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December 14, 2023 9 mins

Our holiday-themed tales are a little thin today, but that doesn't mean they don't have value.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales right there on display, just waiting
for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

(00:36):
We've all been there. Fingers covered in paper cuts, pieces
of Scotch tape, stuck along the edge of a coffee table,
a single pair of scissors that keeps getting lost. For me,
every Christmas Eve turns into a mad dash to finish
wrapping presents, which got me thinking, how did this tradition
even begin? Well, it turns out the practice of wrapping

(00:57):
gifts can be traced all the way back to the
first century CE. It began in Korea with a special
type of decorative, reusable wrapping cloth called a bajogi. A
similar practice arose in Japan during the sixteen hundreds. By
the Victorian era, gift wrapping had spread to Great Britain,
although it was mainly a luxury for the upper classes,
and this was when wrapping paper started to look kind

(01:19):
of similar to what we use today. Instead of reusable cloth.
They covered gifts in thick patterned paper, and they usually
added some ribbon or lace for that extra special pop.
For those who couldn't afford this kind of frivolity, tissue
paper was a less pricey alternative. It was common to
see gifts shrouded in festive colors like red, green, or white,
and some stores wrap gift items themselves as a courtesy.

(01:42):
But not everyone was in favor of this colorful practice.
The nineteen eleven edition of Hardware Dealers magazine featured the
following note, and I quote, whatever your business, leave the
freak wrapping papers to the other fellow, which is pretty harsh.
I mean, what did the freak paper ever do to him?
In any case, this crotchety advice was largely ignored. By

(02:04):
the nineteenth century, the tissue paper fad had made its
way across the Pond, and American stores often sold out
of the product around the holidays. In fact, it's exactly
what happened to Jc and Raleigh Hall, two brothers who
ran a stationary store in Kansas City, Missouri, in nineteen seventeen.
Their gift wrapping shelves ran empty. Not wanting to upset
their customers or miss out on valuable holiday sales. JC

(02:27):
and Raleigh went to the back of the store and
looked for something that could replace the tissue paper. They
found some thin, decorative sheets that they had ordered from France.
They normally used it for lining envelopes, but with no
other options, the brothers put the French paper out for
sale at ten cents a sheet. The whole stack sold
out within a single day, so the next year, JC
and Raleigh ordered more French paper, this time specifically marketing

(02:50):
it for wrapping gifts. Again, it sold out to almost immediately.
In nineteen nineteen, after two years of paper selling success,
the brothers started designing and producing their own decorative wrapping paper.
This product was so successful that has sparked an entirely
new industry wrapping paper as we know it was born.
These days, it's estimated that over eight thousand tons of

(03:12):
wrapping paper are used each Christmas season. It's a sixteen
point two billion dollar industry. In the UK alone, people
throw away over two hundred and twenty five thousand miles
of paper during the holidays. That's enough to wrap around
the globe nine times. To say it's wasteful would be
an understatement. Maybe that's why the guy who wrote into
Hardware Dealers Magazine was so upset. In my opinion, it

(03:35):
might be time to take a page out of the
ancient Korean book and think about switching to a reusable
cloth wrap like the bajogi. In fact, my family's been
doing that for a few years now, but it doesn't
seem like people are willing to give up on wrapping
paper anytime soon. Christmas just wouldn't be the same without
those paper cuts, the scotch tape, and the missing scissors,
and of course the feeling of tearing into a present

(03:57):
to see what's hidden inside. And we have jac and
Raleigh Hall to thank for making wrapping paper what it
is today. Indeed, the brothers created something of a paper
based dynasty, selling everything from wrapping paper to stationary to
greeting cards. Their brand even expanded into television and film,
becoming known for producing holiday movies. And you've probably heard

(04:18):
of the name of j. C. And Raleigh's stationary store,
it's called Hallmark. A couple of Christmases ago, a strange

