|1940, By Dr. Arthur E. Corby
See below for OCR
EVENTS REFLECTED BY PENNY BANKS
Mechanical Thrift Devices Dear to Children Came From Connecticut.
By DR. ARTHUR E. CORBY.
According to the best information of collectors and dealers,
mechanical penny banks first appeared in American nurseries during the
1860s. Though the earliest known patent for one of these ingenious
thrift persuaders was taken out in 1869, it is a fair presumption that
some types were developed a few years earlier. Primacy for their
invention and manufacture must be accorded to New England and,
Mechanical toys have a much earlier origin. Indeed, they were
familiar to the children of classic Athens. Considering the venerable
tradition of playthings embodying a principle of mechanical action, one
speculates why more than two thousand years should roll by before some
unknown craftsman hit upon the simple notion that a child could be
taught thrift while manipulating a mechanical toy. So natural, It seems
to us, is the toybank combination, so obvious its. utility as a device
for coaxing children into habits of thrift.
Most of the mechanical penny banks in American collections have no
special period value. The Jolly Nigger banks, for instance, might have
been in vogue at any time during the last hundred years. Santa Claus,
William Tell and the various animal banks — the butting goats, leaping
frogs, dogs, cats, mice, kicking mules — are among those timeless
subjects of folk lore and nature that appeal to the child mind of any
History in Banks.
Yet there are others that have a definite time interest, reflecting
important historical episodes, social trends and even fads. As Cuvier
was said to have reconstructed a mastodon from a single fossil bone, so
a clever historian might reconstruct the last seventy-five years of
American history by using penny banks as his original texts.
Many of the early banks featured military themes. Four years of
sanguinitry civil strife had not lowered the prestige of the soldiery.
An American father of the early 70s was apt to buy Junior a toy bank
representing a blue-coated Union artilleryman discharging a mortar at a
Southern blockhouse. Or the weapon might be a field artillery piece and
the target a fort. In both cases the ammunition is, of course, a coin.
We can imagine a Virginia colonel presenting one of these Connecticut
contraptions to his small grandson. "Yes, suh, that shows exactly how
the Yanks beat us. Money did it. They had the hard cash, and we
had only lion-hearted men!"
Mechanical Thrift Devices When the Philadelphia exhibition of '76 lifted
the country on a wave of exultant self-satisfaction (we were celebrating
a century of freedom) the patriotic mood found more peaceful expression
— at least in the penny banks. One of the most popular types bought by
visitors at the exhibition represented the tower of Independence Hall;
another variety was a miniature facsimile of the Liberty Bell.
Banks reflecting a spirit of satire are relatively rare. Of these
the two outstanding examples are' "Paddy and his Pig" and "Tammany." The
former caricatures the Irish peasantry who comprised one of the two
major immigrant waves that broke on our shores In the middle decades of
the century. Seated on the ground and holding a young porker by a rope
that circles its neck and hobbles a foreleg, Paddy seems to gloat over
the prospective feast. A clay pipe is stuck in his hatband and a whisky
bottle protrudes from his pocket. A coin is placed on the pig's snout;
pressing a lever causes the animal's unsecured leg to swing up, and the
hoof snaps the coin to a temporary resting place on Paddy's protruding
tongue which recedes carrying the coin with it.
The "Tammany" hank, first listed in a catalogue of 1879, represents
a corpulent black-mustached ward heeler seated in an armchair. Boss
Tweed, most notorious of grafting politicians, died in Ludlow Street
Jail in 1878, convicted with his satellites of gigantic swindling
operations which cost the New York taxpayers millions of dollars. This
bank is not a representation of Tweed, but quite possibly it resembles
some contemporary politician who was a member of the Tweed ring. The
weight of a coin placed in the boss's hand swings his arm across his
chest; as the coin falls into a slot at the breast pocket he nods
contentedly. Doubtless the designer regarded his creation with cynical
amusement; but one cannot help wondering what effect it may have had on
youthful minds. How many parents of today would give their young
hopefuls a toy that symbolized the tribute of honest citizens to
In the '80s when the Bowery still retained its glamour as the focal
point of urban wickedness, not yet having surrendered to the Tenderloin,
the Bowery Boy and the Dude were popular figures. These have been
immortalized by the punning designer of the "Bow-ery Bank." The flash
Bowery boy with choker collar and flowing tie is represented with the
features of a pug dog, while the silk-hatted monocled dude looks
strangely like a collie. As a coin is dropped into a slot these gay
dogs, gazing out of circular windows, bow to each other.
We are reminded by the "Breadwinners Bank" that labor unrest and
class consciousness are no new thing in these United States. This bank
evidently indicates the point of view of some American working men of
the '80s and '90s, who blamed hard times on monopolistic trusts and
financial buccaneers. A bare-footed man of strongly Semitic features
holds a club labeled "Monopoly" across a blacksmith's anvil. The club
extends beyond the anvil, preventing an honest mechanic from access to a
huge loaf labeled "Honest Labor Bread." The symbolic meaning is clear.
The bank is operated by inserting a penny in the cleft at the end
of the club. When a lever is pressed the mechanic swings his
sledgehammer at the club, which is deflected downward, causing the coin
to slip into a slot in the loaf. The monopolist is thrown off his
balance head over heels, kicking the financial magnate behind him. The
financier's head only is visible, emerging from a money hag labeled
"Boodle Steal Bribery." On the base of the group is the admonition "Send
the Rascals Up."
Fair of 1893 and
Like the Centennial Exposition, the Columbian World's Fair of 1892,
which commemorated the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America,
had its full quota of topical banks. The most interesting of these
represents Columbus seated on a mound. Pressing a lever causes the
ground in front of him to open up and an Indian sachem rises to hail the
Our little war with Spain in '98 revived the fashion of military-
type banks. One popular number represents an American cannon firing at a
Spanish cruiser. Soldiers' were again in high favor and they appear in
many variations, one of the best known being the Creedmore, named for
the Long Island camp of the New York National Guard.
The Pan American Exposition of 1901 is remembered today chiefly
because President McKinley was assassinated in its Temple of Music. In
the months before the opening day of the exposition the toy bank makers
were busy preparing for a rush of orders. It must be confessed they
showed very little imagination. Since the fair was held at Buffalo
they turned out thousands of mechanical banks in the form of bisons.
When horse cars were replaced in American cities by the more
efficient trolleys the novel type of transportation was advertised by
trolley-car banks. President Theodore Roosevelt's fame as a lion and
bear hunter received appropriate recognition in toy banks which are
variants of the Creedmore and the still older William Tell types.
Establishment of the Boy Scout movement, Peary's discovery of the North
Pole, the bicycle and roller skating fads are commemorated in the toy
banks of the last thirty years.
Caption under photo:
Group of mechanical
penny banks to be sold next week by American
Art Association-Anderson Galleries,