Old Mechanical Banks
A comprehensive study of the subject of mechanical banks, with illustrations.
By INA HAYWARD BELLOWS, 1940
Text - Part 1 of 2
The material has been generally obtained from individuals who themselves own specimens of these banks, from old trade catalogues, and from Patent Papers.
The list s not a complete list in any sense of the word, as banks of hitherto unknown origin are continually coming to light and owing to this reason, there may be need of an addition to this volume.
GRADES AND CLASSES
The more common banks such as the "Jolly Nigger", "Speaking Dog", "William Tell", "Tammany", "Spise The Mule", "Excelsior", "Humpty Dumpty" and a number of others range from three to ten dollars.
The fact remains, that any article is worth what one can get for it. Oft times a bank will sell for much more than it is worth by reason of some collector wanting it to fill in his collection. Therefore, the actual value depends entirely on the number available.
CLASSIFICATION AND PRICES
This question is a difficult one to deal with in any publication, other than a catalog, which allows for changes of current price listings in subsequent issues, due to the exhaustion of the supply of stock, or the addition of new articles making their appearance on the market.
Obviously, prices of any commodity are more or less regulated by the law of "supply and demand" and, any quotations which are given at the present time would of necessity bear only on the present market value. Naturally when there is an abundant supply of material, and many have the same kind of articles for sale, the price goes down; on the other hand when a shortage appears, the price goes up, and those who have the supply can, and do, get much higher prices.
It is to be expected as time goes on that prices will change radically and often, due to the above reason. It has been found thru experience that the geographic location has a very definite bearing upon the supply and demand. (In the major portion of cases variants of banks demand a much higher classification than the original model, due to the fact that designers and manufacturers tried to create a bank with more perfect action than the one originally designed.)
Up to the present time there has been no list of comparative prices. The writer does not feel that it would be reasonable or practicable to render prices in detail other than a rough approximation by classes and grades. With this prelude and explanation the following classifications are ventured, with a distinct understanding on the part of the reader that they are merely approximations and that any individual bank which is being offered for sale must be judged solely on its rarity and condition, which you will agree are major factors in determining the value.
It will be noted that in the first three grades, namely A, B, and C, are the more common banks. Therefore the prices remain more or less constant, while the next three grades, namely D, E, and F are not so common, and due to this fact their prices fluctuate.
CLASS PRICE RANGE
Possibly one of the most fascinating and entertaining of hobbies is the collecting of old mechanical coin banks, which at first interests you, then intrigues you, probably because, as it is said, a man is a grown up boy and the ingeniousness of the mechanical action lends fascination. However, we do know that the Chinese used a similar device.
This mechanical Alms Box is in the possession of the Metropolitan Museum, New York City. The box is constructed of pottery, upon the top of which appears a bear, somewhat badly worn. After the penny is inserted in the slot, the bear nods his acceptance, showing the mechanical action of the Alms Box.
Mechanical toys are found in tombs of the Pharoahs and the Caesars. Some writers say Archimedes once amused himself by constructing them. They were operated by springs, and triggers, and balancing devices, not unlike those used in a much later period.
The earliest types of coin preservers are found to be of pottery, and quite often take the shape of urns, which sometimes are decorated with designs of crude animals, or geometric figures. This particular type of coin receptacle was used in Greece before the Christian era.
Banks of pottery and porcelain were common in an early period in western Europe. An English specimen bears the date of 1664, during the reign of Charles II.
In all countries and in all ages pottery and porcelain seemed to be the preferred materials for toy banks which were reflected by animals and the classic urn.
Even with the Aztecs whose specimens of savings banks were formed in calendar stone design, we find this desire for coin repositories.
The urge to take care of pennies appears to have overtaken the American youngster about the year 1793 when the first United States large copper penny pieces were used. The presence of such coins obviously suggested the desirability of receptacles where they might be hoarded.
The first banks in America were home made affairs, made from gourds, shells, or whittled from clay or wood.
