St. Nicholas Bank, 1854-1893
Remembered only by currency collectors who value its notes that featured Santa Claus, this historic bank operated on Wall Street throughout the second half of the 19th century. Historian Stephen Mihm found that the bank was established in 1853 with a capitalization of half a million dollars and operated until 1893. As a state-chartered bank, it issued its own currency notes in the years prior to the creation of federal notes. The bank was led by Caleb Barstow, who served as president from 1856 to 1874 and was remembered for his generosity. The bank's notes incorporate ships (the original Saint Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors), several images of Santa, and even one bill with early New York founder Peter Stuyvesant.
Backstory and Context
The mythical Santa Claus was modeled after a real-life Saint who became famous for his generosity. While most Europeans forgot the story, Dutch residents continued to revere "Sint Nikolass." New York City was founded by the Dutch and was originally named New Amsterday. The connection between the city and Santa Clause became even stronger when New York resident and author Clement Clarke Moore wrote "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" in 1822. The poem began with the now-famous line "Twas the night before Christmas," and with its popularity, the legend of Santa Claus spread throughout the city of New York by the early 1830s.
Stephen Mihm, When Santa Was a Bank, Bloomberg View December 24, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-12-24/when-santa-was-a-bank Obituary of Caleb Barstow, The Bankers Magazine and Statistical Register, Volume 34, 1880