MECHANICAL TOY BANKS
The mechanical toy bank is a peculiarly American phenomenon. Indeed, it may be stated rather broadly, not until the United States had developed was there a nation extant where enough children had coins for banks to warrant their commercial production. The still, or inanimate, toy bank, made in a wide variety of forms and materials, including glass, porcelain, pottery, tin, and wood, which started to become popular in the 1840’s, was not long in having a more elaborate competitor in the mechanical bank in which action was necessary to deposit the coin, or in which the insertion of the coin precipitated or was accompanied by some movement, often of an amusing nature.
Such banks, in regard both to their creation and their manufacture, were a natural development of American life, and were made possible by the skill and ingenuity of American craftsmen, largely of Connecticut, almost the home state of the American toy industry. The first mechanical banks were originated in this state a few years after the close of the Civil War. The manufacture of these banks on a mass-production basis, at low cost, was made possible by the high state of development that the manufacturing and selling branches of the industry had reached even at so early a date. Many of these banks, which originated in America, were destined to be copied later in Europe, especially in England where the American designs and later the English banks following these designs became almost as popular as they were in this country, if not perhaps made in the same quantities obtaining in the United States. Mechanical banks, however, were not toys for Continental Europe. The German toy industry was unable to compete with the American manufacturers in this category of plaything.
The types of mechanical banks manufactured seem almost endless in their variety of designs. There were boys who swallowed the coin and rolled their eyes, William Tell shooting the famous apple off his son’s head with a coin, a horserace started by inserting a penny, and several hundred other varieties. The mechanical bank was actually a double purpose toy: an object designed to provoke an interest in saving, and a toy to play with. Today the popularity of the mechanical bank for children has diminished greatly, because of such toys as electric trains for play, and public school savings banks to encourage thrift. Although some mechanical banks are still manufactured and sold, most of the toy banks produced today are of the still type. Many are distributed by financial institutions to encourage thrift.
The mechanical banks are, of course, simply toys, and it is only when they are considered as toys that a proper valuation of their place in the general scene can be had. They were not a special class of merchandise; neither were they produced or sold as objects of art, a position to which some have tried to elevate them, by way of compensation for the fact that they are actually of much later origin than had originally been thought. However, the actual production of the banks, the molding, finishing, assembling, painting, and other operations, was manifestly a craft, and the original creation of the bank design or mechanism was quite definitely a form of art, of all the more importance and interest because it was the active, creative kind of real American minor commercial art which was transmitted into manufactured products for the use or amusement of the millions.
I am indebted to a number of people for assistance in the preparation of this volume: for aid in conducting the necessarily extensive research, for making innumerable valuable suggestions and criticisms, and for providing access to various catalog files and other sources of data. An especial debt of gratitude is due, in this connection, to Mark Haber and William F. Ferguson, both of whose contributions were prodigious. Extraordinary assistance and encouragement were also freely forthcoming from Andrew Emerine, Dr. W. G. Downes, and the late James C. Jones, Carl W. Drepperd, Richard M. Lederer, and Mrs. Mary Moore. I also wish to express my sincere appreciation to Harry G. Miller, Robert H. McCready, Grant D. Huey, Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Smith, Richard M. Lederer Jr., David Hollander, P. Tillinghast Jr., Mrs. Belle Secor Cochrane, Miss Florence R. Secor, Audubon Secor, Miss Alice Ives, the late Wadsworth C. Ives, Royal Ives, Edward Lee Ives, John D. Meyer, Russell Frisbie, the late Norman Sherwood, John Allaire, Floyd H. Griffith, the late William Ritchie, William Ritchie Jr., A.W. Pendergast, T. C. Thayer, Dr. A. E. Corby, Paul H. Willy, Howard F. Hotchkiss, and to the various officials, employees, and former employees of Stevens, Kilgore, Judd, Secor, and other former manufacturers of mechanical banks.
The source material used in the preparation of this volume was all obtained as the result of original research into the field, after it became apparent that most of the previously published material on the subject was unreliable. The bulk of the material herein was obtained first hand, from the men and women who were actually concerned in the production of the mechanical banks, or their descendants, or from authentic documents, factory records, catalogs, and similar sources. For this reason, no bibliography has been included.
It was perhaps only natural that in the early days of interest in the subject, many erroneous ideas and false traditions should have arisen, some in simple innocence, some deliberately cultivated in an effort to lend a certain air of romanticism and antiquity to a subject which to its earliest mentors, not caring to look beneath the surface or study it objectively, seemed devoid of interest and in need of such shoring up, or justification. Such fanciful conceptions have been dealt with on these pages. It is ardently hoped that their loss will be more than compensated for by the interest and import which the real story of mechanical toy banks, chronicled herein, will arouse, for the real story of these banks, and of the men who made them is, in itself, a most fascinating one, and needs no embroidering.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I THE AGE OF BANKS
II CATALOGS AND ADVERTISING MATERIAL
III GLEANINGS FROM THE PATENT OFFICE
IV BANK NAMES, AND CARICATURE IN BANKS
V THE PRODUCTION OF THE BANK
VI THE STEVENS FOUNDRYCRADLE OF BANKDOM
VII JEROME SECOR
VIII THEY MADE THE BANKS
IX FOREIGN BANKS
X ROMANCE IN BANK LORE
XI DEPARTURES FROM THE NORM
THE AGE OF BANKS
It would be difficult indeed to find any group of articles concerning which there exists a more widespread and total misconception of age and period than that of mechanical banks. It appears manifest that the first duty of the dispassionate historian is to clarify the exact status of the subject, and to separate the facts brought out by detailed research from the ideas which started in the early days of antiquarian interest in mechanical banks as mere theories or surmises, but which through lack of contradiction, have now become regarded as definite fact.
The prevailing, in fact the only conception of the age of the commercially manufactured mechanical bank, seems to be that the period of their production dates roughly from within a few years after the close of the Civil War to the end of the nineteenth century, with perhaps a few “renegade” designs made in very, very small quantities up to about 1906. Even with this theory, banks were not regarded as really old as antiques go, still they did date from the era of Sandwich glass, Currier & Ives prints, and other generally accepted collectibles.
This old theory of mechanical bank ages is so totally erroneous that it is difficult to see how it could ever have been accepted for one moment, except on the grounds that it was what the majority of interested parties wished to believe and to have others believe. Even the most casual and superficial inquiries into the subject would immediately reveal the absolute falsity of the old conceptions, and all further research would only serve to confirm this.
To set forth the correct picture at the start, this information, which will no doubt prove startling to many, may well be summarized in a few brief statements of fact: First, very few types of mechanical banks were manufactured prior to about 1875. From 1875, through the '80s and '90s, mechanical bank production soared, both in the number of types of banks brought out, and in the quantity of each bank manufactured. Second, the twenty-five year period following 1906, which was formally believed to have been devoid of banks, was actually the period in which the greatest quantities of any bank were turned out. The majority of banks which are fairly common today were manufactured in this period. The Jolly Nigger Bank, for example, was in production from the mid 1880’s to 1928! At the very time that the first article on mechanical banks written from an antiquarian standpoint appeared, in the October, 1926 Antiques, a number of the very banks illustrated in that article, to be specific, the Kicking Mule Bank, the Trick Dog Bank, and the William Tell Bank, were still being turned out by the tens of thousands by the original manufacturers!
Mention is sometimes made of certain banks being listed in this or that particular catalog, the most frequent reference being to the No. 5 and No. 6 catalogs of the J. & E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Conn., the leading manufacturers. Those who refer to these catalogs, however, are careful to omit the fact that each catalog carries a clearly printed date of issue, and that the dates in the No. 5 and No. 6 Stevens catalogs are 1917 and 1924 respectively!
The 1924 Stevens catalog, No. 6, illustrates and lists the following mechanical banks which they had in production at that time: Cabin, Owl, Jolly Nigger, Artillery, Kicking Mule, William Tell, and Teddy And The Bear. In addition to those above named, the No. 5 catalog of 1917 also lists the Tammany, Bill E. Grin, Eagle (sometimes called Eagle And Eaglets), Base Ball (Darktown Battery), Bad Accident, Bear Hunt (Indian Shooting Bear), Football (A Calamity), Lion Hunter, and Boy Scout. The Called Out Bank, which was formerly accepted as a bank of the Spanish American War which supposedly never got past the sample stage, was actually a World War I item, made by the thousands, and actually not introduced until after the 1917 catalog had been printed. It was therefore listed on a separate catalog insert sheet. Further, definite and irrefutable evidence, including the production records of the factory and the testimony of men who had been concerned in the manufacture of the banks, from the president of the company to the workmen who poured the castings, proves that the banks listed in the 1924 catalog were all in production and made up until 1928, when the Stevens line of mechanical banks was finally discontinued solely because the high cost of iron made the manufacture of cap pistols a more profitable line. (Russell Frisbie, the former president of Stevens, has stated that when he first entered the business in 1926, mechanical banks were fast losing ground as a profitable item, as the cost of making the banks was steadily mounting. According to Mr. Frisbie, banks which were selling at $9.00 per dozen in 1926 could not be made profitably to sell for less than four times that amount in 1941.) Actually, one bank which is generally classified as a mechanical, the Pay Phone Bank, which was only brought out in 1927, was manufactured by Stevens after the remainder of there mechanical banks were discontinued.
It will be obvious to anyone acquainted with the relative quantities in which the various types of mechanical banks are found today, that the majority of those which are brought to light are those made in recent years. Two factors determine the scarcity of a bank today, its age, and the popularity it enjoyed when current. This explains why a few banks, such as the Excelsior, manufactured many years ago in vast quantities, are so much more common today than some more recent banks which were made in smaller quantities, such as the North Pole, Clown And Harlequin, Shoot The Chute, etc. It must be remembered, however, that thousands and thousands of these now scarce or rare banks were manufactured.
If the last statement should also seem unbelievable to some, it should be remembered that the banks which are common today were made by the tens of thousands and even the hundreds of thousands. The life of a toy is usually very short, and its preservation for any length of time highly problematic. A toy of which only a few specimens survive today would naturally have been made by the thousands. The amount of toys which are insatiably, and without seeming effort devoured by the trade is, and always has been, almost incomprehensible. Also, as pointed out in Chapter V, it was unprofitable even to introduce a new bank unless a first run of at least 10,000 pieces could be assured!
Some mechanical banks were made in large quantities, but are scarce today, despite diligent searching, because of their more fragile construction. Among these are the Weeden banks, manufactured in the late 1880’s and 1890’s of very light sheet metal and wood. After World War I, Weeden revived one of their old bank designs, the Plantation Bank, and made it up into the 1920’s. While even in the nineteenth century the Plantation Bank was by far the most widely sold of the Weeden banks, its later revival is chief reason for the fact that it alone, of a half dozen types made by Weeden fifty years ago, is almost the only one ever found. Indeed, Weeden is known to have made several types of mechanical banks in this series in the 1890’s of which no surviving specimens have ever been found!