Some think credit should be given Benjamin Franklin, whose famous maxims encouraged thrift, for a sporadic revival of the childs bank; others think it may have had its start by the founding of the first chartered banks in 1816, or possibly by the strife in Andrew Jacksons time over the U.S. Bank.
About this period manufacturers were turning out tin banks. These small box-like affairs were held together with solder. In shaping and ornamentation, effort was made to have them resemble some public building with the coin slot added to the top, where there usually appeared in bold letters such mottoes as "Time Is Money." We know that English and German toys were copied in America, so we might assume that banks were also copied.
Following the tin bank, glass began to be used for bank making. In design they followed the whim of the producer and were usually off-hand pieces of various shapes and styles.
The glass-blower usually formed a hollow shape from the material left over after a days work, provided it with a coin slot and finished it as he pleased.
Occasionally one finds a blown glass bank which has been of the three-mould type, although these are quite rare.
Later glass banks were found in the pressed glass pieces, and were sold as dual purpose pieces, since their original function was to serve as a container for something else such as the mustard pot in the form of a house with a large chimney attached or possibly a beehive which was filled with honey, but which after the container was emptied could be used as a bank.
Early pottery banks ranged from the simplest shapes to the elaborate the workmanship varied from the crude to the very fine. Animals, such as pigs, dogs, horses, birds, etc., were very popular designs. Some china banks were sold commercially for about ten cents each, throughout the country.
Wood was also used in the manufacture of these toy banks but not as extensively as other materials. The shapes of these banks took the form of churches, houses, barrels, and guns. Some of these had concealed springs, which when touched would release the money.
Several interesting wooden banks have come to light quite recently the "Miser" which shows the misers purse, the "Wooden Two-faced Boy", who sticks out his tongue when a lever is pressed, and quite a few others. I have found a few banks which were made of leather, but these are rather scarce.
It was not until about 1869 that cast iron began to be very popular in the manufacture of toy banks. Ingenious craftsmen busied themselves trying to design banks which would out rival any that had previously been manufactured. Thousands of these were turned out by enterprising foundries.
Off times trial castings and the early experimental irregularities have altered a bank to a startling degree. This was sometimes done to remedy some real or imaginary objection or defect before being put into circulation.
Patterns and banks are not made in reverse to each other, but to all intents and purposes identical in design.
Patterns are usually made of bronze or some other composition of metals, while banks are made mostly of cast iron or a few in brass.
However, it has been one of the questions that is frequently asked regarding the banks, that has seemed very important.
It has been previously stated in this volume that this industry was before the age of mass production and consequently they had to be made by hand, which task in itself required a great deal of skill as well as patience.
A one time toy craftsman tells in his own words, the story of his bank making, which took place in the year of 1885 in Philadelphia, as told in the Philadelphia Times:
"The Creedmoor bank was the first I made," said the bank maker. "That was followed by the kicking mule, the bull dog and others. I am now at work upon a more complicated toy bank, the first bronze casting has just come in. We are now chasing it and filing down all the rough edges, and making all the joints work easily. I first of all make a solid model of the figure in specially prepared wax. From this I take a plaster of paris mold in two halves. Then I make two hollow models of the figure in wax from these molds. The next thing is to separate from the complete models the parts which are intended to be movable. Before me I have the left fore-arm and hand of a monkey, holding up a piece of cocoanut shell, the thumb of the right hand, the lower jaw, the eyes and the tail which, when the toy is complete, will act in conjunction with a spring on the inside. These parts being removed, I have to make a fresh model in wax of every part, with an end or joint attached to them. They are then sent to the brass foundry to be cast in bronze. The hole figure has to be made complete and working in wax before it goes to the foundry. When they come back some of the pieces are very rough and need a great deal of filing and chasing to make them fit and move easily. You see, the model in bronze that I make is the foundation from which all banks are eventually to be made, and unless my model works perfectly there will be no end of complaints when it goes eventually to the iron foundry, where the marketable toys are turned out. There are twenty pieces in this bank. A coin is placed between the thumb and fingers of a monkeys right hand. The thumb, you see, is kept in place by a spring strong enough to hold a coin the weight of half a dollar. When the tail is depressed the left hand raises the upper half of the cocoanut, the lower jaw falls down, the eyes go up, the right thumb is drawn back and releases the coin, which falls through a slit in the cocoanut."
PURPOSE OF BANK
A purpose lay behind the idea of a toy in the form of a bank, namely that a youngster could be lured into a habit of thrift by his curiosity to "see the thing work," and even though these banks were obviously intended for the younger generation, the subjects they embodied suggested a great appeal to the elders.
This sugar-coated method of saving appealed to the children, who were greatly amused with such as the trick animals, and the comic Negroes who swallowed coins, to such an extent that the saving of pennies became an exciting sport.
Thrift may not have come under the head of a "hobby", but it was said to be an early American virtue, and no effort was spared to make it popular.
Humor characterized most of these banks, such as will be found in the "Dentist", "Bucking Goat", "Bad Accident", "Jonah And The Whale", etc., etc.
The spirit of satire is rare in these banks but one sometimes finds evidence of this, particularly in "Tammany" and in "Paddy And His Pig".
Sports furnished a wide field for the ingenious inventors. This group has many lively devices, such as the "Marksman", who shoots the coin into a tree trunk, or into the body of a large bear.
The circus furnishes color and action with a trapeze performer who whirls the penny down into a receptacle at the bottom of his swing.
Popular Art of the Nineteenth Century
Not only are these banks a personal memory, but they constitute a legitimate phase in the pictorial records of our nations Arts and Crafts.
This is the type of material that the Public Works Administration has under its supervision, known as the Federal Art Project, whose duty it has been to record these pictorial records as a part of our countrys early history.
Some of the banks shown are "Dark Town Battery", "Trick Pony", "Santa Claus", "Humpty Dumpty", and "Tammany".
The popular art of the nineteenth century is displayed in the American room of the Brooklyn Museum under Popular Art in America. The purpose of this display is to show the unsophisticated art that is appealing and interesting to the great majority.
Wooden cigar store Indians, weather vanes, which portray the crowing cock, merry-go-round figures, iron outdoor animals, such as the deer, the rabbit, etc. etc., together with the popular mechanical banks, are all displayed. As one gazes at the objects in evidence there can be seen the handiwork of the real craftsman before he was supplanted by machinery.
In the mechanical banks here displayed one can see depicted some of the traits of the American Yankee his thrift coupled with his ingenuity re very evident even to the most casual observer. Then also his love for real fun, in the ludicrous maneuvers of a number of these figures.
The grimmest face is off times wreathed in smiles when the "Little dog jumps through the hoop" held in the hands of the clown.
The men who designed these banks drew incidents of contemporary life, and at the same time picked out subjects which would motivate children into depositing coins for safe keeping.
They were kept under the toy influence because toys played an important part in the childs life. They were amusing to look at, fun to design, and were surely a treat to put into actual use.
Because of the limitations of cast iron, they never became over-elaborate in design. The color of a bank was a choice of color schemes, similar to the colors used in the old merry-go-rounds, and traveling circuses.
The banks were perhaps a little "stiff" or "wooden-like" as each bank was carved in wood first; however at no time can it be said that they were "poor in deign" or "feeling for subject."
A close study of the various subjects will reveal that several artists were working on the same subjects and designs, as is shown by the varieties we have in the "Jolly Nigger Banks".
They all put intense study in the designing of amusing subjects and incidents portrayed, but had much in common namely, that which would amuse children.