(04:40):
story made the headlines in Utah. A person had gone
into a grocery store, paid in cash and received some change,
and then they stuck the money in their wallet without
much thought. But later, when they looked at the one
dollar bill they'd received from the cashier, they were shocked
to see the face staring back at them. It wasn't
the regular green tinted George Washington. Instead, in the center
of the bill there was a portrait of none other

(05:03):
than jolly old Saint Nick staring at Santa Claus. The
person was baffled. They thought maybe it was some kind
of holiday joke, but then they started to worry that
they'd been given a counterfeit bill. Unsure what else to do,
they took a picture of the dollar and sent it
to the Fox news station in Salt Lake City. It
turns out this person wasn't the only one who had
stumbled upon some curious cash. The news station published an

(05:26):
article letting people know that the festive funds were indeed
legal us tender. That image of Chris Kringle was just
a sticker placed there by a charity that was fittingly
called Santa's Dollars. Each year, Santa's Dollars sells the merry
money at a slight markup, donating the profits to a
long list of good causes, and so that is how
a bunch of weird bucks ended up in Salt Lake

(05:47):
City supermarkets. But considering that we're only one minute into
this story, you probably know that this is part of
a much longer and much weirder history of American currency.
You see, the standardized US dollars of today were designed
and instituted in the early eighteen sixties. Prior to that,
every single state could make their own money. There were
New York dollars, Massachusetts dollars, Connecticut dollars, and so on

(06:11):
and so forth. As you probably imagine, this created a
lot of confusion when it came to conducting business across
state lines. But it gets even worse. Beyond having different
currencies in each state. Even individual banks could design and
print their own dollars. Just imagine trying to keep your
Bank of America ones separated from your Chase Bank twenties.

(06:32):
You would need like three times as many compartments in
your wallet. And on top of all of this, the
gold Standard, which lasted until nineteen seventy one, made the
situation even more complicated. The gold standard is a system
in which the value of paper currency is directly connected
to gold. For example, if a bank had a million
dollars worth of gold, they could print a million dollar

(06:53):
bills with the promise that at any time a customer
could exchange their money for the metal. Basically, because gold
is a precious metal, it was perceived to have inherent value.
By contrast, money, which is literally just dyed paper, only
had value if it was backed by gold. That meant
that banks had an incentive to keep as much gold
on hand as possible while convincing customers to use the

(07:15):
paper money instead. But as you'd imagine, to make people
want dollars instead of gold, banks had to get very creative.
Take the Saint Nicholas Bank of New York City for example.
In the early eighteen hundreds, the institution capitalized on its
name by printing a whole series of holiday themed bills.
These weren't decorated by stickers like the Santa dollars of today.

(07:36):
They literally had images of Santa Claus, his sleigh, and
his reindeer woven into the fabric. The idea was to
make paper money fun and collectible so people would willingly
keep it over gold, and it worked, or at least
the idea caught on later on in the eighteen fifties,
the Howard Banking Company released a so called center Closs

(07:57):
bill featuring pictures of the Dutch version of Santa, and
more banks followed suit. All In all, twenty one financial
institutions in eight different states jumped on the merry money train,
creating and distributing holiday themed dollars. People love them, and
banks love that they got to keep their gold in
the safe. But no fad last forever. When the US

(08:18):
institutionalized the standardized national currency in the early eighteen sixties,
all of these unique bills suddenly became worthless. Well kind of.
If you happen upon a nineteenth century Santa dollar today,
you wouldn't be able to use it to buy your
Christmas presents. But that doesn't mean that cash isn't coveted
among collectors. They can fetch impressive prices. A single Saint

(08:40):
Nick bill sold at auction in twenty eleven for forty
thousand dollars. And so this year, as you're writing your
wish list to send off to the North Pole, consider
asking Santa to drop some of those biographical bucks into
your stocking. It's an investment that might just leave you
feeling jolly. I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of

(09:03):
the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts,
or learn more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast
dot com. The show was created by me Aaron Mankey
in partnership with how Stuff Works. I make another award
winning show called Lore, which is a podcast, book series,
and television show, and you can learn all about it

(09:25):
over at the Worldoflore dot com. And until next time,
stay curious.

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