The Freedman’s Bank, manufactured in fairly large quantities in the early 1880’s by Jerome B. Secor of Bridgeport, and assuredly the most interesting and desirable of all mechanical banks, was largely made of wood and cloth, with the only metal entering into it being in the body of the figure, the clockwork, and the screws and nails. It is a rare bank today because of its fragile construction, not because it was unsuccessful. It was a true mechanical bank in that it had a clockwork mechanism; the word “mechanical” always implies a clockwork unit in the terminology of old toys. The term “mechanical banks” when broadly applied to all banks with movement is therefore actually a misnomer which popular usage has placed beyond all hope of correction at this late date. “Animated banks” would be a much more descriptive and correct form.
The Freedman’s Bank is also a first class example of the all too common habit of pre-dating almost any old toy, and particularly of the dangerous custom of dating a bank by the character of its design. This is discussed fully in connection with this particular bank at a later point. To carry this system to its ultimate conclusion in absurdity, it would be necessary to consider the Jonah And The Whale Bank as being turned out by some contemporary foundry in Biblical times!
Even admitting this system for the dating of banks, it is difficult to see how designs with such obvious twentieth century motifs as Teddy And The Bear, North Pole, and Boy Scout Camp could ever have been regarded as of nineteenth century origin.
What prevailed with Stevens prevailed with their competitors as well. The Hubley Mfg. Co. of Lancaster, Penna., continued to manufacture and sell iron mechanical banks of designs originating in the early years of this century, and even in the 1890’s, well beyond the date at which Stevens found it unprofitable to continue their line. Indeed, Hubley was producing three such bank designs as an integral part of their toy line up until the Second World War necessitated curtailing the use of ferrous metals for toys. One of these so called “modern” banks, the trick Monkey Bank, was introduced in the early 1920’s. Another, the Trick Dog Bank, is a development of a bank originally patented in 1888, and made in the “modern” form of castings for about thirty-five years. The third, the Trick Elephant Bank, was introduced by Hubley in its “modern” form-the only form it was ever made in-prior to 1906. Efforts have even been made to explain away these banks by creating imaginary variations between the “old” and the “new” models, especially in the case of the Trick Elephant Bank where a non-existent variety with “welded ears”, in place of the riveted ears of the “modern” bank is cited. Actually, all of these banks have riveted ears, although earlier models can be distinguished from the later ones by a minor internal variation.
At just the time Stevens was starting to consider dropping their line of mechanical banks, another iron toy manufacturer was launching a new line of iron mechanical banks, whose smaller size and simpler construction had been developed with an aim to serve the still ardent demand for mechanical banks and at the same time overcome the usual difficulties of manufacturing them. This firm, the Kilgore Mfg. Company of Waterville, Ohio, brought out their line of four new banks in 1926. These four banks were the Rabbit In Cabbage, Frog On Rock, Owl With Book Under Arm, and Turtle, all of which except the last named were made in very large quantities. Production of the Turtle Banks was rather limited, although a quantity was definitely made and sold to certain accounts. This line of animal banks was discontinued about 1934, according to the company records.
In considering the age of mechanical banks, or of any other plaything, it should be remembered that fifteen or twenty years is a long time in the life of a toy.
CATALOGS AND ADVERTISING MATERIAL
In research on the historical development of any commercially manufactured article, old catalogs, circulars, and other advertising and promotional literature play a valuable, and, even now, all too frequently underestimated part. In connection with the study of mechanical banks, this printed material is of value in ascertaining the details of types of banks which were manufactured, but of which no specimens have as yet turned up, the dates at which banks were introduced or discontinued, the identities of the manufacturers of specific banks, the prices various banks sold at, and a wealth of information of an even less obvious but even more important nature from an historical standpoint.
Bank literature falls into five classifications: manufacturers’ catalogs, jobbers’ catalogs, mail order and other catalogs offering banks at retail, small circulars or dodgers issued by the manufacturers, describing one or two banks, and lithographed colored cards or slips, produced by the manufacturer, but generally imprinted with the name and address of a local toy dealer or jobber. Such “selling helps” were very unusual in the toy field in the period of the 1880’s. In fact, these bank cards were probably among the first efforts along these lines in the toy business. They were lithographed in bright, often garish, colors, usually printed on one side only, although a few had wording on the reverse, and were generally about 3" x 5", although a few larger sized ones were also issued. The cards carried full color illustrations of the bank, together with name, description of action, and various other information, including at times the price, size, catalog number, etc.
These cards seem to have been originated by the Shepard Hardware Company of Buffalo, N.Y., for the promotion of such banks of theirs as Humpty Dumpty, Jolly Nigger, and Speaking Dog, and were later continued for a while by Stevens for these and other types, after the latter concern bought out the Shepard line of mechanical banks in the early 1890’s. The cards were supplied to jobbers by the manufacturers, either gratis with shipments of banks, or at a slight charge, and in turn the jobbers (except in cases where they themselves employed the cards for the promotion of wholesale sales of banks) would supply dealers who purchased banks with a quantity of these cards which they could have imprinted and distributed around their localities in any way they thought would do the most good. Because of their very attractive appearance, many of these cards were collected by children and pasted in albums which in that day were sold to house collections of the many trade cards being distributed at that time.
A few were not printed on cardboard, but on thin paper. Also, there were some that carried both the manufacturer’s name as well as the dealer’s imprint. There is one particularly noteworthy example. One side shows two views of French’s Automatic Toy Bank, with a brief description. The illustrations are all the more attractive because of their essential simplicity as compared with the usual gaudiness of these cards. The other side of this card or slip carries a complete description, the name and address of the manufacturer, and the imprint of a local dealer.
The bulk of bank advertising and sales matter was for trade use, however, and consisted chiefly of catalogs issued by the manufacturers themselves, and jobbers’ catalogs which reached the actual dealer. Such publications were frequently elaborate, and issued in large quantities, but their very character has made them scarce, for most jobbers and dealers periodically destroyed all old catalogs when new editions arrived, and toy manufacturers themselves are notoriously lax in retaining complete files of their own catalogs. Very few have even a medium sized file of their own issues.
When goods are being manufactured, all attention is focused on current problems, and apparently little thought is given to saving catalogs for their future historical interest. Consequently, almost all catalogs that are located must be searched out from where they have lain for years in old stores, homes, and other places. It is surprising the number that do continue to turn up.
Catalogs frequently ran to considerable size, even in the very early days. One large New York City jobbing house, Oscar Strasburger & Co., issued a 346 page, fully illustrated catalog in 1880. This was bound in heavy cloth covers like a regular book. Other examples of the size of the catalogs put out by leading jobbers are a 128 page catalog issued in 1876 by the National Toy Company, and a 192 page catalog of 1885 issued by the famous firm of Ives, Blakeslee & Co., who were the leading manufacturers of mechanical toys, and jobbers of other lines, including banks. The jobbing catalogs of Selchow & Righter of this period generally list more banks in each issue than those of most of their competitors, and they were plainly one of the leading wholesalers of mechanical banks in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The catalogs of a number of jobbers other than those mentioned above are equally valuable source material.
Some jobbers’ catalogs, of course, were small and inexpensively printed pieces, often without illustrations and relying entirely on printed descriptions of the goods offered. The “Descriptive Catalogues” of C.F. Lauer of New York are perhaps the most typical of this class of issue. For the most part, however, jobbers’ catalogs were of fair size and comparatively well illustrated. The illustrations used in these catalogs were made by the manufacturers of the articles who supplied jobbers with cuts of various sizes from these illustrations for use in their catalogs. Such cuts were generally electros or stereotypes made from wood cuts which, in turn, were made from a good drawing of a finished bank. In most cases these old catalog cuts were extremely accurate. Even in the 1920’s and 1930’s, mechanical bank manufacturers favored line drawings over photographic reproductions.
In a few cases the first cuts were inaccurate and later supplanted by correct ones. This is the case with the Bucking Mule Bank. When this bank was introduced in 1880, a cut was used to illustrate it in jobbers’ catalogs which, although resembling the bank sufficiently to convey an idea of its appearance, was actually not a cut of the bank. At one time it was thought this cut was simply an artist’s conception made from a description or an early sample. Actually, however, it was a cut of an early iron animated toy which performed the same action as the bank, but which was manufactured and sold as a toy for several years prior to the introduction of the bank. Quite obviously, the growing demand for mechanical banks inspired the ingenious manufacturer to see the potentialities for converting this toy into a mechanical bank, and he proceeded accordingly.
It is possible that one or two banks were drawn and cataloged which for some reason or other were never actually made, but it is probable that any bank which ever reached the stage of being cataloged, pictured, and offered to the trade or general public was produced in at least limited quantities. One mechanical bank which is known only through such a listing is the Captain Kidd Bank, described as a mechanical bank in the Montgomery Ward catalog of 1901-1902. This bank is known to exist as a still bank, but no specimens of the mechanical version seem to have yet turned up. Oddly enough, the bank illustrated as the mechanical is shown as made in exact reverse to the still bank; this may, however, merely be a result of failing to turn over the negative in making the engraving.
The Race Course Bank is illustrated in some catalogs with sulkys instead of with horses and jockeys. Some of the labels which were pasted on the wooden boxes in which these banks were packed were also printed with this same cut. So far, none of these banks have ever been found fitted with sulkys instead of race horses. The cut with the sulkys was used to picture this bank when it was first introduced, and it is possible it was originally planned to manufacture it in this form. Perhaps the very first productions were made with sulkys, but none have come to light so far. On the other hand, they may only be an artist’s touch as he worked from an incomplete early sample.
In connection with the Freedman’s Bank, at least two different catalog drawings were used which led to an early theory that this bank was made in two styles. The drawing in the 1880 Strasburger catalog (shortly after the bank was introduced) is rather more crude than what seems to be a slightly later cut. It seems that special pains were taken in making up the drawings of these toys. As a matter of fact, the manufacturer of this bank, Secor, also employed original photographs of his toys for use in selling them to the trade, mounting each print, and writing his name and trade under each picture. These Secor photographs form another and extremely unusual type of bank advertising material.
Another source of historical data is advertisements in old toy and novelty trade periodicals. These are, of course, secondary to catalogs. In the early days when a few large jobbers often took all of the banks a factory could turn out, the factory had no need to advertise. Later, when there were many toy jobbers and retailers to be reached, manufacturers seldom confined their ads to banks alone, but rather tried to cover their entire line. At times when they had a good item, and knew it, they were a little more expansive, as in the case of the ad which ran in “Playthings” in 1906 when the Teddy And The Bear Bank was introduced. Such ads were infrequent, however.
Of far more historical value is the information contained in the text of these magazines of the novelty and toy trade. If one will only wade through hundreds of pages we find personal and trade notes printed from time to time about the toy bank makers, their personnel, and their products. For example, in the May, 1903 “Playthings” we find the following:
“One manufacturer of iron banks is refusing totake any orders owing to the fact that the cost of production has advanced to the point where it is impossible to produce goods at a profit.”
