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An Autobiography: Chapter 27, Santa Claus

Personality® Dollar Bills continued to gain in popularity, and through the years we had booths at major trade shows. Tracy went with me to many shows. Two of our reps, Ron Henson (and his wife, Teresa) and Arthur Swartz, joined us at one gift show in Orlando, Florida, in January 1997. One of the highlights of that trip was that Tracy and I spent a day at Disney’s Epcot.

I had a booth at the important Premium Show at the New York Coliseum in 1975. I noticed a gentleman coming up the aisle with people gathered around him. As he got closer, I saw it was my favorite comedian of “one-liners,” Henny Youngman.

Henny Youngman 

Henny Youngman 

When he saw our Personality® Dollar Bill display, he was fascinated. He talked about the stars on the bills, some of whom he had worked with, and he had high praise for Charlie Chaplin. With Mr. Youngman was a gentleman making notes, and I later learned that they were doing an article for the New Yorker magazine. In that article, dated March 10, 1975, when he was asked why he didn’t buy a Personality® Dollar Bill, Mr. Youngman said, “My money’s tied up in cash.Actually, products were not sold at trade shows; they were for display only.

I sent a Johnny Carson Personality® Dollar Bill to Ed McMahon, and he wrote back: “I handed it to him personally, and he got a big kick out of it.” Major companies used our bills as premiums, and one of the most interesting was Nationwide Papers, Division of Champion International. This letter, dated May 6, 1975, was received from John R. Parker, Director of Administration:

“Personality® Dollar Bills with the picture of our President, Mr. Crippin, were used as a part of our President’s Council meeting which was recently held at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Only three of us were aware of these bills and of course Mr. Crippin was not one of the three. At our opening President’s reception we had some brief remarks welcoming the President Council members and warning them of the possible pitfalls that Las Vegas can present. One of these we indicated was various types of money available: federal currency, chips and, of course, our “President Dollars” which each couple received. The promotion was extremely successful, so much so that the three of us on the committee probably should update our resumes at this point, for the President vowed he would find a way to get even with us. Seriously though, the idea was very successful and fit in extremely well with the Las Vegas location. I hope you have continuing success with your ideas.”  

The Personality® Dollar Bill gave me the idea to create a special currency premium/ad specialty product: Personalized Big Bucks.

These were printed reproductions of currency, 4 inches by 9 inches, in various denominations We produced these for countless clients, including BMG Records, Investment Services, George Washington University, The Independent Film Channel, Acura, HOBY (Hugh O’Brian), Hugh Hefner, Fuji Film, GMAC Insurance, and the American National Bank Cheyenne.

One of our largest orders for the Personalized Big Bucks was from Pontiac. We printed 100,000, quantities in various denominations from $0, $250, $500 and $1,000. Dealers who received the $0 bills were not winners in the campaign, but those who received a bill with a denomination received a check for that amount. We were told it was one of their most successful promotional campaigns and got a lot of conversation.

Pontiac Big Buck 

We received a letter from Shinichi Tokuyama, Hyogo, Japan, that read: “I learn from the American Embassy that you are selling for the Personality dollar bills. I am a member of the Kobe chamber of commerce and industry…please pay your very best attention to this matter so that we can continue our friendly business relations in the future.” (Sic) 

The Music Shack in England purchased our Personality® Dollar bills. Then we received a letter from the BANK OF ENGLAND stating that we could not export the currency to England without permission under the Exchange Control Act 1947. It was a lengthy letter of rules and regulations, but they did give us approval.

With all this worldwide interest in my product, we still lacked one important personality: Santa Claus!

It was 1975, and Georgianna said, “Sweetheart, do you know who you are missing on your list of personalities on the dollar bills?” I looked at her, pondering the question, but had no clue. Then she said, very pointedly, “SANTA CLAUS!”

Santa Claus 

Immediately the bells started ringing. That day we talked about nothing else. How do we market it? What will the illustration of Santa be? Do we put each bill in a special gift envelope? How do we test it?

Testing was the first thing to do, and since we were close to Christmas, there was no time to waste. Georgianna remembered the wonderful Santa Claus illustration that had been reproduced in countless ways for more than 100 years. We soon learned that it was the work of Thomas Nast, famous illustrator of political cartoons and creator of the Democrat Donkey and the Republican Elephant. He patterned his Santa Claus after the St. Nicholas described in Clement Moore’s “Night Before Christmas” poem. We then contacted a company that prints elegant steel-engraved Christmas currency gift envelopes. We chose one that had on the fold-over cover, printed in red and green, an illustration of holly with copy that read: Best Wishes FOR A VERY HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON.

When you raise the flap, the Santa Claus image on the dollar bill is visible through a window that has been cut out. The more we developed the product, the more excited we got. I have thanked Georgianna a thousand times for her brilliant idea and should have given her a royalty! But what I did start doing about that time was give her my “dirty money.” You laugh, but she loved it!

I don’t carry a wallet, only a card case; I carry currency loose in my pocket. I like to keep my bills neat and don’t want dirty, wrinkled bills in my pocket, so I started giving Georgianna any “dirty money” I had. It was an inside joke between us for many years. In Georgianna’s dresser drawer is her “dirty money,” which I still put there. There are times when I use some of it, but the amount stays around $150 or so.

I also don’t like to carry change in my pocket, so I have always put that in a jar. Georgianna took care of this, and when the jar was full, she put it in a large Yogi Bear bank. Periodically that money was divided among the gandchildren.

Playboy magazine featured our Santa Dollar, and in two other editions they featured my “French Nudes Playing Cards” and “The Tantrum Mat.” The article for the Santa Dollar was titled, CHRISTMAS GREENERY:

Yes, that’s old Saint Nick with his picture perfectly affixed to a real dollar bill. Is it legal tender? “You bet,” says Thurston Moore Country that’ll do the same with your photo. Santa bills are $3.95 each, while personalized bills with your photo are $8.95 each. All the bills, incidentally, are mint-fresh and negotiable. Slip one to your doorman, and you’ll never have to hail your own cab again. 

Playboy Santa 

Radio Station WKY in Oklahoma City ran a very successful promotion on the Santa Claus Dollar Bills. We sold them 250 bills for $1.50 each, and every spot they ran mentioned Thurston Moore Country. They ran ten 20-second promos per day for five days.

At our trade shows, we displayed a real money tree. This was a small artificial Christmas tree with Santa Claus Dollar Bills attached, each with a ribbon. The tree revolved slowly – a real show-stopper!

Santa ran into trouble with the law, too! A newspaper ran an article showing a photo of Santa with the heading: SANTA ON A BUCK INSTEAD OF REINDEER, with this copy:

The Harris Teeter clerk did not say “Ho! Ho! Ho!” when he saw a familiar face on a dollar bill while counting cash. Instead he called police to report funny money. What the clerk thought was counterfeit turned out to be an altered bill instead. When asked what the Santa looked like, Capt. John Butler gave a deadpan description: “He’s a heavyset guy with a beard.” 

Harris Teeter management was unable to determine when the bill was accepted or who may have passed it, police reported…The likely motive? “A practical joke,” Butler said. “I have never seen Santa on a bill before, but I have seen current presidents, as well as the MAD magazine mascot, Alfred E Newman. Being a college town, people are more apt to do something like that because they do silly things.” 

Don’t Miss the Next Chapter: Montrose, Colorado