by the Federal Reserve System, due to ‘lack of use’. The $5,000 and $10,000 had effectively disappeared well before then.

The Federal Reserve began taking high-denomination currency out of circulation (destroying large bills received by banks) in 1969. As of May 30, 2009, only 336 $10,000 bills were known to exist; 342 remaining $5,000 bills; and 165,372 remaining $1,000 bills. Due to their rarity, collectors often pay considerably more than the face value of the bills to acquire them. Some are in museums in other parts of the world.

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A $5,000 Gold Certificate, Series 1928,  Depicting James Madison


There was often concerns about counterfeiting and the use of cash in unlawful activities such as the illegal drug trade and money laundering, it is unlikely that the U.S. government will reissue large denomination currency in the near future, despite the amount of inflation that has occurred since 1969 (a $100 bill is now worth less, in real terms, than a $20 bill was worth in 1969). According to the U.S. Department of Treasury website, “The present denominations of our currency in production are $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. The purpose of the United States currency system is to serve the needs of the public and these denominations meet that goal. Neither the Department of the Treasury nor the Federal Reserve System has any plans to change the denominations in use today.”

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The Obverse of the 2009 Zimbabwe $100 trillion banknote

The chance of bringing back large bills is only likely if there are big problems within the economy. The circulation of large denominations of currency is almost always due to inflation or depreciation. Countries like  Zimbabwe have issued million-, billion- and trillion-dollar notes. One $100 trillion note from the southern African country is worth 40 U.S. cents. Or take a step back to Germany in the early ’20s, known then as the Weimar Republic, when hyperinflation hit the country. That’s when 4.2 trillion marks were equivalent to a dollar.

Experts also say they think modern technology renders large bills unnecessary. Credit cards, checks, any form of electronic transfer — these all pretty much fulfill large transactional needs more efficiently than a tangible note could. “If you didn’t have your credit card, you didn’t have your debit card, or there’s a massive meltdown of the world in telecommunication systems and computers … then you can imagine high-denomination bills would be very useful,” Ohanian said. “Assuming the other person wants to accept it.”

Large Denomination Currency: The $100,000 Bill

No, it’s not the gimmick bill that you can buy as a joke gift at your local store but has no actual value. It’s an actual banknote at a $100,000 denomination.

The 1934 $100,000 gold certificate features Woodrow Wilson on the obverse. Banks never circulated these bills, but instead used them for transactions by Federal Reserve Banks. They were printed from 1934 to 1935.

Elements of gold accent the bill’s otherwise monotone coloring.

In the 1960’s, use of the bill was stopped and the government found and destroyed many of them.

It’s common to find forgeries of this bill, often with certificates of “authenticity”. Be warned: these certificates can just as easily be forged! Find a professional to ensure that you have the real deal. You can find the real thing at the Smithsonian Institution and a handful of Federal Reserve Banks.

The $100,000 bill can still be used as legal tender today, but be aware: the bill will take much more in auction than its actual denomination. So while you could use it to buy 100,000 packs of gum, you could also sell it to a collector for a hefty price. Think of how many more packs of gum you could buy!

The 1899 $5 Silver Certificate

Only one piece of currency in history has featured a Native American chief. It’s the five dollar silver certificate, produced from 1899 to the 1920’s.

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The bill shows the Native American chief called Running Antelope, a head chief of the Hunkpapa tribe of Lokata Indians. He died a few years before the U.S. produced the bill, just barely missing the chance to see himself commemorated.

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The image on the bill caused some controversy among Native Americans; the image shows Running Antelope wearing a Pawnee head dress since his Sioux head dress was too tall to fit on the bill.

It’s not a rare note. But if you find it in excellent condition, it can be worth upwards of $3,000. Heavily circulated bills are more in the under $300 range. Notes with stars are replacement notes, and are worth quite a lot!