This was the perpetual bugbear of the iron bank manufacturers. In the June, 1903 issue of “Playthings” we learn that the situation had grown worse:
“The advance in the cost of iron has affected manufacturers of toy banks to such an extent that several of them have withdrawn their sample lines and will take orders only from their old customers and even these in limited amounts.”
Both manufacturers’ and jobbers’ catalogs are valuable in dating banks, although, of course, unless a complete file is available, it is impossible to ascertain the actual span of manufacture. Not all of these catalogs are dated, although it is usually possible to determine the date by going over the text carefully, consulting city directories, etc. These catalogs, even when they cannot be accurately dated as to the exact year, always give some help in placing a bank.
The average wholesale catalog carried very little detailed information about a bank beyond the name, number, size, a brief description of the action, and such essential information as shipping weights, the number packed in a standard case, etc. In the nineteenth century some jobbers at times also engaged in retail selling, at times by mail, but usually by opening their salesrooms to retail trade for a few weeks before Christmas.
The great catalogs of the mail order houses featured many types of banks over a period of years. These firms frequently offered banks at a little under the usual retail price, as for example, a dollar bank for ninety cents. There were also smaller mail order toy and novelty houses whose catalogs featured banks, as well as large toy shops and department stores whose Christmas catalogs often contained some banks. All of those firms which did a retail business in banks usually gave a fuller description of the bank than did the strictly wholesale lists. Occasionally the orthodox wholesalers, too, relaxed their usual cursory descriptions and waxed enthusiastic. One such listing may be found in a jobber’s catalog of 1876 and concerns the Novelty Bank which had been but recently introduced:
“This beautiful toy bank is made wholly of Iron, is 4 ½ inches wide and deep, and 6 ½ inches high; it has a gentlemanly Cashier, who stands ready at all times, both night and day, the door being opened, to politely wait on customers and safely deposit any money they may place in his hands; and what is more, his character is above reproach; he has an iron constitution; never knows fatigue or impatience, and deposits the money where even he himself cannot meddle with it, and hence he will never become a defaulting Cashier. This Bank is so constructed that the money can be taken out without the Bank being taken apart. Price, per dozen…………………….$12.00”
A few banks were used as subscription premiums by boys’ magazines. Several of the Weeden banks were so offered by “The Youth’s Companion”. Magazines advertising toys as premiums also sold them outright, and were thus also in the mail order toy business. The issues of these magazines listing premiums are interesting material, although there is little to be gleaned from them as compared to the actual catalogs. The Weeden banks were especially popular for premiums, and were probably originally introduced primarily for that purpose.
It is the manufacturers’ own catalogs, however, that provide the best source of data. The most interesting of these are, of course, those of the J. & E. Stevens Co. of Cromwell, Conn. Contrary to popular belief, Stevens did not issue a catalog every year, but, rather, every few years, or intervals of as much as six or seven years. They kept the current catalog up to date in the interim by the use of insert sheets and revised annual price lists.
In this connection, the catalog listing and dating of the Clown And Harlequin Bank is frequently cited. This bank was not listed in the 1906 catalog, No. H-2. The newest bank in that catalog was the Teddy And The Bear Bank, No. 341, which came out in 1906. The Clown And Harlequin Bank, No. 342, did not come out in 1906, but a year or so later, at which time a catalog insert sheet describing the new bank was pasted into the catalog as a page following the one on which the Teddy And The Bear Bank was listed. The next catalog, H-3, issued in 1913, lists the Clown And Harlequin in the regular manner as an integral part of the catalog. Between the two catalogs, so many new mechanical banks had been introduced-North Pole, Goat, Bill E. Grin, Lion Hunter, etc.-that it was found impractical to paste in an insert sheet for each new bank, and the sheets were therefore simply inserted loosely.
The large Stevens sheets, printed in blue to match the catalogs, are, therefore, merely these same catalog insert sheets. Probably they were sent separately to dealers who already had the Stevens catalog on file, so that they could bring their copy up to date. There was also a series of small sheets of slips, varying slightly in size, but averaging about 3" x 6", printed in blue or in reddish brown (the latter are the older), each illustrating and describing a single bank. They were often supplied blank to customers to imprint their own name and address, in which instance no manufacturer’s name appeared on them. In this they were the successors to the earlier colored cards. It may be, however, that they were intended more for jobbers’ imprints for distributing to dealers than for dealers to hand out to retail customers. Many of the slips were printed with the Stevens or National Novelty Corporation (This was the firm name of the toy combine in which Stevens was included during the years of its combine existence, 1903-1912. The 1906 catalog carries “Branch Of National Novelty Corporation” beneath the Steven name. The slips imprinted with the combine name, however, do not mention Stevens. The history of the combine and Stevens’ participation therein is related in Chapter VI.) name and the word “Manufacturers”. They were printed in Middletown, Conn., and as they grew obsolete, the backs of the surplus stocks were used around the Stevens factory for cost sheets and scratch paper.
Stevens also issued a series of special export catalogs for the use of their foreign trade. Like most American iron toy manufacturers, they always had a large export business as there was no German competition whatever in the field of iron toys. Except for a few British and Canadian iron banks and toys, the products of the United States in these categories were supreme in the world’s markets. The Stevens export catalogs do not show a complete selection of their products, but only such items as experience had shown were most suitable for export. It is interesting to note that the mechanical banks which were deemed most suitable for the export trade in the period of roughly 1915 to 1928 were the Cabin, Artillery, Jolly Nigger, Bad Accident, Kicking Mule, Boy Scout Camp, William Tell, Teddy And The Bear, and Foot Ball.
Unfortunately, the Stevens export catalogs are not dated. However, the following export catalogs would seem to be of the same date as the regular catalogs listed in combination with them: export catalog No. 49-regular catalog No. H-4; export catalog No. 50-regular catalog No. 5, and export catalog No. 51-regular catalog No. 6. These export catalogs are an entirely different shape from the regular catalogs and are about 10 ½" wide by 5 ½" high. The regular Stevens catalogs are about 6" wide and 9" high.
Many of the catalogs illustrating banks also contain a world of information on other types of old toys as well. As such catalogs have both an historical and an intrinsic value all their own, their mutilation in any way is inexcusable, and they should never be marked or clipped. It is a simple matter to make photostats of any page at low cost, without harming the catalog.
GLEANINGS FROM THE PATENT OFFICE
There is considerable interest in the illustrations and information obtainable from patent records relating to banks. Unfortunately, in the past, the value of such data has been overrated, and the real points where patent papers can be helpful, overlooked. Patent records are of little primary value in determining what banks were made, or how they looked when made, because: many banks were patented which were never actually manufactured; a number of seemingly different banks were often made under a single patent; some banks were made under several patents; and numerous other banks were actually produced without ever being patented. In addition, as the drawings for patent papers (especially in the very early period of mechanical banks) were often made before any bank was designed for production, their patent paper appearance is often entirely different from the actual manufactured bank. This has led to many fruitless searches for non-existent varieties.
Catalogs, with their illustrations made directly from actual production banks, and the fact that almost every bank which reached the stage of being cataloged was actually made and offered for sale, are far better sources of material than patent records. However, because patent papers were associated with officialdom in the mind of the public, many people, not realizing the conditions which have to be allowed for in patent research, erroneously regarded them as a better source of accurate information than catalogs. In fact, for some time it was even believed that banks and catalogs should be checked against patent papers, rather than patent papers against banks and catalogs.
A United States patent runs for seventeen years, giving the inventor a varying amount of protection depending on how hard rival claims are pressed. Patents are issued only to the person or persons doing the actual inventing. An individual or company helping an inventor financially cannot share in the actual patent, but the inventor may assign all or part of his rights in the patent to whomever he wishes. Sometimes this is done before the patent is issued and the information appears on the patent papers, where it often serves to help identify the firm that made the bank. Generally, however, such assignment was made after the patent was issued. Copies of any patent, that is, the full drawings and printed specifications, may be obtained by anyone at a small charge per copy from the Commissioner of Patents in Washington, D.C.
A few of the patentees of banks still survive, and have given their recollections of their interest in the subject. Some of the banks created by others than professional toy designers came into being in strange ways, as in the case of the Feed The Kitty Bank, patented by Thomas Buel, a New York insurance man, in 1925. In a letter a few years ago, Mr. Buel related the circumstances of his bank invention:
“Some years ago, an automatic shoe shining machine was operated in this city at various locations. One day when I was in the executive office of the shoe machine operators a friend showed me a soap box full of slugs collected from the machines. These slugs were almost entirely made from the tops of soda bottles hammered into the shape of a half moon. The idea occurred to me that they could eliminate these slugs by making it necessary for the penny to roll down an incline and jump a gap, passing through a slot in a baffle plate. With a fixed runway, a given coin takes a given trajectory and will land regularly in practically the same spot, as I proved by experimentation. Therefore, the slugs mentioned above would slide down the track and drop off without landing in position to operate the machine.
“The shoe shine machine company was quite interested in my idea and patent but finally decided that it was not altogether practical because their machines were often on the sidewalk where they were far from level and a precise operation requires the mechanism to be more or less in a vertical position to insure it functions 100%.
“My patent lawyer considered the idea so ingenious and novel that he suggested I try to adapt it to a toy. After a good deal of time and experimentation I designed a toy bank, built a model that actually works and took out an improved patent.”
(This bank was never put in production and placed on the market. Norman Sherwood borrowed Mr. Buel’s original model, and using it as a pattern, cast a few samples from it which he assembled and sold privately.) In the same year that Mr. Buel patented his bank, 1925, a mechanical bank patent was taken out on a Blacksmith Bank by Frederick Plattner of Cleveland. The inventor, believing he had a good thing, planned to manufacture and sell them himself, but was unable to do so because of the difficulties of financing the venture. About fifteen years later, James C. Jones visited the inventor, and the old man, then past eighty, proudly produced his original sample of the bank which he had made of lead.
Another patentee, Walter G. Holmes, who in 1906 had patented a still bank house surrounded by a garden which was described in the patent specifications as “simple and durable in construction and exceedingly ornamental and arranged to stimulate saving by constantly reminding children and other persons of a home that may be owned if money is saved” answered an inquiry as follows:
“I am pleased to reply to your letter.
“Some years ago a friend of mine and I got up a little bank-it was of clay or porcelain. With water in part of it and seed spread on, they sprouted and made a rather attractive little bank. But nothing was ever done with it and none were manufactured. It was just a sort of boyish whim. At the time there was quite a fad for savings banks for the young folks-
It may be doubted if many other banks which reached the stage of being patented were merely “boyish whims” and Mr. Holmes’ case is perhaps unique.
