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.

Holiday Coin Traditions

 

 

We’ve already talked about some of the history of chocolate coins at Christmas, but what about other holiday coin traditions?

 

800px-Gentile_da_Fabriano_063.jpgIn the original St. Nicholas myth, Nicholas learned of a local family who were extremely poor, but would not accept charity. (In some versions, the family had only daughters, who would be forced to work the streets since the family could not afford dowries for marriage.) Nicholas, a pious and generous man, climbed up on the roof of the family’s home and dropped gold coins down the chimney and into socks that were drying by the fire. Coins were the first “stocking stuffers” as the practice of leaving socks (or shoes) out for St. Nicholas spread around the world.

 

 

In many traditions, a coin is slipped into a dessert, pudding, or bread. In the UK, Stir-Up Sunday occurs on the last Sunday before Advent. While the name actually comes from the prayer used in Church of England parishes on that day (which begins with “Stir up, O Lord,”) the day has now become associated with the “stirring up” of Christmas puddings. A coin is dropped into the batter, and each family member gives the mix a stir while wishing on the coin (sneaky parents may use this as a way to find out what their children want for Christmas!) The pudding is stored until Christmas Day; whoever gets the sixpence in the pudding is said to receive good luck during the upcoming year.

 

1280px-Trutovsky_Kolyadki.jpgMany Eastern European countries celebrate a holiday called Koliada as well as Christmas. Koliada is a time when children go caroling at neighborhood houses, and are rewarded with coins and other small gifts. In Macedonia and Greece, a coin is baked into the Vasilopita cake, which is named in honor of St. Basil, whose celebration is on January 1. Finding the coin brings luck to the one who discovers it, much like the British tradition mentioned above.

 

 

During the days of Hanukkah, chocolate coins (though real coins are still used in some communities) are given as “gelt.” The tradition originally called for giving coins to teachers and to workers who might be overlooked the rest of the year, but are now mostly given to children.

 

 

 

 

Some families hide a pickle ornament on their tree, with a coin or other gift as the reward for finding it.

 

 

 

 

Whatever your holiday traditions, we wish you a happy holiday season!

 

Chocolate Coins and Christmas

The other day I was finishing up my Christmas shopping.  I absentmindedly tossed a few mesh bags of chocolate, gold wrapped coins into my cart and went along my merry way.

When I got home I began reviewing my purchases.  The coin enthusiast in me stopped when I got to the “gold coins” to look at them more carefully.  “Are they replicas of real coins?  Can I determine a grade?”I asked myself.  The answer, in my case was “no” to both of these, but they did taste delicious (sorry kids).  Then I got to my final question,  why in the world did I just buy fake, gold wrapped chocolate coins for my children for Christmas?

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“Chocolate Coins (11734099083)” by William Warby from London, England

It turns out there are potentially several reasons we gift chocolate coins to each other at Christmas time.

One theory dates back to the Christmas story found in the bible.  When the wise men went to visit Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Bethlehem, they brought with them gifts fit for a king.  Along with frankincense and myrrh was gold which symbolized virtue and kingship here on earth.  Perhaps this gift carried over to the traditions we have today.

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“The visit of the wise-men” by Heinrich Hofmann

The history of the chocolate coins can also be linked back to jolly old Saint Nick who, before taking a job at the North Pole, was the Bishop of Myra in what we now call Turkey.   Saint Nick had inherited a fortune when, as a child, his parents both died.  He was also very shy, but wanted to give to the children of Myra.  One night, he tossed a few gold coins down the chimney of a house with three girls.  One of the girls had just hung her stockings up by the fire to dry and the coins landed right in them!  When word got out that this had happened, children all over the town began leaving their stockings by the fire in hopes that Saint Nick would leave them gold coins as well.  Piero_di_Cosimo_026

In Jewish tradition, gold coins (called “gelt”) play a role in Hanukkah as well.  In the 17th century parents used to give their children coins to pass along to their teachers as a token of gratitude.  Something like an end of the year tip.  Over time, the tradition expanded and parents started giving money to their children to keep as their own.

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By liz west (originally posted to Flickr as candy coins) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of the traditions your family celebrates this time of year, you can be certain that gold coins played a role.  Although I have no plans to put real gold into my kids’ stockings, I will continue to include these gold wrapped chocolate ones .  As they carefully peel back the foil, we will take a minute discuss the many traditions and meanings of Christmas and how they have evolved over time.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions and can you trace their origins?  Please comment below!

From all of us here at the Stamp and Coin Place, we wish you and your family a Happy Holidays!

