Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Santa Claus souvenir card is Christmas collectible

From time to time on my blog I've referenced my past personal and professional interest in collecting paper money and related fiscal paper from the mid-1970s through the early-1990s.

During that era a phenomenon arose in that segment of the numismatic hobby for collecting souvenir cards. Basically, souvenir cards were larger-format cards (often 10 -5/8" x 8-1/2" or 10" x 8" of thereabouts) with intaglio impressions of paper currency designs of up to a century prior.

The first and best of the numismatic souvenir cards were produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing beginning in 1969 and continuing until largely dying out circa 2005. By the late 1970s, the venerable American Bank Note Company began creating the cards, drawing upon its archives of 19th Century engravings used on paper money, stocks, bonds, checks, etc. The "souvenir" designation derives from the fact that that the cards were originally created to be sold to collectors at coin, stamp and paper money shows where the BEP had set up a sales booth for its collectible products. Most were also available by mail.

At $5-6 apiece, the cards were, indeed, a colorful souvenir. Because they were made from original engravings, that often included color Treasury seals, background printing, etc., the full-size images on these cards made an attractive substitute for rare and expensive original currency notes that were out of the reach of most collectors.

By the early 1980s, everybody was getting into the act and regional, state and local coin clubs were having souvenir cards made as a fund-raiser. The quality on many of these latter-day issues generally suffered by comparison to the BEP and ABNC offerings.

All that by way of background, I'm presenting here one of my favorite souvenir cards from the heyday of the genre.

This card was produced by the American Bank Note Company in conjunction with the 1983 International Paper Money Convention in Memphis. It pictures the face of a $2 bill, circa the 1850s, of The White Mountain Bank of Lancaster, N.H. 

At top-center is a vignette of Santa Claus, an image right out of the Clement Moore poem. Other vignettes include Liberty and an Indian woman sorting out the new realities in America. At right is a steam train.

The card, and the original note, is enhanced by printing of denomination indicators in scarlet ink. On the 1850s notes, this was an anti-counterfeiting measure as much as a visual enhancement.

Santa Claus notes hold an esteemed position  among collectors of American obsolete bank notes. The various bank note printers used a handful of images of St. Nick on various currency productions in the pre-Civil War era. All such original notes are rare and in high demand. They routinely sell for thousands of dollars. 

This souvenir card from Memphis '83 makes a suitable substitute for those who can't pay the big bucks for an original Santa Clause note. The card is widely available today for $10 or less.

While in attendance at the Memphis show I bought five of these cards. Along with about 100 other BEP and ABNC cards I had acquired back in the day, I offered the White Mountain Bank card in a series of eBay auctions during November and early December; It sold for $5.50, postpaid.

Along with the rest of my souvenir cards that sold for as little as $2-3 apiece in group lots, the sales provide yet more proof that most collectibles that were made as collectibles 20-30 years ago . . . aren't.

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