The ordinary patent is what is known as a mechanical patent. Actually, it only covers the mechanism of the bank or technical improvements in its construction. Once patented, these features can be applied to any bank. For example, the Jolly Nigger Bank patent naturally covered the Humpty Dumpty as well, as far as the mechanism went. The basic Creedmoor patent of 1877 applied to all of the shooting banks made for the next seventeen years. The internal features of a bank, or methods of construction, once patented are protected no matter what type they are applied to, while the bank illustrated on the patent drawing, as far as its external design goes, is not covered in detail but may be altered in any way, or entirely changed. The Stevens coin trap, for example, which was originally covered as a minor part of two bank patents granted John Hall in 1875, was used on dozens of banks made by Stevens up until almost 1930, long after the patents had expired. (It was also used by other manufacturers after the original patents expired, being used on one bank at least as late as 1933.) As long as the patents ran, however, this trap was protected under them, no matter what type of bank it was used on. The last Stevens bank to use this trap appears to have been the Pay Phone Bank, introduced in 1927.
The second type of patent is the design patent. This has nothing to do with internal construction or mechanism, but concerns the external design of the bank itself. It protects only one identical design of house, or figure, or what-not, that the inventor wishes to use, and theoretically prevents anyone else from manufacturing a similarly appearing article. A number of design patents were granted on mechanical banks, including one in 1875 for the Lilliput Bank, and several in 1875-1876 for various designs of banks for the Centennial, representing the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc. Design patents could be obtained for varying periods of time, but the
majority of the early bank design patents were issued for three and a half years, the shortest and least expensive period of protection which could be obtained. Many of the later mechanical banks were protected under both mechanical and design patents.
Prior to 1880, the United States Patent Office required a model of every invention submitted. There were, therefore, inventors’ models of all banks patented before 1880 made and sent to Washington. After 1880 some inventors continued to send models, although no longer required to do so by law. The reason for withdrawing the requirement for a model was that the Patent Office was being overwhelmed with them and had no place to store them. The models which had accumulated were, with the exception of a number which went to the Smithsonian Institute, eventually dispersed into private hands, and as a result, a number of scarce original patent models of mechanical banks are now preserved in private collections.
The earliest mechanical bank patent was No. 70,569, issued in November, 1867, to Kellis Horde of Washington, D.C., for what he described as a “Spring Gun”. Actually the patent called for an alligator or similar figure, operated by blowing in a tube, to emerge from a shelter, take a coin in its mouth, and retire. This was manufactured in tin and is probably the first mechanical bank ever commercially made.
The next year a patent was issued to Abram and George Wright of Clinton, Mass., for a “Toy Safe With Puzzle Lock”. This might be described as related to the mechanical banks, its early date giving it greater interest than if it had been patented a decade later. In order to open the safe it was necessary to turn it upside down so as to allow the knob to engage a locking bar. The lock was not of the combination type, however.
The next patent was the famous Hall’s Excelsior Bank on which John Hall, the most prolific of the early bank inventors, was granted a patent in December, 1869. In his application he described his bank as a “Toy Safe”. The words “mechanical bank” were never used in the industry, and the early inventors each described their creations as they wished and it was so recorded on the patent papers. Thus we find “Toy Money Box”, “Toy Money Safe”, “Toy Money Bank”, “Toy Bank”, and various other variations. Some inventors simply called their banks by names which did not even infer that the article in question was a bank, such as “Toy Toad”, a toad bank patented in 1870. Hall called the Race Track Bank the “Race Course Toy Bank” in his application, but he generally preferred the less specific method of calling his inventions “Toy Money-Box(es)”.
The date of a patent has nothing at all to do with the date at which a bank was first placed on the market, although, naturally, the sooner a patented bank could be marketed, the better, for each passing year saw the patent so much nearer to expiring, and, accordingly, depreciating in value. There was plenty of time for waiting if necessary, however, since a mechanical patent ran for seventeen years. On the other hand, a patent could not be obtained on any article which had been on the market for more than two years before the application was made, and, for obvious reasons, most inventors preferred to apply for their patents at the same time an article was put into production, if they had not done so previously. It generally took months or even a year or more between the date of application and the time the patent was actually granted. Hence the use of such terms on banks as “Patent Applied For” and “Patent Pending”. It is doubtful if many patentable banks were manufactured in advance of patent application, even in the very earliest days of the business.
At times a study of patents is helpful in determining the exact or at least the approximate date at which a specific bank was manufactured, as in the case of the common Tammany Bank or Little Fat Man Bank, as it was also officially called. We know roughly that this bank was manufactured for upwards of forty years, from the mid-1870’s to about 1918. Several patents covered it, the first being issued in 1873 to none other than our old friend, John Hall. (One variety of the Tammany Bank bears the words “Hall’s Patent” on one side where the words “Tammany Bank” usually appear. While probably some of the very earliest banks of this type carried the Hall name, there are many minor varieties common to all types of this bank which seem to indicate that not all specimens with the wording “Hall’s Patent” are necessarily from the earliest production and that patterns with both types of lettering were used interchangeably at various stages of this bank’s long production span. Another variety is without any wording whatever on either side of the chair.) In this patent a trigger is called for to hold the arm in an upright position while the coin was placed in the hand. Such a trigger does not appear on any of the production banks. Of importance in dating, however, is the fact that the bank shown in the drawing, while similar to the production banks in general outline, is still obviously a free drawing of a conception of the bank, and was not drawn from any actual production bank. This clearly indicates that at the time this patent was applied for (April 24, 1873) the bank had not yet been put into production.
On June 3, 1875, another patent on the Tammany bank was issued to Russel Frisbie, superintendent of the Stevens plant. Two new features of this patent were the familiar sliding coin trap found on most Tammany Banks, and a mechanical variation in which one foot of the seated man was used as a trigger to deposit the coin and nod the figure’s head. Most important, the drawing shows a bank which is quite obviously the design actually manufactured, clearly indicating that the Tammany Bank was first placed on the market sometime between April, 1873, and April 17, 1875, the date at which Frisbie filed his application. Possibly some banks were placed on the market for Christmas, 1873, but it seems more likely that it was introduced in 1874. Certainly it was out by Christmas of that year. This is confirmed by the following wording in the Frisbie specifications: “My invention relates to that class of toy banks which consist of the figure of a person seated, the body and chair of which form the receptacle for the coin. Such banks have been heretofore made in which the figure receives the coin in its hand and deposits it in a side opening or pocket by the action of the weight of the coin.”
Why both Hall and Frisbie should have felt that a trigger mechanism (which seems obviously unneeded) should be more desirable than letting the bank perform automatically by the weight of the coin is an interesting but unsolvable point. It is obvious that in actually making the banks, both before and after Frisbie’s patent, they saw that the best way was indeed the simplest, and no Tammany Banks were ever manufactured with either Hall’s or Frisbie’s triggers, although Frisbie’s sliding coin trap was used on not only this but on several other banks.
The 1875 patent, however, was far from the end of the matter. Hall was forever tinkering with, and endeavoring to expand or improve upon his inventions. On October 9, 1877 he received a reissue of his 1873 patent (reissue No. 7,904). In this he made a few more claims, and had a drawing somewhat more closely resembling the actual banks, but among his claims, and clearly showing in the drawings, is his same little wire trigger. In the specifications he noted that he termed this toy “The Tammany Bank”. In 1874 Hall also took out a patent on a very similar bank in general principle, but in which the man stood next to a safe or chest and deposited the coin therein.
If the varied developments of the Tammany Bank seem complicated, however, we should examine the more devious steps through which Mr. Hall contrived or improved, or attempted to contrive or improve, his Excelsior Bank, his Lilliput Bank, and the various combinations thereof. Here, through the patent papers we can trace the numerous experiments and ideas. These banks must have sold very well indeed for Mr. Hall to go rushing off to his patent attorney every time he got another idea. Obviously, in those first flashing days of mechanical bank popularity in the 1870’s, Mr. Hall and his fellow inventors were convinced there would be a fortune in every new design. Quite evidently, too, these were Mr. Hall’s favorites, as might be expected considering that the Excelsior was his first creation.
John Hall was apparently the kind of a man who could become utterly intrigued by one single idea, and squeeze it out beyond all practical limits. The Excelsior and the Lilliput simply fascinated him. Even after these two perfected banks were placed on the market he could never let go of the idea and was continually fussing around with the two designs, altering them, combining them, changing this or that. He patented a double deck Lilliput with the figure on the top deck and a plain slot on the lower deck, a combined Lilliput and Excelsior with several slots and figures, took out a design patent on the Lilliput the way it was finally actually to be made, then a patent covering constructional features for a Lilliput, then another Lilliput patent, followed by another Excelsior patent, etc.
Of course, all of these patents did present certain minor improvements, but the banks, simple and well made, were selling well enough just as they were. We may wonder why the enterprising Mr. Hall spent his time hopefully designing and patenting such pieces as a Lilliput with the hinged Excelsior roof out of which the monkey would pop as the Lilliput man inserted a coin, while a third figure stood around the corner at another side of the bank, likewise willing and able to take your coin for deposit. He seems never to have grown tired of his first ideas and, though he designed other types of banks, he was forever returning to these two types. We can almost picture him making repeated visits to the men who had helped him commercialize his inventions, each time hopefully bearing some new variation (for if he took out half a dozen patents, how many dozens of ideas did he conceive for these banks and never patent?), only to be turned away kindly but firmly with perhaps a request to “please let well enough alone.” (Perhaps this picture is unfair to Mr. Hall. It is merely a supposition, based upon close study of his repeated patents. But from them we can well assume something of the sort).
After the 1870’s, Hall faded from the bank patenting picture, his work done. From then on, aside from numerous individuals who invented only a single bank, several persons or teams were prominent in the field for a number of years to come. Chief among these were James H. Bowen of Philadelphia (Creedmoor, Bull Dog, the large Owl, Kicking Mule, Cat And Mouse-the model resembling a clock, Base Ball, Monkey And Coconut, Two Frogs, Foot Ball, etc.); Charles A. Bailey of Connecticut (Indian Camp, Columbus, Cat And Mouse-the early white metal bank with reclining cat, Shoot The Chute, Perfection Registering, Teddy And The Bear, North Pole, Goat, Hen And Chicken, Tree, etc.); the team of Peter Adams Jr. and Charles G. Shepard (Adams invariably assigned his half of the patent to Walter J. Shepard, one of the owners of the company. On most of these Shepard banks, including the Punch And Judy and the Trick Pony, a design patent, covering the external details of the bank as it was to appear in production was applied for by J. Mueller of Shepard on the same day that Adams and Shepard applied for the mechanical patent. The Shepard Stump Speaker and Uncle Sam Banks were, of course, manufactured under the same mechanical patent. The patent drawing for these banks showed a short, stocky figure, entirely different from either of the production banks. In an old book entitled “Curiosities Of The U.S. Patent Office”, the patent drawing was reproduced and a “balloon” such as cartoonists use, put near the figure’s mouth containing the words “Ah! There! Pass your coins this way and I’ll save it for you.”) who invented for the Shepard Hardware Company (Speaking Dog, Punch And Judy, Trick Pony, Stump Speaker, etc.); and the team of Louis Kyser and Alfred Rex of Philadelphia (Lion And Monkeys, Dog With Tray, Uncle Tom, Organ, etc.); as well as several other individually, or with other inventors (notably Rudolph M. Hunter). Rex, alone, invented the Motor Bank, Feeding Child, and Bucking Buffalo. It will be noted that these above named inventors were responsible for the vast majority of the best known and most popular banks. Some later banks were never patented, either because it was felt a patent was unnecessary (the claims already being covered in earlier ones), or the applications were rejected by the Patent Office after being filed for the same reason. When Charles Bailey was granted two patents in 1910, on the North Pole Bank and the Goat Bank, the end of the great period of bank inventing for actual production was at hand, although technically the era was not over until 1915 when John W. Schmitt patented the Bill E. Grin Bank. Of course, a great many banks were patented all the way up through the 1920’s and even into the 1930’s, but with a few exceptions such as the Kick Inn Bank and the Tank Bank, none was ever put into production.
