THE RAREST BANK?
by Norman Sherwood
WHAT is the rarest or most valuable Mechanical Bank? I hesitate to say Old Mechanical Bank, because curiously enough, some of the rarest and most valuable are in truth the newest—Harlequin, Clown and Columbine pictured here—a Bank which is both the despair and the delight of Bank Collectors, for it is a beautiful Bank with splendid action, and rare as the dickens— is only thirty years old. It appears in a catalog offering it for sale to the Toy Trade in the year 1906; the page picturing the Harlequin is an insert placed in the catalog after it had been bound, indicating that the Bank was completed only after the catalog had been prepared, and since the catalog is dated 1906, this circumstance alone very definitely places the Bank as having been manufactured and offered to the trade in that year. Certainly from the viewpoint of the Antiquarian this Bank was made only yesterday. Curiously lacking in any desire for Mechanical Banks (and utterly devoid of interest or demand) either as Collector’s Items, or as Toys, was that twenty-year period from 1906 to 1926. When the first article in Antiques Magazine on the Moskowitz Collection, appeared—and apparently Mr. Moskowitz qualified as one of the very earliest of America’s pioneer Bank Collectors (I should be most happy to hear of any earlier ones) the "fag end of the period" was approaching. Banks manufactured from say 1900 to 1906, were apparently made in comparatively minute quantities and even these few Banks which were manufactured seem to have almost completely melted away.
So I repeat the question—what is the rarest (leaving out the words most valuable for after all they may not seem quite the same thing as applied to Banks) of the Old Mechanicals? I could answer didactically—"some Bank we don’t even know the existence of." But as I am not trying to "beg the question," but rather to write as satisfyingly as I may, a reasonable answer, and as we are most certainly talking about Banks which are known to have existed—if we should take a vote among my Bank Collector and "Bank Expert" Dealer Friends, unquestionably the palm would go to the Harlequin, with a scattering vote for Buster Brown Shooting the Chutes, the Bull and the Bear, the Preacher behind the Pulpit, and perhaps a few other closely held and little known favorites; but, after all is said and done, I am writing this article myself and am trying to give my own opinion rather than that of others, I will say that none of the Banks above mentioned in my opinion qualifies for this unusual distinction.
UNTIL recently I have always felt that a bank called the Croquet Player described and sketched for me (after it was sold, alas!) by a friendly Chicago Dealer, would get my vote. It appeared to be a most lovely and elaborate Mechanical Bank of a Girl garbed in the full skirt of yesteryear, smacking the penny into the Bank with her Croquet mallet, after which exciting diversion she doubtless resumed her game of playing croquet and breaking hearts—but I have never seen this Bank, so I am inclined to describe it with a regretful sigh for not having been a few weeks sooner and so secured this veritable treasure for myself. I will just lay it to one side, and place my money on a little known but unquestionably factory-made Bank which appeared in either catalogs or trade journals which offered it to prospective purchasers. The Bank was called Presto, and is not to be confused with the common Presto Bank of the same name, (the latter being just a little building with a drawer that jumps out to receive the coin) but the Presto that I am talking about is a building and when the coin is inserted, a mouse pops out of the roof. Through the courtesy of Dr. Corby, I am able to show a cut taken from the journal in which the advertisement appeared. This in my opinion is the rarest known factory-made Mechanical Bank (which we are certain was both offered and sold in reasonable quantities) because no single specimen of it has to my knowledge yet turned up in any collection. I should not feel at all badly if some kind soul who has one tucked away in the attic would send it to me, because it has always been my ambition to possess at least one Bank not owned by any other collector.
AS the runner-up to the Presto Bank, I unhesitatingly nominate the Freedman’s Bank. Again, through the courtesy of Dr. Corby, I am able to reproduce the dodger advertising this Bank for sale and through the good offices of Mr. Ferguson, another thirty-third degree collector, I am able to show a photograph of the remains of what was once a Freedman’s Bank. I will not apologize for the condition of this Bank, because it is, so far as we know, the only one which has survived in any condition.
As long as Banks are collected, and as long as new treasures are unearthed, unquestionably this subject of the rarest Bank will ever remain an open one, and one full to the brim of human interest and excitement. It thrills me to think that right at the moment while you are reading this article, someone is probably planning to prove to me that they have a Bank, even rarer than any that I have mentioned, a Bank meeting all requirements, and existing because they actually have it in their possession, and rarer than any of these because none of us so-called Bank experts have ever even heard of it before.
Question: I have started to collect old Banks, and as the one I had when I was a girl was of an Eagle with her two young birds, who put the penny in a nest, I naturally bought this one among the first Banks I purchased. As I remember, the little birds in my bank used to squeak, when the coin dropped into the Bank, but the one I have now does not make any noise, Is this a different bank, or a later model? I would appreciate a reply.—E.L.B.
Answer: The reason your childhood bank had the little birds that squeaked or chirped when the coin was deposited was due to the fact that these Banks when they were made were equipped with a tiny bellows, and so arranged that when the Bank was operated, a sound very similar indeed to the chirping of little birds, issued from the bank. Time has doubtless taken its toll of the bellows or as it is more commonly called, the squeaker.