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NEW YORK SUN – 1930s

Bankers Make a Hobby of Toy Banks

Two Men Who Have Been Collectors a Long Time Are Joined by Others.

     Toy bank collecting seems to have caught
the fancy of an increasing number of persons who devote week ends, holidays and vacations to rummaging around in antique shops in search of new specimens to add to their growing accumulations. A few years ago only two individuals were nationally known collectors. They were Elmer Rand Jacobs, who is vice-president of the Seamen’s Bank for Savings in this city, and Andrew Emerine, who is an officer of the First National Bank of Fostoria, Ohio. Both these have added extensively to their collections, but they now have competition rather than a monopoly.
     No doubt children of all races during all the centuries in which money has been a medium of exchange have had their coin banks. Probably the collection of the future will display specimens of what were used, not in one country during the last hundred years, but what have served children in many nations at different periods.
     One of Mr. Jacob’s possessions is a reproduction of a terra cotta receptable which was used by some young Roman Antonius or Portia, more than 1,900 years ago, for the deposit of copper ases. (Rome once had gold ases, but new deal came along and inflation drove them out of use). No doubt the Roman parents of 1,900 years ago suggested that if each as were properly cared for, the golden aurei would look out for themselves. This Roman kiddy bank was a small oblong box, like a collar button chest, having on its top side a pig outlined in intaglio. When full, the bank was opened by breaking the terra cotta along the groove which outlined the pig. Unfortunately, when found the bank had been rifled.
     The reproduction of the Roman child’s bank was purchased in the absence of Mr. Jacobs and it cost $20. It was overvalued, in the opinion of the Seamen’s Bank officer. He rarely pays more than a dollar or two for his specimens unless he knows them to be unusually rare, in which case he will go as high as $5 or $6. He has added to his collection on trips through this and other countries and through gifts from friends who know of his hobby. He also receives offerings from dealers who search the country for antique banks in the hope that Mr. Jacobs will buy them.
     The Seamen’s Bank officer has found New England a fruitful field for trophies. More recently he acquired some interesting types of Aztec design in the course of a visit to Mexico, where toy banks were an article of merchandise in places where money was too scarce to assure clothing.
     Mr. Jacobs has in his Americana collection almost all kinds of non-mechanical banks in the form of public buildings, various animals and birds, bean pots, carrousels, baseball and football players, models of Indians, Negroes and even historic personages such as Capt. Kid, Theodore Roosevelt and Gen. Pershing. Unusual types are the “See, Hear and Speak No Evil” bank, the “Pass Around the Hat” and “Liberty Proclaimed.” One of the oldest rarities in the child’s bank line is a grinning clay face which is not unlike the gargoyles seen occasionally on old New England tombstones.
     Intriguing as are the toy banks which neither move nor perform, the mechanical ones which do always draw the larger share of the attention bestowed upon them by children and grownups alike who come into the Seamen’s Bank to examine Mr. Jacobs’s treasures, which are permanently exhibited there. For instance, there is an effigy of Boss Tweed. When a coin is placed in the Boss’s hand it is quickly transferred to the proper pocket. There is also a model showing Theodore Roosevelt shooting big game. The bullet is a coin which, fired into a tree trunk, dislodges a grizzly bear which emerges from a hole in the top. Another mechanical bank is known as “Professor Pugfrog’s Great Bicycle Feat.” It consists of a bullfrog on a bonebreaker bicycle. When a coin is placed over the small wheel the bullfrog makes two complete turns, depositing the coin in a basket held by a clown.
     Still another mechanical bank is in the form of a darky astride a mule. When a coin is placed in the darky’s mouth the mule throws its rider and the darky deposits the coin in the base of the bank. There are variants of this bank, such as the “Bad Accident” kind, in which a small Negro darts from behind a bush, scaring a mule which, rearing, upsets its wagon and driver.
     The “Magician bank” displays a lifelike figure before a table on which the coin is placed. Pressure upon a spring lowers a high hat over the coin; the magician nods his head and the coin disappears. In the “Eagle and Eaglets” bank the coin is deposited in a nest from the bill of the mother bird, who flaps her wings as the eaglets chirp. The “Horse Race” bank is operated by setting a spring which is released by deposit of a coin. Two horses then speed around a circular track. This bank is dated 1871.
     Relatively few items are dated, though some betray their periods by depicting things connected with events, such as the Columbian Exposition and the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876. The golden age of manufacture of mechanical banks, which are mostly contrivances of cast iron, seems to have been from the ’70’s to the early ’90’s. Some are so complicated and ingenious that grownups are fascinated by them. Mr. Jacobs takes great enjoyment in showing visitors just how his exhibits work and the visitors suspect that he must have spent hours playing with them in order to becomes so adept in handling their springs and hidden triggers.

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