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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.
  
THRIFT 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.
           Boom in Thrift 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.
           Comic Contraptions
     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!

 

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