Our scans start with this awesome page-wide illustration from the Dec. 11, 1884 Youth's Companion (below). Included in the montage are two images that very much correspond to our current image of Santa:
Next, some equally familiar images of Santa (below) from the The Night Before Christmas (M.A. Donohue & Co., no date), one of who-knows-how-many 19th- and early 20th-century picture story collections titled after the famous Clement Clarke Moore poem of 1823. No telling when this was printed, but the illustrations, which show up in many a cheap Santa storybook, are from the late 19th century. Do you imagine the artists received some dough every time their illustrations were recycled? Me, neither! But who knows?
This 1901 McLouglin Bros. edition (below) of Moore's poem (and Moore's poem only) is a far classier affair. The cover gives a copyright date of 1899, which I'm guessing is for the illustrations.
This guy is a 95 percent modern Santa. Maybe 97 percent:
From the same booklet (below), we see children sending letters to Santa through the fireplace. Far out. A common theme in the 19th century, though new to me!
Next, marvelous (and very comic book-style!) illustrations by Ruth Mary Hallock, who seems to be pretty famous, which she deserves to be. Not sure why Santa's suit is bright red on the cover but, um, burgundy for the interior artwork, though I can't see anyone failing to instantly recognize him in either suit (below).
At one point in the book's very cool text, the little girl heroine, Gladys, spots her mother through Santa's magic telescope. Her mom, pale and depressed, is praying for her kidnapped daughter's return. Gladys cries out to her mother but can't be heard. Sound a little like the crystal ball scene from the 1939 Wizard of Oz? (A scene which, incidentally, doesn't appear in the Baum story!)
Below, another cut-rate Night Before Christmas storybook (with pages that cracked at the fold as I scanned them!), this time with a publication year--1903. Thank you, W.B. Conkey Company.
The cheaper-than-cheap Christmas Day storybook, from 1892 (below), is another W.B. Conkey printing job, as evidenced by the washed-out images, recycled magazine art, numerous typos, and all-b&w interior. (These, plus the Conkey credit on the copyright page.) I like it, anyway. The interesting text mentions Saturnalia, Norse gods, and our Pilgrim Fathers' "hatred of Christmas pastimes," among other real-story-of-Christmas details--you know, the type often treated these days as Internet (and/or Comedy Central) exclusives. The W.B. Conkey Co. begs to differ: