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THE BRIDGEPORT SUNDAY POST, JUNE 3, 1945
  
Children's Mechanical Banks Now Collectors Items;
Library Holding Exhibition of Fascinating Models

  
     Back in the Victorian era, when children were seen and not heard and when , if we can believe many a present-day child psychiatrist, the poor lambs had nothing done for their entertainment, a vast number of mechanical toys were manufactured sold and presumably presented to children.

            
Hall's Excelsior Bank, patented Dec. 1, 1869, is the earliest known patented type of mechanical savings bank delight of the youth of the Victorian era and the collectors of today. When you pull the doorbell, the roof opens and reveals a figure seated on a table. It overbalances, penny is "deposited" and bank closes. Property of Edward Welch, of Barnum avenue, now on exhibition at the Bishop Room, Buroughs Library.
  
Let's hope the owners of Tammany Banks and there were many for the form was exceedingly popular with the youth of grandpa's day didn't model their careers on the effigy's example. He's Boss Tweed, of course, New York politico whose ability at slipping wealth into his own pocket inspired the bank's designer. Put a penny in the outstretched hand and before you can say "Boo" it's in Tweed's pocket. Justice caught up with the original, and he died in jail in 1878 but the popularity of the Tammany Bank continued for years.

     Now, in this enlightened age, these same little gadgets have come into a new glory and are eagerly sought by grown men and women of the genus "collector".
     An interesting group of mechanical toys including a number of mechanical banks, is now on exhibition in the Bishop Room of the Burroughs library, placed there on loan by Edward Welch, of 1195 Barnum avenue.
     There are games, such as "Around the World in 73 Days with Nellie Bly" - one of those games you play by spinning a spinner, then counting out the number of spaces with a little marker like chessmen and he who gets around first, wins.


Pull-toys from Mr. Welch's collection are also on display. This dog-and-cat fight actually operates the pup dashing out of the kennel as the wheels revolve. Mistress Puss is stationary.
    
     There are carved animals and pull-toys of all sorts including a fascinating cat-and-dog fight. This is a little cast-iron toy on wheels. The cat is stationary but the dog is on a slide so constructed that when the wheels turn he leaps out fiercely at Mistress Pussy. There is a fine old "train-of-cars" set, purporting to be the New York Central & Hudson River line, which has combined a baggage and smoker with doors that really open! And so on.


For the military-minded, the Artillery Bank! The penny is ammunition of course. Load the cannon, pull the trigger, and the missile shoots forward and into the safety of the tower. The iron artilleryman doesn't have any part in the performance beyond looking military! 

     But the banks are the most fun. Toy-bank collecting has become increasingly popular over recent years. When the rage started a decade or two ago, collectors merely tried to get together as many different types as possible. Then, as in the course of any field of collecting, some commenced looking into the background of various types, in order to classify them accurately.
     And here, as in few other collecting fields, there was one source of information which told very definitely when and where and by whom many of the banks were invented and made - the government Patent Office here for many years, inventors were obliged to deposit working models along with drawings of objects for which patents were desired.
     Most mechanicals banks were patented, and thus a fine picture of the trade, or art, or craft as you may chose to classify it is available. According to H. Blair Hull, toy-bank authority, who has investigated the records, a rather simple little item known as "Hall's Excelsior Bank" is the earliest patented example. The patent date is Dec. 1, 1869, and the patenter was John Hall, of Watertown, Mass., who was late to turn out a number of other ingenious little penny-savers.
   
How Bank Works
     An example of Hall's Excelsior Bank is on view at the library. It is in the form of a bank building, with hipped roof and cupola. When the doorbell at the front entrance is pulled, the cupola section flies open, and a little figure seated on a table, is revealed. You place your penny on the table which over-weights the swing section, dumps the penny in the bank and restores the roof to its original appearance.
     The patent shows the figure, which was made of wood, to be that of a man. But many of the extant examples of this bank show a little wooden monkey instead. On many, too, only the torso of the figure remains, for the wood was fragile. The bank on display at the library is, alas, minus the head.
     Another intriguing type on display at the library, which has more than a little Victorian humor in its design, is known as the Tammany Bank and was also made by Hall, of Watertown. The patent date was 1873.
     The Tammany bank is a figurine of a political figure of the 1860's Boss Tweed himself! Round and well-fed in appearance and mighty elegant of long mustachios, he is reproduced in iron dignity. The right arm is hinged. You put your penny in the outstretched hand, the arm overbalances, and quick like a mouse Tweed slips the penny in his own pocket!
     The patent date is Dec. 23, 1873 - two years after Tweed had been indicted for felony, discharged by a disagreeing jury, then rearrested, convicted and sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Tweed later escaped to Cuba and Spain, but was eventually returned aboard a U.S. warship and died in jail in1878.
     The fact that Boss Tweed banks are found fairly frequently today suggests that they were made by the thousands and continued their popularity long after the original of the design had stopped putting pennies and other coins in his own pocket.
     In 1941 when Hull wrote on toy banks for Antiques Magazine, no example of a type which would be of particular interest to local folk had been discovered. Perhaps one has since been found. Perhaps there are a dozen still hiding on the dusty rafters of local attics, for this type - the Slogan Bank - was patented by a Bridgeporter.
      His name was "F. W. Smith, and the patent was obtained March 8, 1870. At least one must have been made for submission to the patent office.
     This little money-saver was in form of a square building with a door at each of the four sides. Over the door was a panel on which, when you deposited your penny, appeared one of the following slogans, "Give Me a Penny," "Thank You", "One More" and "Do It Again".
     These are only a few of the types made. On display at the library is the beloved colored jockey who rides a firery iron steed. Put your penny in the jockey's mouth and touch off the level. The horse will rear, the jockey be tossed forward, and the penny will descend into the comparative safe-keeping of the chamber below. Of course, with this as with most toy banks, you CAN get your money back by simply removing a few screws.
     Then there is the Artillery Bank which shoots the penny into a safe-deposit section when a cannon is set off. And the little colored boy who gets kicked in the head by the horse he is shoeing when a penny is set in place and the lever pulled. There's the organ bank with performing monkey, dog and cat which also plays a tune as you make a deposit.
     And so on. All are ingenious. All are extremely charming. And by and large, you decide as you examine them, that while they may offer less protection than present-day crack-proof dime collecting banks, they were also a lot more fun. You didn't have to wait till you were grown up to get something for your savings!


 

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