All About Christmas Crackers

Christmas crackers are a traditional Christmas treat in the UK – and they’ve been popular for over 100 years. Fans of vintage collectibles will get a kick out of them. Crackers take center stage at Christmas parties or Christmas dinner. One person grabs each end of the cracker and pull. It’s a literal bang; a tiny strip of chemicals reacts to pressure and gives off the sound of a snap when participants pull the cracker.

What do these crackers contain? Small toys, jokes or paper crowns are traditional.

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So how did these crackers start? How did flimsy paper products become so popular?

It all starts with Thomas J. Smith of England, who designed the cracker shape to wrap candy bonbons (sweetmeats) in. But the bonbons were not as big a hit as Smith hoped for, so he started brainstorming other marketing methods. He had already designed the twist candy wrapper we’re familiar with, so he figured he’d try putting something other than bonbons in the middle. At first he tried putting love notes in the wrappers; later he changed the contents to trinkets we’re familiar with today (one of his sons later added the paper crowns and cheaper toys). Australians still call them bonbons based on their original design!

Smith came up with the cracker’s “bang” based on the crackle of logs on a fire. It’s half the fun!

Smith and his family even got their own memorial fountain in London in honor of the invention of Christmas crackers. And over 150 years later, the crackers are still going strong.

Does your family use Christmas crackers? What’s your favorite prize?

The Art of Jenny Nystrom

Jenny Nystrom was a talented artist who illustrated many greeting cards and postcards. She is best known for her implementation of the tomte on Christmas cards and magazines.

The tomte is a Scandinavian mythological creature similar to a gnome, but it is also considered a version of Santa Claus. Nystrom played a part in that: thanks to her use of the tomte on Christmas paraphernalia, she created its association of Santa Claus with Scandinavian gnomes.

Nystrom had an impressive career. She was born in 1854 in Kalmar, Sweden. At eleven years old she started studying at a Gothenburg art school; she was a good student, and eight years later the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts accepted her. She studied there for eight years.

Tomten-Jenny-Nyström

After all these years of studying, Nystrom was a pro. She used her business savvy to catch on to the booming postcard business of the late 19th century. This is where the tomte came in. The creature became quite popular in Nystrom’s art and was one of her favorite subjects.

But Nystrom was not done growing her career. Paris was calling her name, and she would answer. With her painting “Gustavus Vasa as a Child before King Hans”, she won the esteemed Royal Medal along with 2000 Swedish crowns. With this achievement, she was able to follow her dream to move to Paris. After much hard work, she finally reached a lifelong dream: having an exhibit of her work in the famous Paris Salon with her self portrait done with oil.

The First Christmas Stamps

Those who celebrate Christmas traditionally send Christmas cards, so why shouldn’t there be Christmas stamps, too?

It’s a little unclear what country made the first Christmas stamp, but it was most likely Canada, though it’s not the most festive stamp around – it’s only considered a Christmas stamp because of the inscription “XMAS 1898” near the bottom. The stamp features a map highlighting the British empire in red, with the words “Canada Postage” at the top.

The reason for the “XMAS” addition to the stamp reportedly comes from a story of quick-thinking on William Mulock’s part: he proposed the stamp be issued on November 9th to “honor the Prince” (the Prince of Wales). But Queen Victoria asked “What Prince?” in a critical tone, and Mulock countered with “Why, madam, the Prince of Peace.” That’s some quick thinking, Mulock.

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Austria issued its own Christmas stamps in 1937 featuring a rose and zodiac signs. And in 1939, Brazil issued its own, decidedly more Christmassy, stamps featuring the three kings, a star, and an angel. The first Nativity stamp emerged from Hungary in 1943.

The U.S. had its own Christmas stamp debate in the 1960’s. To that date the country had never issued stamps honoring the holiday, and the USPS hesitated due to the separation of church and state. But high demand for Christmas stamps won out. The USPS printed 350 million four-cent stamps with a wreath and two candles. The stamps quickly sold out. By the end of the print run that year, a billion of the stamps had been issued, the most special stamps printed at that time.

Christmas stamps are popular among collectors. There’s no doubt that holiday stamps have made a mark in the stamp world.

Do you collect Christmas stamps?

The Legacy of Raphael Tuck & Sons

 

The company Raphael Tuck & Sons has left quite a legacy in their wake ever since its start as a family business in 1866.

The company is especially known for its postcards. Between the late 19th century and early 20th century, postcards became hugely popular, and Raphael Tuck & Sons capitalized on this.

However, they didn’t start with postcards; when Raphael Tuck and his wife Ernestine opened up a small humble shop in England in 1866, they simply sold pictures and frames.