What had happened was that bank manufacturers were continually striving to create new designs, but the public was growing somewhat harder to please, having a great number of new toys to pick from. The old favorites such as Tammany, Owl, Jolly Nigger, Teddy And The Bear, and William Tell remained excellent sellers. In these designs the manufacturers had found suitable items that the public wanted in large quantities, and after 1920 they abandoned the attempts to create a demand for new styles and concentrated on the tried and true sellers. Despite their lower selling price, fifty cents each, such banks as Bill E. Grin and the Goat did not prove more popular than the larger and more expensive banks, although, of course, great quantities of them were made and sold.
A number of American banks were patented (registered) in England after being patented in this country, as certain banks sold in large quantities over there. Such banks are generally marked with their British registration number as well as their American patent date. A few banks originally invented in England were also patented in this country, chiefly those invented by Robert Eastwood Starkie of Burnley, England, who was apparently the chief British inventor of mechanical banks. The English versions of the Creedmoor and Jolly Nigger Banks were very popular over there, and seem to have sold in fairly large quantities in Canada as well. A few types of mechanical banks appear to have been manufactured in Canada, but little definite information is obtainable concerning these.
The field of bank patent research still presents some interesting possibilities, especially in shedding light on dates and changes in plans and even finished designs. Lack of space prevents citing further instances of the results of the study of patent records here, but in Chapter VI will be found some additional notes on the subject, in connection with an attempt to establish as definitely as possible the identity of the first iron mechanical bank actually manufactured.
BANK NAMES, AND CARICATURE IN BANKS
How did these banks get their names? Or, rather, what was the special connotation implied by each individual name to the boys (and their fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles, who did the actual buying of the banks) that made so many of them so potent a selling feature in its own era? Some names are, of course, so obviously mere descriptions of the bank as to require no comment. Dentist, Horse Race, Owl, Bull Dog, Bowling Alley, etc. are all what we might call self-evident names, but there are many others whose meanings are obscure, or which to the present generation do not carry quite the same significance as they did to our fathers and grandfathers.
Was the Hall’s Excelsior so named because as the first mechanical bank it thereby excelled all previously manufactured banks which were of the non-mechanical type, or because of the then current popularity of Longfellow’s poem, “Excelsior!”? As a matter of fact, the Excelsior Bank was listed in the jobbers’ catalogs of the 1870’s and 1880’s simply as the Cashier Bank, and no listing has been found as the Excelsior Bank! From this it would seem that the Excelsior name held no special meaning for the wholesale trade. Perhaps, however, these other names were merely used later, after larger and more elaborate bank types were being made and the name Excelsior had thereby lost its original implication of superiority and merely remained cast on the bank itself, a memento of the brief period in which this little iron building with its monkey cashier was the strongest and safest bank in toyland!
In the case of the Hall’s Excelsior Bank, we must admit failure to identify certainly the meaning of the term. In later years, Stevens manufactured a number of banks which they designated as members of their “Excelsior Series”, and some of which bore that wording on their castings. This series had no relation whatsoever to the original Hall’s Excelsior Bank and the term was used in the 1890’s and early 1900’s. The banks in this series, which included the Speaking Dog, Artillery, Mason Bank, etc., were all designs which had originally been manufactured by the Shepard Hardware Company, and subsequently taken over by Stevens and incorporated into their bank line. The use of the term “Excelsior Series” was apparently originated by Shepard as a distinguishing mark in the 1880’s, and used by them for some years prior to Stevens’ acquisition of the line. The castings of the banks in this series are all somewhat heavier than most mechanical banks, and no doubt suggested the name to the series as designating a superior construction. Some Shepard banks, such as the Jolly Nigger and Humpty Dumpty were not included in this series. When Stevens took over the line, by reworking the patterns, they changed the coin traps on some of the banks from the heavy oblong traps which locked with a key to the standard round Stevens trap. The signs of this conversion are plainly noticeable on the later specimens of such banks as the Artillery.
With Halls Lilliput Bank the meaning is easier for the historian to trace. At the time it appeared the public was more or less “Lilliputian conscious”. Toy shops or children’s clothing stores were known as Lilliput or Lilliputian Bazaars, and anything small, particularly figures of people, was likely to be connected with the fabled Lilliputians.
Toy manufacturers of the 1870’s were as wide awake to the selling value of popular names as the makers of today who name toys after popular comic strip characters. Then, as now, this subtle appeal was not to the child user as much as to the adult purchaser, who, while thinking he was buying the toy because it would appeal to his child, was actually making the purchase because it had appealed to him as something he believed suitable and attractive for his child. Certainly few young children knew or cared about the implications of such names as Lilliput or Tammany, but their parents did, and that was what counted with the manufacturers of toys.
The Creedmoor Bank is another example of nineteenth century connotation in a name which may seem meaningless today. Creedmoor was the camp of the New York National Guard on Long Island. From this name, originally known generally only in New York State, came a whole line of “Creedmoor” articles identified with shooting. There were Creedmoor targets, Creedmoor air rifles, Creedmoor target games, and others. By the late 1870’s the name Creed- moor was connected with shooting in the minds of millions of people all over the country who may have had no idea of its origin or ever heard of the Long Island camp. When the first shooting bank was patented (in 1877) and placed on the market it was only natural that the manufacturers should take advantage of the value of the name Creedmoor, and use it on the bank. The bank was thus named, not for a particular camp on Long Island, but rather because of the nationwide association of the word with shooting.
Today the influence of the comic strips on all sorts of toys is immense. Popular cartoon characters appear on a wide variety of toys. Other toys attain wide sales by merely being named after such newspaper or movie characters. The popularity of each such hero is measured by the number of stamping sets, sweaters, masks, games, wrist watches, dolls and other articles that are marked in connection with the name. Back in the era of the mechanical bank’s greatest popularity the comic strips were more subdued and human, generally funnier, and did not deal with the horrors, impossible adventures, and bloodshed which characterize so many of the present day. Boys smiled at the antics of Buster Brown, Happy Hooligan, Foxy Grandpa, the Katzenjammer Kids, and others, all of which with a few exceptions such as the last named, have been unable to keep pace with modern comic strip technique. Many of these characters were honored on toys, including a number of still banks, and a few mechanicals.
The banks of this type generally date from the 1903-1912 period when the comics were first becoming popular in their modern form. One of them portrayed a stout Mamma Katzenjammer with Hans under one arm and Fritz under the other, who rolled her eyes when the coin was inserted.
Another comic strip mechanical bank is the Shoot The Chute Bank, sometimes incorrectly called “Shoot The Shoots”, which featured Buster Brown and his dog, Tige, in a boat which shot down the chute, putting the coin into the bank, and meeting disaster at the bottom. Buster Brown, with his Elbert Hubbard haircut, was one of the most widely known comic strip characters of the early twentieth century. He was featured with the inevitable Tige in several iron still banks as well as in this Stevens mechanical. Today he exists in memory only, save as the name and trademark of a popular brand of shoes, whose manufacturer, like Stevens, took advantage of the popularity of Buster with thousands of boys in that bygone era.
Uncle Remus, at the peak of his fame in the 1890’s and early 1900’s, was another popular character featured in a mechanical bank. Of such mythical personages as The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, Punch And Judy, Little Red Riding Hood, and Santa Claus, all of whom gained further fame through their reproduction in the metal of mechanical banks, no further reference is required here.
Two of the most interesting mechanical banks of all are the Tammany and the Freedman’s. They are intriguing from any standpoint, the former probably the commonest of all mechanicals; the latter, one of the rarest, the most unusual, and the most elaborate. In the matter of their names and the stories of them they lose none of this interest.
Let us consider the Tammany first. As pointed out in the preceding chapter, the Tammany was first made in 1874 or 1875. Having enjoyed a popularity beyond all expectations, it was dropped from the line for some reason in the 1890’s. However, the Stevens Company quickly found they had discontinued one of their best numbers, and it reappeared in the line in the first years of the present century, exactly the same as before except that it was now cataloged as the “Little Fat Man” (the quotation marks are Stevens’ and it is possible the name had some special meaning in the early 1900’s). At any rate, the new title gave no political offense, although the actual banks still bore the name “Tammany Bank” on the castings. It was manufactured until the early 1920’s, thus giving it an overall lifespan of almost fifty years.
As the commonest of all mechanical banks, it was continually turning up, and provided the myth-makers with material for a veritable field-day. No sooner was there any interest shown in mechanical banks than they were busy concocting a beauty of a story for this bank, a story which remains widely accepted today. Be it known, they announced, that this is The Boss Tweed Bank, that the figure seated in the chair is a perfect replica of William Marcy Tweed, and, furthermore, this little bank, illustrating in a small way the doings of said W.M. Tweed had more to do with the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of W. Marcy Tweed than all of the Nast cartoons put together!
As further confirmation of this story, they pointed out that the figure in the Tammany Bank was portrayed seated in a chair, for hadn’t Boss Tweed originally been a chair maker? In their eyes it was certainly a peculiar circumstance that a man should sit in a chair unless he had been a chair maker!
This is one of those stories that are so good, it actually hurts to explode it. Sad to relate, the figure in the bank is not Tweed, was not copied from Tweed, and bears no resemblance at all to Tweed. Real persons were caricatured in mechanical banks at times, but Tweed was not one of them, although the bearded boss was portrayed on a still bank. The idea of the bank, as clearly shown by the name given it, was suggested by the widely publicized doings of the Tammany Ring (or Tweed Ring) but the bank was conceived and manufactured after Tweed had fallen. Witness: in July, 1871, investigation and prosecution was undertaken under the leadership of Samuel J. Tilden (who was actually the subject of a portrait doll reproduction in a mechanical walking toy made by Ives), in 1872 Tweed was indicted, and in 1873 he was convicted, all before the Tammany Bank saw the light of day. All the bank did was to take advantage of the resulting publicity and thereby increase its sales. Tweed died in 1878, but the Tammany Bank went marching on.
