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AVOCATIONS — A Magazine of Hobbies and Leisure, November 1938


by Norman Sherwood

RECENT research in the field of old trade catalogs has yielded some interesting discoveries along the lines of old mechanical penny banks. I can state quite positively that Banks which resemble toys more than they do Banks or which are so constructed that the Bank feature is not too self-evident are much harder to obtain than those Banks which the merest glance tells one clearly are for the safekeeping of "Patsy’s pennies." Harlequin, Calamity Football, Giant, Horserace, Shoot the Chutes, to name just a few Banks off-hand, are all desirable and none what I would call "self evident" Banks. Frequently when a rarity turns up the offering is prefaced with this remark. "Why, we have had this Bank around the house for years but had forgotten (or never realized) that it was a Bank until we noticed a picture of a similar Bank in one of your articles in AVOCATIONS."

I had heard about the "legendary" Bowling Alley Bank through correspondence with Mrs. Bertha Riley Scott, of Hopewood, Penna. And listed it as a rare class five bank. There it stood until Louis Hertz (who while still in his teens is considered an authority in the Toy Locomotive Field) dug it out of an 1880 Strasburger catalog for me and now, as far as Bank Collectors are concerned, The Bowling Alley Bank, or at least a very good likeness of it is for the first time shown to them. This shows the increasingly important place which the old Trade Catalogs, Jobbers Trade Publications, Advertising Dodgers and other material of similar nature is taking in the research of the subject.

CATALOGS have often survived where all specimens of the Banks have disappeared, or where none have as yet turned up and it is my belief that nothing will aid in turning these Banks up so much as an illustration or a description of an unknown Bank. For instance, in this same catalog is pictured a larger type of the Independence Hall Tower with 6-1/2 inch base instead of a 4 inch base. I have never seen this Larger Bank although I have seen dozens of the 4 inch ones. Also there is a picture of the very rare Freedmans Bank, but the darky shown therein has long curly hair, the ones we have seen before appear to me to be somewhat different, doubtless it was made both ways.

Through the courtesy of Dr. Downs of Hartford I have been privileged to examine several sheets from Stevens Catalogs which I had never seen before, although all the Banks were known to me. Among these are the North Pole Bank (of which alas I have only the flag but lack the Bank), The Bill E. Grin Bank (establishing that the E. is like the capital letter of a middle name and not the last letter of the first name "Bille," as I have always supposed).

A really interesting fact brought out by these rare catalog sheets is that the Called Out Bank (almost surely a Spanish American War item) was produced commercially and cataloged. It has been my opinion that while this bank had been absolutely completed and produced, it had never gotten beyond the sample stage, and had probably been withdrawn with the sudden cessation of hostilities. My reason for this belief was that all banks I had seen could be traced directly to the Foundry and were always unpainted, this catalog page however, seems to effectually upset this theory, so now I look forward to obtaining one of these banks with the Foundry Paint Job intact thereon.

I recently had the privilege of examining two rare Butler Brothers Catalogs in the possession of Dr. Corby and one of these settles once and for all the question of the Uncle Sam Bust Bank. Some time back a collector who had more ability at digging out rare banks than experience in their values, obtained several of these rare Banks at one time. He very generously traded them off to several eager collectors for other banks worth perhaps somewhat less than his "treasures." He failed to explain that he had obtained a group, perhaps from a store or warehouse, and did not insist on receiving what they were worth in return. His kindly actions were misunderstood and for some time thereafter his Banks were viewed as were his actions in a most unjust light. I am glad to say I always regarded these banks very highly, and I am really happy to have found the Bank illustrated and advertised for sale. Then "believe it or not" one of these Banks turned up in a shop a few days after my catalog discovery. The bank is now in the collection of my good friend Mr. Odenwelder, and with all original paint "and everything!" These coincidences seem to me to be amazing: here is a Bank which is a subject of conjecture and discussion for several years, and almost on the same day a catalog illustrating and pricing the bank for the trade turns up in one part of the country and the only identical Bank I have been permitted to examine with original silver paint and colored decorations in red, white and blue, unimpaired—just as described in the catalog—turns up in another spot a hundred miles or more away.


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