Santa baby! Holiday art you can take to the bank

The MIA has a remarkable collection of banks, of the piggy-bank variety. And one of the most popular themes (aside from piggies) is Santa Claus. Because nothing says saving like a fat home invader in a red suit. Of course, saving for Christmas was serious business for 20th century Americans, especially during the Depression, when many banks sponsored Christmas clubs. These home banks reminded you of your fiduciary holiday duties, and if you withdrew the money for any reason other than presents, well, Santa would definitely know.


This snoozing Santa was made in 1954 by the Banthrico company, the kings of coin banks in the mid-20th century, largely for corporate promotions. They folded in 1985. Where this Santa is sleeping is anyone’s guess—at the mall between visitors, at home, or at your home in the midst of a long night out?


This bank, circa 1900, features a pre-Coca Cola Santa in the Old World “Father Christmas” mode carrying a Christmas tree. The slot for coins is in his back, and, at just six inches tall, you weren’t going to fit many in. Simpler times.


Descriptions of objects in the collection are generally staid, reserving judgment, like police blotters. Yet the caption writer could hardly be describing this bank as a “scary smiling face.” That it is, with the cheek to have “save and smile” inscribed on the front. It’s a British piece, from the early 20th century, which perhaps explains the dry humor. You’d think twice before taking a coin out of here before Christmas.


The oldest Santa bank in the collection, this little elf from 1889 is currently on display at the Purcell-Cutts House in Minneapolis, which offers holiday tours. This guy is straight out of the northern European woods.


The later the Santa, the bigger the sack (and Santa himself). This guy is pure post-war kitsch, with a gold belt and bell—Santa as his own stocking stuffer.


Made in Japan, this late 20th-century Santa looks like he’s either breakdancing or fallen and asking for a hand up. More likely, he’s just supposed to be chill—casual Santa—as though an enormous man in a red suit with a sack of loot is as normal as milk and cookies.