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New York Visitor - Central Park, October 1943

WHEN THRIFT WAS FUN
Amusing Penny Banks Explain Why
Some Coppers Were Saved

          Doubt as to why past decades were more thrifty than the present one is dispelled by a visit to the Seamen's Bank for Savings, 74 Wall St. Here under three Ernest Peixotto murals, including one of Washington landing in a decorated barge at Wall and Pearl Sts. (now commemorated by a bronze tablet only a short walk east from the bank), is a fascinating collection of 500 penny banks. Their assembling was accidental. Fifteen years ago, Elmer Rand Jacobs, executive vice-president of the Seamen's Bank, strolled into an antique shop while on a vacation junket and found himself overcome with nostalgic memories on perceiving for sale a battered Tammany bank. This consisted of an effigy of Boss Tweed, which took a proffered penny and slipped it in a vest pocket. Since Mr. Jacobs had played with this toy in his boyhood and had because of it or in spite of it grown up into a banker, he purchased the object. Its possession subsequently diverted his attention to all toy banks which he bought whenever he discovered an original that was either unique or rare. Eventually, therefore he acquired many specimens which were taken to the Seamen's Bank and, in 1937, placed under the guardianship of another officer. Thornton C. Thayer, treasurer. This hobby-lover not only cherished the original display, but increased it by adding rarities which he himself unearthed.
          The collection as it now stands is notable not only because of the many materials comprising the banks and the age and workmanship represented by them, but also because of the remarkable imaginative ingenuity displayed. Outstanding among the materials is a hen of 15th century French earthenware, turned by wheel and finished by hand. The piece is not particularly attractive except for its age, but there are dozens of birds, pigs, elephants, horses, dogs, and the like of glass, pottery, metal and kindred compositions which, when combined with a good design, are attractive enough for a knicknack cabinet and in some cases even for mantel decorations.
          Although certain examples are pictorially effective, the really outstanding section of the exhibition consists of iron banks. These are equipped with springs and levers which accomplish surprising effects for the astonishment, bewilderment and delight of the child, not to mention the amusement of his parents, who enjoy kicking a penny around so to speak, until it is snugly ensconced in the receptacle intended for its temporary entombment.
          The mechanics of some of the banks is surprisingly simple; that of others more complex, but the joy of being presented with any of them can easily be imagined. Occasionally an exceedingly human touch obtrudes itself. One bank, for example, bears the scratched words, "Kittie, Xmas, 1871," thus conjuring up a little girl sitting with a small iron house in her lap feeding pennies into it in order to see a monkey emerge from the roof and waggle its head. For other Yuletide-minded misses, there is a Santa Claus who drops the penny right down the chimney.
          The banks, however, are by no means intended only for the "sugar and spice" sex. Many are designed for both girls and boys, and who would not be thrilled to drop a penny in the slot and see two horses race around a track? A few banks are obviously for boys, such as one where the traditional William Tell apple is shot from a child's head, or another where a soldier fires into a tree trunk, or still another where Teddy Roosevelt shoots at a tree from which a bear emerges at the top. Some banks seem to have been manufactured for special occasions. One of these, for instance, could not but make an appeal to a young invalid, for a penny is placed on a large spoon which is thrust like medicine into a child's mouth by a colored mammy. Again, almost any six-year-old would save money for a circus if his coin when placed in a dog's mouth were carried by the canine through a hoop held by a clown and safely deposited in a bank beyond.
          A definite attempt at humor is made in many of the banks. Among them is Chief Big Moon sitting before his tepee holding a fish. The deposited coin releases a spring which causes a hidden frog to leap out of a pond and gobble the fish. Who wouldn't laugh at this? It is also easy to imagine roars of childish laughter over Paddy and his pig. In this contraption a coin is placed on the pig's snout held between Paddy's legs and a lever is released which causes the pig to kick up and send the coin into Paddy's mouth.
          Occasionally even the iron banks are pictorially effective. Among them is a conception of an eagle and her eaglets. In this, the mother bird feeds a penny into the nest where her two babies await food. As the mother's head approaches, the mouths of the little ones open and they chirp. This particular specimen sold in 1887 for about $8.50 per dozen and retailed for $1.50. Now the same bank would cost $5.00 or more because of the increased expense of manufacture and the difficulties presented in casting.
          Subjects are endless a buffalo which bucks a Negro up a tree; a dentist bank in which both the dentist and his patient fall over when a tooth is extracted; a Liberty bell which rings when the coin is deposited; a girl who skips rope when the right mechanism is released; and many, many more specimens. Some of them recall childhood days; some are interesting as typifying the toys of other children. All are amusing, and the Seaman's Bank for Savings is hospitable about allowing visitors to view its treasures. Either the IRT-Lexington or Broadway - Seventh Avenue Express Subway to Wall St. is the quickest way of reaching the collection and seeing this quaint section of New York, where many Bronze plaques commemorate events of the past.


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