Familiar types, such as negroes, Irishmen, clowns, organ grinders, bear trainers, bank tellers, and beggars, are common subjects for toy bank designers, and of course there are plenty of symbolic figures like Uncle Sam, John Bull, and Fortuna, but caricatures of individuals are rare. One of these portrays Gen. Benjamin F. Butler with a frogs body. One hand grasps a wallet full of "green backs", while the other rests on his mouth agape. Being Presidential candidate of the "Green-back" and "Anti-Monopolist" parties in 1884, the General was frequently caricatured during the campaign as a green-backed frog.
The action is more complex in the case of Professor Pug Frogs Great Bicycle. Releasing a spring causes the bicycle-riding frog to make two complete somersaults as he deposits the coin in a basket which a clown holds before him. A minor incident of the "Professors" feat is the discomfiture of "Mother Goose" whose music rack is kicked in her face causing her tongue to wag.
Other examples of the large group of mechanical banks having a carnival theme are "Clown Driving Pony", "Clown balanced on Ball", "Merry-go round", "Punch and Judy", and the "Harlequin-Clown-Columbine" group.
Among some of the toy banks are some of ingenious mechanism such as is found in the "Dark Town Battery". One can see the expression of triumph on the pitchers face as the batter at the plate misses, after the ball has been sent on its way. This bank is one that amuses young and old. It was manufactured in the eighties about the time baseball began to be taken seriously.
After these banks were made and patented, the patent rights off times were sold to various manufacturers who made them in quantities.
Perhaps the foremost of these were the J. E. Stevens Co., Cromwell, Conn.; Kingsbury Mfg. Co., Keene, N. H.; Hubley Mfg. Co., Lancaster, Pa.; Enterprise Mfg. Co., Philadelphia, Pa.; Kenton Hardware Co., Kenton, Ohio; and The Shepherd Co., of Buffalo, N. Y. These firms manufactured the most expensive kinds of banks, most of retailing for about one dollar.
Different companies manufactured animal banks. The Kilgore Mfg. Co., of Westfield, Ohio, made several of these, which were modeled from life, such as, the frog who says "Jug O Rum" when plunger is pulled, the "Turtle", the "Rabbit", the "Owl", pigs, horses, elephants, lions, etc., for which special keys were designed. Other manufacturers of this type were Arcade Mfg. Co., Trufant, Ill.; Gra Iron Casting Co., Mt. Joy, Pa., and the A. C. Williams Co., Ravenna, Ohio.
The Hoge Mfg. Co., of New York City are still making registering banks, which at one time were quite popular. There were other makers but the above gives the leading ones of that time.
THE RAREST BANK
The "Harlequin-Clown-Columbine", pictured elsewhere, is a bank which is both the despair and delight of bank collectors, for it is beautiful in design, with splendid action, and rare, although only thirty years old. It appears in a catalog, offering it for sale to the toy trade in the year 1906; the page which pictures the "Harlequin" is an insert placed in the catalog after it had been bound, indicating that the bank was completed after the catalog had been prepared, and since the catalog was printed and dated in 1906, this circumstance alone very definitely places the bank as having been manufactured and offered to the trade in that year.
The "Croquet Player" which is a favorite with some, appears to be a most lovely and elaborate bank depicting a girl garbed in the full skirt of yesteryear, smacking the penny into the bank with her mallet, after which exciting diversion, she doubtless resumes her game of croquet and the breaking of hearts.
Some other very rare banks which are also favorites are, the "Woodpecker", the very rare "Giant" who waves his arm and wiggles his jaw, the "Mikado" bank where figure hides the penny like a shell game artist, and makes it vanish; the "Wishbone Bank" which has two figures tugging at a wishbone, when the lever is pressed the wishbone parts; he "Turtle" bank which obligingly offers a vision of his head when the coin is inserted.
The "Bread Winners" bank a barefoot man of strong Semetic features holds a club labeled "Monopoly" across a blacksmiths anvil. The club extends beyond the anvil preventing an honest mechanic from access to a huge loaf of bread labeled "Honest Labor Bread". 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 sledge hammer 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 heals, kicking the Financial Magnate behind him. The financiers head only is visible, emerging from a money bag labeled "Boodle Steal Bribery"; on the base of the group is the admonition "Send the rascals up."
