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Collectors Vie For Penny Banks
Weird and amusing coin devices of last century are now rated
Real "Americana" by the connoisseurs
Modern Mechanix, February 1937   -  by Anna L. White

Judging from the number and variety of small coin banks made during the 1800’s we might conclude that saving pennies was the chief indoor sport of the last century. Coin banks were made in tin, iron, brass, wood, leather, glass, pottery, and even silver and pewter, fashioned into all manner of shapes — crude, unique, or beautiful. Now these little banks are classed as "Americana" and are being eagerly sought by collectors.

This fad is of comparatively recent origin, and among the first enthusiasts is Elmer Rand Jacobs, vice president and comptroller of the Seamen’s Bank for Savings in New York City.

One of the prizes of Mr. Jacob’s collection is the very rare "Giant" bank. This giant moves both arms and jaw. Another is the confectionery store bank, representing boxes of candy on shelves. When a spring is operated a girl turns around and receives candy on a tray. One peculiar bank is a wind-up mechanical device in which a savage dog jumps at a man and seizes the coin which he holds in his hand.

In his travels Mr. Jacobs is always on the lookout for new and unusual specimens. While in Mexico he picked up several banks made in recent years but carefully imitating the old Aztec designs in calendar stone. Another bank is of Spanish origin.

Mr. Jacobs has had printed an illustrated list as a guide to those interested in looking at the collection of juvenile banks on permanent display at the Seamen’s Bank, and he maintains that he has made more converts to the hobby than anyone else. Although he disclaims the honor of being the first collector of these banks, he is one of the pioneers.

Another pioneer collection is to be found at the Boston Five cents Savings Bank. This consists of 172 banks many of them mechanical, some of them rare, which were collected by Wilmot R. Evans, former president of the bank, and which came to the bank through his estate.

The third of the triumvirate of pioneer collectors is Andrew Emerine, of Fostoria, Ohio. Mr. Emerine has a very good collection of both mechanical and non-mechanical banks, among them the "Girl Jumping Rope." In this bank the coin is inserted in a slot, and when a lever is pressed the girl jumps rope, moving head and feet and causing the coin to fall into the bank. Another interesting bank in Mr. Emerine’s collection is the "Circus Bank," in which a clown drives a cart and horse around a ring.

Another Ohio collector is James C. Jones, of Cleveland Heights, who has some interesting and rare mechanical banks. One of these, the "Mikado" bank, was designed to take the old style large copper penny, and represents a Japanese man behind a large chest. It is operated by turning a crank in the back of the figure, which moves its arms up and down alternately. The penny is placed under the cover of the right hand and, when the crank is turned, this cover goes down and the left one is raised. Then the operation is reversed and the penny disappears into the chest. In another bank, "Patronize the Blind Man and His Dog," a coin is placed between the hands of the blind man, and the dog travels along the curved track, takes the penny in his mouth as he passes the man, and deposits it in the receptacle.

Many antique shops attempt to meet the demands of collectors. Norman Sherwood of Asbury Park, N.J., who deals exclusively in these banks, has devoted much time and study to their history and background and is an authority on their value.

These little banks cannot actually qualify as "antiques," as the earliest dates for any of the American banks are not further back than 1840. Probably the first juvenile banks used in this country were brought from England and Europe. The earliest banks made in America were of tin, many of them by a Connecticut firm, established in 1810 at Durham, which began making tin banks in the 1840’s.

A little later iron banks were made, and much more care and workmanship appears upon them. An interesting series of coin banks made of iron are little toy safes. Some of these models had real combination locks.

The largest manufacturer of juvenile banks was the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Conn., established in 1843. Old catalogues of this company list 21 mechanical juvenile banks now highly valued by collectors, besides about 30 non-mechanical banks and safes. Other manufacturers of small banks were the Sheppard Mfg. Co., of Buffalo, N.Y., and the Kenton Hardware Co., of Kenton, Ohio.

The first juvenile banks in general use were non-mechanical, sometimes termed by present day collectors as "dumb" banks. It is estimated that there are several hundred types of these now in existence. Good authorities claim that altogether around 200 different types of mechanical banks were made. A few mechanical banks are quite early in date, some as far back as 1862, but roughly speaking, they were manufactured in quantities mostly between the years 1869 and 1906, then demand for them waned. Ther height of their popularity and use seems to have been in the 80’s.

There are a few instances of these juvenile banks being distributed for advertising purposes in the 90’s and later, but generally they were offered for sale in the stores at prices ranging from $1 to $2.50, and were bought by parents and fond aunts and uncles as Christmas and birthday presents for the children.

All sorts of animals were popular as models for banks — dogs, owls (indicating wisdom), and barnyard fowls. A type of bank that seems to have had wide popularity is shaped like a pig. There are pig banks of all kinds and descriptions and are too numerous to be highly valued by collectors.

It is perhaps hard to understand the significance of a pig in banking circles. The squirrel has more meaning as it suggests thrift. Several types of squirrel banks are in existence, among them one with a squirrel which, at the pressure of a spring, flips a coin into an opening in a stump. The words, "Save as the Squirrels" are imprinted on the standard.

Many coin banks are replicas of public buildings and houses. Some are in the shape of human heads, either natural or grotesque.