The bank was certainly not designed to resemble Tweed, who had a full beard and a very long, distinctively shaped face, although, of course, the design was intended to typify a Tammany politician of the day. In an 1876 jobber’s catalog it is described as “The ‘Boss’ or Tammany Bank”, but the reference is purely general. Tweed’s features were too well known the country over at that time to have permitted any adult American, and most boys, to believe that the bank portrayed him. While the bank actually resembled no real personage, it may not have been difficult, however, for some children to acquire the idea that it was Tweed, in that era when boys drove their fathers frantic with fear that they were heading straight where Tweed had gone by mouthing over and over again:
Boss Tweed is a man most talked about now,
Turning now to the Freedman’s Bank, we find that a misunderstanding of the contemporaneous meaning of this title has led to a very serious error in dating the bank. The bank was not made at the close of the Civil War, as many still believe, but actually came out in either 1878 or 1879. The pre-dating was due to lack of knowledge of the real meaning of the name and the consequent belief that it was used only during and immediately after the Civil War, plus the usual human desire to make the bank seem as old as possible. Less understandable have been the actions of those who, while now fully aware of the true age of this bank, have endeavored to perpetuate the legend of its earlier date, and the story that it was specifically designed as a political satire on the actions of newly freed slaves.
The term “Freedmen” came into use in the north quite early during the war and was used more or less interchangeably with “contraband”, a term originated by Major General Benjamin F. Butler when he first received fleeing slaves while in command of Fortress Monroe. After the Emancipation Proclamation, “Freedmen” became far the more preferred term and following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, Congress set up the Freedmen’s Bureau (There is a small wooden still bank, made in the form of a chest of drawers or bureau, and lettered “Freedmen’s Bureau”. It is believed by some, although there exists no substantiation at this time, that this bank was used soon after the Civil War as a means of inducing savings for the aid of the ex-slaves. The name may, of course, simply represent a play on words.) for the aid and protection of the former slaves. For the next two decades, in the north at least, the term “Freedmen” was frequently used in speaking of Negroes.
The word “Freedman’s” on the Secor bank, therefore, had no direct reference to newly freed slaves, and considering the offensive names given to later banks such as the Jolly Nigger Bank, it will be seen that the name was not intended as a particular disparagement.
As for General Butler, he was not only the subject of an Ives mechanical walking portrait doll, but, in 1884, when he ran for President on the Greenback-Labor and Anti-monopolist tickets he was caricatured in a fairly large iron still bank as a green-backed frog clutching a wad of greenbacks. The head of the frog was an excellent representation of Butler, and the bank was lettered “Bullion and yachts for myself and my friends, dry bread and greenbacks for the people.”
Not all caricatures of real persons in banks was unfavorably directed against them, however. The Teddy And The Bear Bank, which enjoyed an enormous popularity from its introduction in 1906 right up to the late 1920’s, is an example of pleasant caricature. The bank, which sported a good representation of Theodore Roosevelt was plainly labeled and cataloged as representing the illustrious Teddy, then President of the United States. Teddy and his inevitable connection with the bear was already widely known and publicized. This connection originated when the President was west on a hunting trip and refused to shoot a small captive bear. A newspaper cartoonist was present and used the scene as the subject of a cartoon. Hence the inevitable association of Theodore Roosevelt and bears forever after. The “Teddy Bear”, most important and lasting result of this incident, remains a standard article of toy commerce to this day and shows no sign of losing any of its popularity.
The bank does not represent Teddy hunting a bear. It portray him aiming at a tree trunk and, in the words of the Stevens catalogs, “as the coin strikes the game it springs a surprise on Teddy.” The bear jumps up out of the top of the tree trunk!
A far less common bank, the Lion Hunter, appeared a few years later during Teddy’s hunting trip in Africa. This bank design was evidently suggested by the trip, although the hunter only vaguely resembled Teddy and all mention of his name was omitted from the bank. This bank proved far less popular than the Teddy And The Bear Bank, and was discontinued before the latter.
The North Pole Bank appeared at the time when the Peary-Cook controversy over who had actually discovered the pole was raging. The designers purposely omitted any personal characterization from this bank so as to be able to sell it to adherents of both sides. Instead, the bank was decorated with innocuous Eskimos, seals, walrus, sleds, etc., and the action feature was an American flag which popped out of the top, presumably over the pole, when a coin was inserted. This is an example of a lack of any personal caricature for a definite purpose.
Bismark is quite definitely caricatured in a pig bank of the late 1870’s. When a coin is inserted, Bismark pops up out of the pig’s back. This bank was first made specifically lettered “Bismark Pig”; later versions, still retaining the figure of Bismark, are named “Tricky Pig” or unlettered, however. One of the most recent of all mechanical banks is the modern Hitler Pig Bank, designed to aid savings for War Bonds, and brought out in 1942. This bank is made of a pulp composition in the shape of a pig with Hitler’s face, and grunts when a coin is inserted.
A number of other mythical, semi-mythical, or historical characters have been featured in banks. Uncle Sam is represented in the large mechanical bank in which he drops a coin in his carpet bag, and also in a small bust bank. William Tell is another. The Jonah And The Whale Bank is an example of a Biblical story applied to mechanical banks, and there are two entirely different banks based on this episode. There are “type” banks too, showing characters which are neither mythical nor historical, but, rather, stock types. An instance of this is found in the Stump Speaker Bank. The John Bull Bank is a bank which is similar to the Uncle Sam in concept, if not in actual style and action. Other bank type classifications might readily be made. In animals, bears, frogs, and elephants seem more popular for mechanicals than either the thrifty squirrel (represented by only two banks) or the traditional pig bank, although there are several mechanical banks featuring pigs in their designs. Owls and rabbits are also popular.
THE PRODUCTION OF THE BANK
The vast majority of mechanical banks were constructed of cast iron, and were made in an era when iron was far more generally used for toys than in recent years. This condition was due to several factors, namely, the lack of better and cheaper materials and methods which have lately become more popular in toy manufacture, the cheapness of iron itself, and, similarly, the low cost of labor at the time. The last was important, for any cast iron article requires a certain amount of final hand finishing and fitting. As the costs of labor and material increased, banks were found to be unprofitable to manufacture in some cases, or at least less profitable than other lines of cast iron toys which required less handling.
Not all of the old mechanical banks were made entirely of cast iron. Some of the earlier types combined other materials with the iron; Hall’s Excelsior has a wooden figure and bench, the Race Course Bank has stamped tin horses, and a few banks were made entirely of tin. Aside from these there were other banks which employed metals other than iron for various parts, including brass and white metal alloys. Other materials were used freely, and in various combinations, when the bank was built up rather than cast. The Weeden banks are all made of light metal stampings, similar in quality and finish to similar stamped parts on other Weeden toys such as steam engines and steam trains. In addition, they combine a wooden back-piece with the stampings. Weeden has used some very nice iron castings on some of their toys, but they never manufactured a cast iron bank.
The Freedman’s Bank, constructed chiefly of wood and with a figure dressed in clothes, and using metal only for the head, feet, frame, and works, followed the general construction of Secor’s other mechanical toys, rather than the usual mode of mechanical bank construction. A few further examples of departures from the normal type are the Winner Bank, which is of sheet metal, the Kick Inn Bank, of the early 1920’s, which is entirely of wood, and a half dozen or so banks manufactured from stamped lithographed metal which provided them not only with shape but with finish and color in one stamping operation. All of these are, of course, exceptions from the general trend, for the vast majority of mechanical banks were of cast iron construction.
Mechanical banks were mass production toys in the strictest sense of the term. Once a design was settled upon, thousands and thousands were turned out, each identical. They were never individual creations, or the products of what was even seventy years ago a highly developed and extensive American toy industry. It may be stated as a certainty that even the rarest bank today was originally manufactured by the thousands, and, of course, banks like the Tammany were made by tens and tens of thousands over a period of years. Any exceptions to this are banks which were never actually put into production, and of which a small quantity was made up as samples or for a special private purpose.
The actual process of making iron castings is simple. Briefly, it consists of inserting a pattern which is identical with the desired casting in a box of sand, and then removing the pattern, leaving a cavity in the sand the exact size and shape of the pattern. Molten iron is then poured into the cavity, and, when cooled, removed, giving a casting which, except for slight shrinkage, is a perfect reproduction of the original pattern. The process is carried on repeatedly, using the sand and pattern over and over again. Obviously, this is merely an outline of the process, and the actual work presents a great many additional problems.
In the first place, the pattern must be made by an expert pattern maker so that it can be easily removed from the sand without disturbing the cavity in any way. In the argot of the foundry, it must “draw” from the mold easily. Because of this, they are limited to the elaborateness of shape and detail which can be had in a single casting. A skilled pattern maker knows just what can and what cannot be done. Sometimes an original design must be altered considerably before a satisfactory pattern can be made. Likewise, hardly any part of great thickness would be cast in one piece, but would be cast in as many pieces as foundry necessity dictates. The separate parts are then later assembled to form the desired shape. The mules in the Kicking Mule or Bucking Mule Banks could not be conveniently cast in one piece; consequently they were made in two halves which were joined together to form the completed animals. This method, which is standard foundry practice, is not only easier to cast, but saves considerable metal which would be wasted if the castings were made solid. The base of the early model Trick Dog Bank was cast in five separate pieces for this reason. Later on, it was possible to cast the base in a single hollow piece by redesigning certain patterns.
If you will study the two models of the Trick Dog Bank you will see that the base on the old model is perfectly square, and the lettering and perforations are formed on the sides by means of the formation of the castings themselves. This was possible because each side was cast separately as a flat piece of metal. On the later, or so called “modern” model, all the lettering and perforation has been removed, leaving the sides perfectly smooth, and the wording transferred to the top of the base. In addition, instead of the sides, ends, and top being perfectly square, like a box, the sides and ends are set at a slight angle and the length and width at the base is greater than at the top. This construction permits a pattern to be placed in the sand, top downwards, and then removed easily, and therefore allows the casting to be made hollow in a single piece instead of five pieces, with a consequent saving in time and metal. The hollow center of the casting is obtained by the use of a core piece, around which the molten iron flows.
Without going into a lengthy discussion of the intricacies of foundry practice, it should be explained that small castings (and many fairly large ones) are cast a number at a time. Instead of making one casting at each pouring, a slow job at best, the pattern is made with a number of duplicate pieces, six, or ten, or twelve, or any practical number, and accordingly makes a similar number of identical cavities in the sand. When the iron is poured it forms a number of duplicate castings at once. All castings require a certain amount of finishing. When the metal is poured into the sand it runs through a hole in the top of the mold into the cavity formed by the pattern. Naturally, this hole fills up with metal, too, as well as the connecting channels between castings which are cast in groups, and when the castings are removed, this excess metal must be broken off carefully. The patterns are designed so as to facilitate this by making the metal very thin at the point of breakage. The excess metal is later melted down and used again.
The hand work on the bank must be kept to an absolute minimum for every operation has been calculated in advance to the fraction of a cent, and so much has been allowed for finishing each casting. The individual finisher has absolutely nothing to do with the design of the bank. He, or she, merely takes the casting, files or grinds smooth any rough spots, punches through any perforations that need clearing, and passes it along. The idea that banks were individual creations is so fantastic that one wonders how it ever began.