The extremely rare "Blacksmith" bank of recent find, which is described in this book is an asset to any collection, and owing to the fact that there was only one of this kind ever to have been made, places it in Class "F".
RARE BANK "FINDS" IN TRADE CATALOGUES
Some other rare banks are:
There are some rare banks that I have heard of, but which I have never seen, and it is doubtful if they really ever existed.
The "Bowery Bank" is a very elusive one as well as the "Preacher in the Pulpit", and the "Fortune Teller".
The "Woodchopper" who swings his axe, in which is inserted a coin, or the "Ping Pong Players", have been vouched for, but somehow fail to turn up. Where one bank has survived there may be others hidden away in some attic or barn.
The "Halls Excelsior" bank, which is credited with being the first of the "cast irons", started its amazing career in 1869. It shows a little monkey sitting behind a desk. This bank was made year in and year out, a good many showing slight variations. Then there was one made showing a man behind the desk, instead of a monkey, along with some brickwork at the base, but it was probably still called the "Halls Excelsior".
The same is true about a great many of the banks there were all sorts of variations. It is the variations in the more common types that add to their value such as the "Jolly Nigger" with the butterfly tie, Starkeys patent the one who moves his ears or possibly the one of "Little Moe", who tips his little flat hat.
Banks caricaturing the Negro comprise a large category. They include a great many such as "Mammy and Child" with action described later, such as "Jolly Nigger", "Uncle Remus", "Uncle Tom", " Spise the Mule", "Dinah", "Dark Town Battery", "Stump Speaker", and many others.
Of these the "Jolly Nigger", seems to be the most popular, although it probably has more variations than any other mechanical bank. There is the "Jolly Nigger" proper, then with variations in his dress, the butterfly tie, the yellow tie, the high hat, and the one that wiggles his ears, which is of English design called Starkeys Patent, and a number of other variations.
The "Jolly Nigger" type is operated by placing a penny in the outstretched hand, pressing the lever and having the hand move to the mouth, dropping the coin into his mouth, as he rolls his eyes.
The "Uncle Tom" bank has a somewhat different type face, with arms showing only to the shoulder. On the lapels of his coat on either side we find the words "Uncle Tom". This type is operated somewhat differently. The lever is pressed in the back, the protruding tongue recedes and the penny falls into his mouth, as he rolls his eyes. The head is shaped differently than the other types. These were patented by A. C. Rex, Philadelphia, Pa., in 1882, the oldest, Patent No. 252607.
Then there is the "Hungry Dinah" which operates much the same. She wears earrings and a fancy necklace and has much more prominent and larger teeth.
The "Sambo" is another of the Negro type but is smaller than some of the others.
Among these were the "Liberty Bell" of which there is a description later in this volume. "Independence Hall" showing the tower, "Independence Hall" showing the entire building, patented by C. W. Croteau, Sept. 21, 1875, Patent No. 8655. The "Musical Bell" showing a large bell playing a tune when a coin was deposited and numerous others which were all commemorative banks.
Then there were banks called Exposition Banks. The Columbian Worlds Fair of 1892 (which commemorated the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America), also had its full quota of topical banks. The most interesting of these banks is the one representing 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 Great Discoverer.
The Pan-American Exposition held at Buffalo in 1902, afforded an opportunity to perfect several banks in its commemoration. These off times took on the form of buffaloes. It is expected that several ingenious devices which were designed for the later Worlds Fairs will some day acquire collector value.
Off times the bank itself gives a clue to the time it was made, the "Tammany" depicting Boss Tweed in the seventies; the "Centennial bank", "Liberty Bell", "Independence Hall" were all of the seventies. "Firing of U. S. cannon on Spanish Ship" (depicting the Spanish-American war) was made in the nineties.