When it comes to the grotesque, one bank in the collection owned by Dr. A.E. Corby, of New York City, is undoubtedly the only one of its kind. This is the skull of an Indian which somebody found out West, polished and stained dark brown and, by putting a slit in the top of the head made it into a bank. When Dr. Corby obtained this somewhat gruesome bank, it contained 700 Indian head pennies.

Dr. Corby has one of the largest and most important collections of juvenile banks, both mechanical and non-mechanical — about 2,500 in all — some of them very rare. He has one whole shelf containing small coin banks of which there is only one of a kind, so far as is known. The prize bank in this collection is really a museum piece valued at several hundred dollars. It is dated 1855 and is made of silver in a very graceful urn shape on which is an inscription indicating that it was a Christmas present from a man to his daughter. On it are beautifully embossed the horn of plenty, a rock suggesting safety, an oak leaf for sturdiness, a beehive for thrift, and various other designs.

One of the two pewter banks in the collection is a replica of an old-fashioned chest of drawers complete in every detail. This is a rare bank as very few toy banks ever were made of pewter.

In the very fine collection of Walter P. Chrysler may be found one of almost every type of juvenile bank, both non-mechanical and mechanical, known to collectors.

Among the rare banks in this collection is one which may have been designed as a sort of oracle on the stock market — the "Bull and Bear." The animals stand facing each other and between them is a small fan-shaped indicator with a slot at the top for the insertion of a coin. When the coin drops the indicator swings toward either the bull or the bear, thus suggesting which way the market is going.

In a catalogue issued by the Stevens Company, a Buster Brown bank is listed, but for a long time no one was able to find any such bank. At last one turned up and it now has a place in Mr. Chrysler’s collection. Buster and his dog are shooting the chutes in a car. After a coin is placed in a slot near the end of the chute, the car slides down and pushes the coin in.

A very early Stevens is the Billy Goat bank. After a coin is inserted in the slot, upon the pulling of a wire the goat butts the coin into the bank.

A few of the old time trick banks are being reproduced and put on the market, but the true collector is not easily deceived by these, as he knows the earmarks of the real "antique." Even in the genuine old banks there is considerable difference in value according to the rarity of certain types.

Of several rabbit banks, a rare one is in the collection of William F. Ferguson, of the Bank for Savings, New York. It is a large rabbit on an oblong base, which moves its ears when the tail is pressed.

At the Bank for Savings, Mr. Ferguson has a good collection of mechanical banks, and Wesley Hallett, also of that bank, has devoted his energies to the collection of non-mechanicals. Mr. Ferguson has an old bank, the Monkey and the Walnut, which is interesting. A coin is placed in the hand of the monkey, and when a spring is pressed the nut opens and the monkey drops the penny into the nut. Another valuable bank is the Cat and Mouse bank, and an amusing one is a colored mammy holding a pickaninny on her lap. The coin is placed on a spoon in the mammy’s hand, and when a lever is pushed, the mammy’s head moves up and down; the child kicks its feet, and the coin drops from the spoon into the child’s mouth.

Mr. Hallett’s prize bank is a chanticleer in Italian Delftware , claimed to be over two hundred years old. Another Delftware bank is a Dutch shoe. Mr. Hallett has accumulated enough buildings for a whole village complete with church, armory, jail, bank building, houses, barn and garage, trolley cars, and horse cars, a locomotive, a town clock, and the town loafer — a ragamuffin darky sitting on a bale of cotton.

It can be readily understood how many of the mechanical banks might have fascinated children into depositing coins just to see them work. In a small Bunker Hill monument a coin is inserted at the top and runs down a winding sluice into the coin receptacle at the base. "Prof. Pugfrog’s Great Bicycle Feat" consists of placing a coin back of the wheel, then pressing a lever, whereupon the wheel revolves and tosses the coin into the receptacle at the front. "William Tell" shoots the coin, which is placed on the gun, at the apple on the boy’s head. An unusual bank, the only one of its kind, so far as collectors can find out, is the "Kick-Inn," in the shape of an inn in front of which is a mule which kicks the coin into the house.

The "Kicking Cow" is both a bank and a mechanical toy. At the pressure of a spring, the cow becomes fractious, kicks out a leg and knocks over the boy who is doing the milking.

Of course, Uncle Sam appears in various types of banks. In one, the tall figure in high hat and striped trousers wags his goatee as he drops the coin placed in his hand into a carpet bag.

While collectors of these banks have not yet gained the point where they grade this new form of Americana as "first-," "second-period" American, etc., many banks by the material of which they are made, or by costumes or some hint of an historical event, indicate their own periods.

Besides many small collectors, there are about twelve outstanding collections of juvenile banks in the United States. This collecting hobby seems to be particularly strong in the New England States, but people all over the country are becoming interested. A prominent Pacific Coast collector is F. W. Wieder, of Berkeley, California.

Prices of coin banks depend upon rarity and upon the desire of individuals to possess the banks. Some mechanical banks listed in the old manufacturers’ quotations to sell to the trade at $5 to $10 per dozen, today are sometimes quoted as high as $25 to $35 a piece. Prices may have the very wide range of from $1 to several hundred.

One big collector recently received a letter from a woman offering a very good bank for $20. He wired her to send it C.O.D. and in reply received a letter saying she had had many good offers, and was jacking up her price. In the end the collector paid $75 for it.


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