As pointed out repeatedly in this volume, banks are manufactured toys, made by mass production methods and by the thousands. Each bank of its type is identical with all others of the same type. All the designing and planning is long past before the pattern is first set into the sand. Various changes or improvements in design from time to time were not the work of individual workmen, but the result of planned changes in the patterns. In fact, the workman could do very little to change or improve a bank even if he had the slightest desire to do so. When the casting reached him from the foundry room it was already in its final form. He could neither add nor subtract nor change. His job was to finish the casting, or assemble it, or paint it, or pack the finished bank. About all he could really possibly have done would be to spoil the casting in some way, by filing or grinding away too much, or breaking it, and, needless to say, he was very careful not to let that happen!
The actual design of the bank started long before the patterns were begun. A skilled pattern maker could probably have made up a perfect set of patterns from drawings for a simple house bank, but a complicated bank like the Creedmoor or Uncle Sam, requiring many variously shaped parts and castings is a different matter. Considerable drawing, experimenting, and making of various pre-production models and handmade samples took place before the bank was ready for the pattern makers. These samples were made of various materials; wood, plaster, wax, or soft metal, or combinations of these materials. Great care had to be taken in planning the mechanism and its various component parts, as well as provision for external moving parts. In most plants, of course, this work was done under the direction of the head pattern maker himself. The patterns might have been made directly from the samples, or an original set made out of carved hardwood. In either case, this acted as the “master” or “king” pattern. From this a more permanent master pattern would be cast in bronze, or sometimes brass. This in turn would be perfectly smooth by carefully hand filing every surface, for the more work put in upon the patterns, the more perfect would be the production castings, and the less finishing would they require.
All of this preliminary experimental work usually cost about $2,500.00 or more for each bank design. As the profit on each bank was only a few cents, perhaps a dime at most, it will readily be seen from this why the manufacturer had to be assured of selling thousands and thousands of any one bank before he would undertake its production. The cost of the experimental work had to be absorbed over and above the actual costs of production before the maker would have any profit on the bank!
The final master patterns were used to cast a number of working patterns, from which the actual production castings would be made. It is these duplicate working patterns that were used to make up the working patterns that cast a number of identical pieces at once. The master patterns were stored away under lock and key, and ony brought out and used in the event that additional working patterns were required. New working patterns could not be cast from old working patterns, as the shrinkage of metal would make them smaller, and the resulting castings would be again smaller and could not be used in conjunction with other castings from the original set of working patterns. A casting is always slightly smaller than the pattern from which it is cast. Iron shrinks 3/32" to 1/8" per foot, brass shrinks 3/16" to 3/72" per foot, and aluminum shrinks 7/32" to a full 1/4" per foot.
Thus, depending on how many patterns were to be used, allowance had to be made for shrinkage for each one. If an original wax pattern, a master brass pattern, and then a working pattern were made, allowance had to be made for three shrinkings, including that in the final iron castings. The pattern makers had to figure shrinkage on every part, and allow for it on every drawing and pattern they made. This became even more complicated when two metals with different shrinkage rates were to be employed in combination with each other in the same bank. This, of course, happened only occasionally, as in the case of the Lion And Monkeys Bank, which employed both iron and brass.
The patterns from which the banks were cast are, of course, of tremendous historical interest. It is sad to relate that early visitors to the foundries frequently found few actual banks, but often the patterns were still around, and in some cases they passed into collectors’ hands. Not realizing that these patterns as such were of tremendously greater value than the production banks themselves, collectors and dealers made these patterns up into banks, painted, and sold or displayed as ordinary banks. Fortunately, a few were rescued by collectors who realized just what they had, but all too many were lost forever (unless their true identities should accidentally come to light) and an enormous amount of rare bank historical material gone beyond recall. The few which survived unpainted in their original brass finish are known as “pattern banks”, meaning banks which were assembled from original patterns.
Even rarer than pattern banks are the handmade sample which have turned up on rare occasions. Naturally, as there was only one of each such piece, they have a historical value beyond comparison. Those most generally found appear to be of banks whose manufacture was contemplated but never carried out. To attempt to grade a handmade sample comparatively with production banks is ridiculous and impossible. They are two entirely different things. The handmade samples are above production banks, even above patterns. Obviously, to obtain this position they must be authentic-made in the past with a legitimate purpose of eventual production in mind. Mechanical banks are manufactured articles and in order to have any value of any kind they must be made up by manufacturers (or, in the case of samples, by manufacturers or inventors), just as a collectable postage stamp must be issued by a government.
The majority of mechanical banks were painted, usually in bright colors and with a great deal of decoration. There are a few exceptions. For a while, Stevens put out the Artillery Bank in two styles, the No. 23 which was electro-plated, and the No. 24, which was painted. The appearance of the copper plated bank gave rise to the story that these banks were cast entirely in brass or bronze. The plated variety did not sell well and was dropped a number of years before the painted model. A few banks, such as the Educated Pig and Shoot The Chute were nickel plated. This finish was extensively used on still banks and safes, but did not attain wide popularity on mechanicals. When smooth and polished it presents a very nice finish, but when exposed to the air and allowed to dull it is frequently confused with unpainted iron. The Called Out Bank was painted a dull khaki color, and this color, coupled with the general uncertainty and misinformation circulated about this bank caused some to reach the conclusion that these banks were all unpainted bronze pattern castings, and hence the theory that it was never actually put in production.
The Judd Company offered a choice of several solid color lacquer finishes on many of their banks, under different numbers for each finish. The finishes were known as copper bronze, ebony and gold, maroon, and dark antique. Some banks were only manufactured in one color, while others such as the Dog On Turntable were made in all four, and in some cases offered to the trade in the full range at the same time. Some Judd banks may also have been made in a regular painted finish, although the design and small details of the castings were not originally intended for this type of decoration. Most existing banks of this type actually appear to have been privately repainted, from lacquer finish originals.
Most banks were painted by hand. In the Stevens factory ten or twelve girls were employed as painters on a piece work basis, and they received on the average a penny for each bank painted although, of course, this varied depending on the bank itself. Some of the old mechanical banks are outstanding for their variety of color, and the delicacy of line of the finishing work. The painters did the rough coloring work, and special decorators or “stripers” did the delicate lining, eyes, and other small details. The stripers grew especially skilled at this type of work. One striper at Stevens, Kate P. Ralph, went to work at the plant on March 14, 1865 and celebrated her seventy-sixth birthday in 1924 by walking six miles between her home and the factory, as was her usual custom. During all the years of her life she had lived in the same house, and had been engaged in the decorating department at Stevens for most of the time she worked there. Not long before her seventy-sixth birthday, however, she had transferred to the packing department.
At the Stevens plant the painting and striping of the banks was done on the top floor of one of the buildings, under the eaves. If a striper accidentally spoiled a bank, she would try and get it hidden up in the eaves on one of the beams before the foreman had a chance to see it. A spoiled bank meant several dozen banks had to be striped without pay. In later years, many banks were found in this attic in apparently brand new condition except that each piece had some minor defect in its painting. Collectors have them now.
Cost prices were figured on a hundred pieces, and from surviving cost sheets and records we can see exactly what these banks cost to produce, as well as the detailed breakdown of these figures. In the Tree Bank, 263 lbs. of iron @ .015 per pound came to $3.94, molding was $3.85, handling $1.31, springs and screws .40, “putting up” $1.80, painting and striping $1.85, paint .25, and “trying” and packing .35. In addition, there were other charges for boxes and cases, freight and cartage, and an allowance of 33-1/3% and 10%. The total cost of a hundred Tree Banks was $30.02 or .3002 apiece. The Hen And Chicken Bank cost .3848 each, and the Indian Camp, .4281 each.
“Trying” was probably the most unique operation in the manufacture of the bank, although no doubt those who did it soon became thoroughly bored with their jobs. It consisted simply of trying or testing each finished bank just prior to packing it in its individual wooden box, to see that the mechanism would operate properly.
The molders who did the actual casting received fourteen to seventeen dollars a week, and worked ten or eleven hours a day in the foundry. In their hands rested the actual casting technique, learned by long experience, yet often dependent upon many factors beyond their personal control. Some of the banks were designed so elaborately that even with the best of patterns the molders had trouble in producing any quantity of good castings. The Jumping Rope Bank, manufactured in the late 1890’s, was an example of this. The castings were unusually intricate and complicated, and-but wait, let one of the old time molders at the Stevens foundry tell the story in his own words:
“We had more darned trouble making that there Skippin’ bank than any other in the foundry. They wanted to get somethin’ up that was real fancy, but they ran into plenty of trouble, they did. With all that there fancy grill work they spoilt plenty of castin’s afore they got some good ones out of them. It got so bad they figgered it was a losin’ proposition and they cut out makin’ ‘em altogether when they boosted the price of them and then they didn’t sell ‘cause they was too high priced.”
THE STEVENS FOUNDRY CRADLE OF BANKDOM
The little village of Cromwell nestles quietly in the Connecticut hills. Nearby, hidden deep in a little valley all its own, is a group of buildings, most of them of wood, and several of them in use for over a full century’s span. This is the plant of the J. & E. Stevens Company, the oldest toy manufacturer in the United States; both the original and the most prolific manufacturer of mechanical banks.
Today the valley-known locally as Frog Hollow-is quiet, though the Stevens plant is still running as it has for decades past. On the sides of the valley and on its rim live the Stevens workmen, some from families whose ancestors four generations back have worked at Stevens. In other houses dwell old workers who have poured their last casting, polished their last bank, but in whose minds the memories of former days at Stevens are still bright. Even on clear days, a cool mist hangs over the valley, hangs over the ancient trees, the red two and three story buildings with their gable roofs, the brick foundry, and over the antiquated hand pump standing in the center of the road where it widens as it runs through the group of buildings.
The plant cannot be seen from outside the valley. The casual motorist might pass close by without suspecting its existence. A few old houses dot the rim, the road descends, easily at first, and the other side of the valley is seen through the mist. Then the road falls sharply, the Stevens buildings become visible and in a few moments are reached by the ancient dirt path of Nooks Hill Road, which today is almost the same as when, seventy-odd years ago, six-horse drays dragged the first load of Mr. Hall’s iron mechanical banks upwards toward the rim, urged on by the shouts of sweaty teamsters.
On the front of the office building is a sign, kept bright by repeated painting, “The J. & E. Stevens Company”. Nearby, faded by the elements, unpainted for many years, but still legible is a second sign, written in letters whose archaic style proclaims their origin in a bygone era, “Iron Toys & c.” This, then, is the home of the mechanical toy bank, its birthplace and the place where for sixty years more types and larger quantities of such banks were produced than at any other plant. In fact, it may be stated with reasonable surety that the total production of banks by Stevens, for their own line and on contract for others, exceeded the combined output of all other manufacturers.
It is not so long since the last mechanical banks of Stevens make were turned out; 1928 marked the end of a long and prosperous era when the charm of the mechanical bank finally gave way to cap pistols that today make up the normal production of the plant. However, it is not nearly as long as the casual inquirer might imagine since Stevens last made mechanical banks, it is many, many years since the first piece was turned out in these buildings.