Banks were sold by various companies such as Marshall Field & Co., of Chicago, in 1894. One of the banks sold by this company was the "Dancing Bear" which was a clock-work bank, showing the bear dancing to the tune of the organ grinder; Sears Roebuck & Co. in their 1901 catalog advertises the "Kicking Mule", the "Bear Bank" and the "Battle Ship" (remember the Maine).
The "Teddy Roosevelt" bank features the bespectacled Roosevelt, a bear, and a hollow tree. He takes aim with his gun which has been loaded with a coin, and shoots at hole in tree. The shot is perfect, but just as the coin disappears a large and fierce looking bear jumps out of the hollow tree, but Roosevelt is not even baffled, as is shown by the expression on his face.
It will be noticed that Teddy does not have the large teeth which were later seen in the cartoons. A cartoonist gave him these teeth when he, Teddy, was campaigning for the presidency. The bank, one of the last to be made, was probably produced in anticipation of the campaign.
"Memorial Money Bank", is a bell mounted on a money bank representing Old Liberty Bell, which was originally cast in England in 1731, at a cost of one-hundred pounds Sterling. It was ordered to weigh 2000 pounds for the State House in Philadelphia in 1752. Before the bell was properly hung it was cracked while ringing for a fire. It was recast by Pan and Stone, finished and hung in 1753. A most important event took lace when at noon, May 8, 1776 it rang out Liberty proclaiming the birth of a new nation.
In 1777 when American forces were forced to vacate Philadelphia this bell and the Christ Church Chimes were removed to Allentown to prevent the English from melting them, from which to make cannon. For many years it was in Independence Hall, but in 1872 it was placed in the vestibule of the State House upon its original timbers.
This bank was brought out by the Enterprise Mfg. Co. of Philadelphia, and has pictures on its four sides of the chief buildings of Philadelphia.
SOURCE OF SUPPLY
I have purchased banks from persons who have cherished them, and from those who left them lying around, as being something which was only in the way, and that they were only too glad to sell.
Sometimes when looking through an old trunk that has been stored away, one finds an old bank which probably was the treasure of some little girl or boy, and as we gaze at the old penny bank which still contains some of the pennies placed there by the childish hand so many years before, a feeling of sadness steals over us, as we picture in our minds how the little child must have felt when he received it as a present.
Perhaps you can remember the time when you went to the church Christmas tree, on Christmas Eve, and there resting on the lower limb of the tree was a fancy box. All the time you were wondering what it contained, and who was going to receive it, and then you heard your name called and someone handed you the box. You pulled open the cover and there was a shiny new bank, two bright green frogs, one with his foot outstretched and which, when you pressed the lever, the foot sprang up, ready to throw the penny into the large frogs mouth.
You wonder as you ponder, if the little girl or boy perhaps did not feel the same way, and you are persuaded by these memories to agree immediately to buy the bank, and perhaps offer more than the bank is really worth.
THE BEST WAY TO BUY
In this way both parties are satisfied and, if it happens that the seller at any future time wants to sell, he will immediately feel like offering it to the one in whom he has confidence.
I have seen dealers buy an article by offering a very ridiculous price, then when the owner later found out the real value of the article, he would, of course, feel ill toward the purchaser.
This sort of buying makes it very hard for one who wants to be perfectly fair.
Then there is the buyer who minimizes the value of the article he wants to purchase, but places an inflated value upon something which is of no real value, and which he has no idea of purchasing, to get what he wants cheap.
I have had unsuspecting people say to me "So-and-so says I have something of real value here" and "not to sell it for less than $100"; which seems to be the figure set by these unscrupulous people.
The collector who does pioneering, in reality is the deserving collector. He hears of the ills of the entire family, and in fact must be able to sit and listen to the woes of them all. Then in turn, when the collector reaches the next place, he must be able to forget all that he has heard from the previous family.
To be a real collector, one must enjoy people, share their confidences, and in the end he is able to buy where others fail.