Four years later his sons joined him in the business. As well as continuing with pictures and frames, the family established themselves as great printers of lithographs, chromos, and olegraphs. Soon they also made their first Christmas card.

Raphael Tuck & Sons also made its own books. Pictured here is a childrens' book printed on fabric.

Raphael Tuck & Sons also made its own books. Pictured here is a childrens’ book printed on fabric.

Tuck’s son Adolph created a contest in 1880 for the best Christmas card designs. More than five thousand designs were submitted, some of which were displayed in galleries for viewing. Thousands of pounds were spent on buying entries. The contest was one of the main events that made Christmas cards into an annual tradition.

In 1893 the company even got a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria, letting them show the sign of royal approval on their products.

Raphael Tuck passed away on March 16, 1900 before postcards really hit their peak of popularity. However, the business continued to thrive.

Bad luck hit in London 1940 during the war when tons of bombs hit London. Raphael House was shattered to bits and tens of thousands of original art was destroyed.

Despite this huge setback, the company gained its footing fairly quickly.

A postcard of the Main Street of West Littleton.

A postcard of the Main Street of West Littleton by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

By the 1950s, all of the original family members of the company had passed away, and in 1959 Raphael Tuck & Sons combined with two other companies to become the British Printing Corporation.

 

A Brief History of the Christmas Card

If you celebrate Christmas (or maybe even if you don’t) it’s a beloved tradition to give & receive Christmas cards during this festive time of year.

(Including, for the procrastinators out there, after Christmas. It’s the thought that counts, right?)

But the practice had to start somewhere. So when did this fun and nostalgic Christmas tradition begin?

The first known occurrence was in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole commissioned cards illustrated by John Callcott Horsley. The card shows a family giving a toast, with illustrations of charitable actions on the edges. They were sold for a shilling each.

Some were upset at the content of the card – it shows a child being given a glass of wine.

Also in the 1840s, “official” Christmas cards began to be issued, often showing images of royalty such as Queen Victoria.

Most early Christmas cards were not given to the kind of romantic winter image we see today, but instead leaned toward flowers and cheerful spring-like designs, looking forward to upcoming warmer weather.

A festive, embossed Christmas postcard showing a green-dressed Santa surrounded by poinsettias.

A festive, embossed Christmas postcard showing a green-dressed Santa surrounded by poinsettias.

Some designs were not quite so cheerful, however. “Some early Christmas card imagery, featured in Grossman’s book “Christmas Curiosities” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2008), may look more bizarre to modern eyes: Krampus* dragging bad children to the underworld, pine trees kissing, Santa lighting a cigar off a Christmas tree, anthropomorphic mice decorating trees and cats tossing snowballs. OK, people still love pictures of animals acting like humans, but how does one explain the Christmas cards that show a dead bird lying on its back with the words “May yours be a joyful Christmas” above?” (via Megan Gannon on Live Science)

The different sensibilities of the time don’t translate so well today. Here’s a tip, kids: just because the Victorians did it doesn’t mean you should send your dear old grandma a picture of a dead bird.

In 1870, the start of the One Penny Post allowed almost anyone to send cards, making the business even more successful.

A cute, vintage postcard showing a girl in a red dress with her toy horse, giving Christmas greetings.

A cute, vintage postcard showing a girl in a red dress with her toy horse, giving Christmas greetings.

In 1873 a lithograph firm began selling Christmas cards in England, which expanded to the U.S. the next year. One of the creators, Louis Prang, was called the “father of the American Christmas card.” His designs were so popular that they spawned cheap knockoffs that eventually drove him from business.

Today, 45% of all cards sent are Christmas cards. Sir Henry Cole really knew what he was doing.

Many stationary businesses made Christmas cards from then on, each year reflecting the trends of the times with their images and designs. For instance, in the early 20th century each of the World Wars brought patriotic card themes, while the 1950s brought cartoon illustrations. Nostalgic images have since continued to rise, leading to the popular Victorian Christmas image we often see today.

Today, some use e-cards to send their holiday well-wishes, but that does not stop the physical Christmas card business from thriving. And many would prefer it that way, considering the lukewarm receptions to digital cards. There are only so many cutesy winter animations that one can sit through before going mad.

But no matter the medium, the Christmas card has become an embedded tradition within our culture, a tradition that sends joyful greetings and well-wishing thoughts around this festive time of year.

*Krampus is known as the “holiday devil” in Alpine folklore, a creature opposite of Santa Claus who punishes bad children. Good luck sleeping tonight.