|THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sunday, May 9, 1937
PENNY BANK COLLECTORS
Museum Fosters Interest In Mechanical Devices Of an Earlier Day
By WILLIAM GEBMAIN DOOLEY, BOSTON.
may not come under the head of a hobby, but it was an early American
virtue, and no attempts were spared to make it popular. One way to
sugar-coat saving methods was the antique mechanical penny bank so
commonplace in nineteenth-century homes. Children were amused by the
trick animals that seemingly swallowed pennies, or comic Negroes who
tossed the coins into a conveniently placed slot. There were many other
homeIy variants and millions of them must have been manufactured, for ,
they now furnish a most popular item for hobbyists and antiquarians.
They have come into the current news with the announcement that the
famous old Dickinson-Baggs tavern at Amherst, Mass., which houses a
sizable collection of these banks along with other antiques, will be
opened this Summer as a public museum.
This historic eighteenth-century hostelry was
rescued from neglect a few years ago by Mrs. May Dlckinson Kimball of
Amherst, a descendant of the first Dickinson host who made a name for
good hospitality along the Albany Post Road. Mrs. Dicklnson is the
founder of Mothercraft, a cause now fostered by the American Federation
of Women's Clubs, and for some years she has devoted her efforts to
collecting rare antiques and outfitting the tavern as a museum to endow
the Mothercraft movement. Among the several special exhibits Is a
collection of mechanical penny banks.
During the last few years the pursuit of thrift
banks has reached the proportions of a small boom. It is estimated that
there are several thousand persons In the country who either specialize
in these banks or who have a considerable number of them in their
general collections. One shop' in Asbury Park, N. J ., is entirely
devoted to the thousand or more varieties, and persons of prominence are
connoisseurs of the various types.
The origin of the mechanical bank Ii not
clearly known, and there is no distinguished literature on the subject.
There is little doubt that devices of the sort were used during the
second and third centuries A. D. at Rome. Some modern types seem to stem
from late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Germany, Switzerland
and the Netherlands, and from there to France and England, thence to
this country, where the local foundries soon discovered their appeal to
a Yankee thrift. Evan today their manufacture has not entirely died out,
and modern versions are used by insurance agents to give to holders of
small policies opportunity to save for premiums.
Then them are the "comics," mainly of
broadly characterized Negro types, such as Dinah, who takes the penny
and avidly swallows it down a generously wide-open mouth. Then there is
the European type of a whirling clown on a globe or, more native, the
traditional Uncle Sam on an eagle-painted pedestal with his carpetbag at
his feet. He stands with right hand outstretched. When the coin is
placed In the hand, with much creaking it is deposited through the top
of the bag.
Animals are perhaps the most numerous forms In
which the banks occur. One such may be a monkey that takes the penny out
of its mouth, dumps it In a tree trunk and covers the hollow stump;
others may be squirrels that seemingly gnaw the coins like peanuts.
Among the most famous and artistic of the animal mechanical banks is the
lead or an iron eagle that drops the coin from its beak Into the mouths
of two hungry and tiny eaglets In the' nest before it.
Sports naturally furnish a wide field for the
ingenious Inventors, and this group has many lively devices, such as the
marksman who shoots the coin into a slotted target, the hunter into his
prey's mouth. The circus furnishes more color and action, with the
trapeze boy who whirls the penny down into a receptacle at the bottom of
his swing, arid many other gadgets. Certainly among the most popular is
the famous "Darktown Batter," a group of three Negroes playing
baseball. Here the pitcher tosses the coin; it travels a few inches and
drops into the catcher's open lap, only after the grinning batter makes
an ineffective swing at the projectile. It is no wonder that young
children of various times shrilled with gleeful wonder at the
entertainment thus afforded them in making saving a pleasure and that
collectors today pay anywhere from $2 to $100 for the privilege of
acquiring such mechanical treasures!