The company was originally established in 1843 by two brothers, John and Elisha Stevens. It is not true that they founded the company as a toy business. Hardware products, coat and hat hooks, surplice pins, door buttons, shutter screws, axes, tack and shoe hammers, and similar goods were their main products for many years. Nevertheless, some toys and toy parts were made there at a very early date. Within ten years of the founding of the plant, miniature sad iron stands and some half a ton of iron wheels for children’s toy wagons were made per week. (“Centennial Address”-of Middletown and its parishes including Cromwell-by David D. Field, D. D., Middletown, William B. Casey, 1853. This earliest known reference to Stevens notes that “This kind of wheel was, until a very short time since, wholly imported; now, however, those of homemake have, owing to their lesser price, and equal quality, driven the foreign make almost entirely out of the market.”) At this period Stevens employed about forty hands, and did an annual business of $35,000 to $40,000.
Beyond the buildings at the Stevens plant is a pool of cool, clear water, a fair sized lake in fact, still inhabited by the hordes of frogs which gave the valley its name. It is apparently a natural body of water, situated on a typical New England flowing stream which supplied power for the plant, although certain of the old wood cuts of the plant in some of the Stevens catalog show it surrounded by a stone dam or coping several feet in height. A railroad branch line once also ran through the valley, close to the plant to permit ready loading of freight cars. This has been abandoned for a number of years, although traces of the old right of way may still be discerned by the prowling visitor, bent on locating all of the sites and landmarks of former days.
The Stevens office threshold has been crossed countless times by Russel Frisbie and Charles A. Bailey, not to forget John Hall himself, or a dozen lesser figures in toy bankdom. At times the valley has certainly seen J. H. Bowen, up from Philadelphia for a hurried visit, or Elisha G. Selchow from New York. It has seen the growth of the mechanical bank idea, and if these walls, these worn work benches, these very tools that helped make the banks could only speak, what facts they could give us! How the mists surrounding the early history of the mechanical bank industry would lift and clear away! But the mists still hang low over the valley, the mists of nature mingling with the mists of bank history.
As is usually the case with careful and diligent research, probing, searching, picking up an odd fact here, a connecting link there, will bring facts to light, but the more that is uncovered, the more the historian desires to learn. A limit finally seems reached when we leave fact behind and start exhausting the possibilities of legends and traditions. There will, it is to be feared, always be mists of one kind or another, hanging over Stevens’ valley.
Early brief accounts of Stevens history which have been published in various articles on banks contain little of value. For the most part, they may all be dismissed as built up on pure conjecture, as there is no one remaining at the plant today who was there before 1890, nor any surviving catalogs or printed material much before that date. No members of the Stevens family have been connected with the company for many years. Starting as a Stevens family affair, it developed into a Frisbie family affair, for, in turn, three generations of the Frisbie family have played an important part in the operation of the company. At this writing Russell Frisbie, the grandson and namesake of that earlier Russel Frisbie who guided the affairs of the company many years ago, is superintendent.
The Stevens brothers were still living when the elder Frisbie entered the company in 1866 as general superintendent, designer, and inventor. Two years later, in 1868, Edward S. Coe, a nephew of the Stevens brothers also became associated with the firm in the capacity of bookkeeper. He became treasurer in 1872, and, finally, president in 1898, retaining both positions until 1907. Control of the company was gradually acquired by the Frisbies, and Russel’s son, Charles B. Frisbie, followed Coe as president of Stevens. Coe, who died August 10, 1926, was subsequently connected with local banks, and with the Kirby Mfg. Co., toy manufacturers of Middletown.
The coming of Russel Frisbie resulted in a marked increase in the firm’s toy manufacturing activities and in their entry into the field as manufacturers in the modern sense. It has been stated that prior to the Civil War, Stevens engaged not only in the manufacture of toys but also in the jobbing and importing of toys of other makes, but there exists no basis in fact for this expanded version of their activities.
There is not a particle of direct evidence regarding
Stevens’ entry into the manufacture of mechanical banks in existence. However,
after research extending into every available source, the author believes that
the following may be accepted as definite:
1869 is the date of the first patent on the Hall’s Excelsior Bank, but the bank was not necessarily manufactured in that year. As a matter of fact, the patent drawings, which were no doubt filed toward the end of that year (the patent itself being issued December 21, 1869), show some variation from the physical construction of the actual production banks. Unless an early version of the Excelsior was made exactly according to the patent drawings (no example of which has ever turned up), it may be safely stated that the bank was not placed on the market prior to 1870 at the earliest. It is quite within the realm of possibility, in fact, that the Race Course Bank was actually manufactured prior to the Excelsior, although the latter was patented almost two years earlier. These two years may represent the period of time it took Mr. Hall to obtain the necessary backing to produce his banks. The 1871 catalog of Cutter, Hyde & Co. lists only the Race Course Bank, new that year. Depending on how one interprets this, it may indicate that the Excelsior Bank was then not yet on the market, or it may merely mean that Mr. Hall actually did manufacture his banks (that is, he let the contract himself) and farmed out the exclusive sales rights to different jobbers. Research on this point is continuing.
In view of these facts, the author is inclined to reserve any definite dating of the first iron mechanical bank in view of lack of direct evidence, but it may be said that sometime between 1869 and 1871 the first iron mechanical banks were manufactured at the Stevens factory. The banks in question were either Excelsiors or Race Courses, with the preponderance of available evidence inclining to indicate that the latter was the first, in 1871, but this point cannot be considered definite.
The common tradition that the Excelsior Bank is the older is based solely on the fact that it was known to have been patented first. Actually, of course, the tin frog bank, which was patented by Kellis Hoarde in 1868, must be taken into consideration in any final determination of the question of which was truly the first mechanical bank. At the moment, however, we are concerned primarily with the question of which was the first Stevens bank, that is, the first bank made at the Stevens plant, for, as noted, it is virtually certain that it was not then sold as a Stevens product. Whichever was the first bank made at Stevens, that same bank would also be the first mechanical bank in its most usual form-cast iron.
It is hardly possible that Hall foresaw all that he was starting when he created his first iron mechanical bank, yet from the few banks designed by him have stemmed the countless designs which satisfied America’s growing demands for upwards of seventy years. These first Hall banks sold well. So great was the demand for this new article of toy merchandise that Russel Frisbie, who had undoubtedly worked with Hall on the practical aspects of manufacturing his banks, saw unlimited possibilities in the field, and patented a bank of his own in 1872, which was assigned to the Stevens Company before the patent was issued.
This is the bank popularly known today as the Frog On Round Lattice Base, and which employed the same base bottom and sides as the Race Course Bank in its actual construction. Even before this, the interest in banks, stirred up primarily by Hall’s doings, had induced Stevens to undertake the manufacture of still banks to the patent and designs of Doras A Stiles of Middletown, Conn. It is not known if Stiles was a Stevens employee, as might be suggested by his address. At Bridgeport, Friend William Smith, of whom more anon, was busy on bank designs, and elsewhere others were stirring. In East Boston, Hugh Quinn, possibly an acquaintance of Hall’s, had patented a still bank, and the same year, 1872, saw Stiles patent the Home Bank, which was made by Stevens. Thus, by the end of 1872, Stevens had four mechanical banks available for production, and it is possible all four were in production by the close of that year, though which were then being made as Stevens products and which on contract is undetermined. 1873 saw Hall patenting the Tammany, and also brought the Novelty Bank designed by Charles C. Johnson of Somerville, Mass., a few miles from Watertown. It must be assumed that all of these men were more or less in contact with each other in Connecticut and Massachusetts, working together or competing in various degrees.
In 1873, Frisbie was granted a patent on a still bank improvement, and Henry Prouty of Boston patented the National Bank. This gave Stevens three very similar designs, the Home, the National, and the Novelty, all based on tellers at the doors of bank buildings. The fact that Stevens manufactured all three contemporaneously is not only indicative of the growing demand for mechanical banks, but lends weight to the theory that one or more of them was being made on contract. There is evidence that the sale of the Johnson bank was controlled, for a time at least, by the famous Boston firm of Horace Partridge, and, presumably, made on contract for them by Stevens. Stiles’ Home Bank was probably Stevens’ own.
As a matter of interest, the earliest models of the Novelty Bank were actually lettered “Johnson’s Novelty Bank”, and the Home Bank, which was made in several models and sizes in both mechanical and still versions was listed in jobbers’ catalogs of as late as 1876 or 1877 under the heading of “Styles’ (sic) Patent Banks”.
In 1875, Hall patented the Lilliput Bank and also a reclining dog bank which was never manufactured, but whose patent included the famous round Stevens coin trap, almost exactly in the form it was to be manufactured for over fifty years, except he specified an especially shaped slot for a special key, rather than the slot actually manufactured, which could be engaged by a screwdriver. The next year Frisbie filed an improved patent on the Tammany Bank, including the familiar sliding coin trap held in place by a screw, and used on most of the Tammany Banks as well as on several others including the Magic Bank. All of the earlier banks had had to be entirely taken apart, usually by removing a long screw that held the interlocking pieces of the casting together, before they could be emptied. As outlined in Chapter II, Hall patented other banks and features through the 1870’s, but they were all of a minor nature, mere adaptations of previous designs, or new ideas which never saw production.
This basic point seems clear: the Stevens Company went into the bank manufacturing business on their own sometime around 1872 or 1873, at the same time they were making banks for Hall, and possibly others. This put them in the position of actually competing with their own customer, and, as might be expected, the situation could not endure permanently. One tradition, of source unverifiable, has it that Hall and Stevens had an altercation sometime around 1873, but whatever falling out may have occurred, it probably took place no earlier than 1876. Probably both Hall and Stevens attempted to carry on for several years before they decided the situation could not be continued, for, whatever arrangements existed, including a possible agreement to pool patents, the situation was a delicate one.
The fact that the Frog On Round Lattice Base Bank, definitely sold as a Stevens product, and probably actually their first mechanical bank as such, employed the same base castings as Hall’s Race Course Bank is evidence either of the amicable arrangements which obtained for several years at least, or else lends support to the theory that Stevens took over the Hall banks not long after 1872. Tradition has it that Hall received a good price from Stevens for his patents and patterns, and Stevens continued to manufacture some of his banks for a number of years thereafter, continuing Hall’s name on the Excelsior, Lilliput, and some Tammanys.
There is a chance, of course, that Hall sold out to Stevens around 1873, and continued working for them as a designer, but the evidence now available points to a severance of relations about 1877, and a failure on the part of Hall to engage any further in bank design after that date. Stevens manufactured at least one other bank on contract. John D. Butler of Lancaster, Mass., patented the Panorama Bank in 1876, and assigned it to Elisha Selchow and John Righter of New York, who, as jobbers, were already one of the largest customers for Stevens banks, and welcomed this opportunity to offer the trade an exclusive design obtainable from no other jobbing house. They arranged to have Stevens manufacture the Panorama Bank for them on contract.
Stevens continually expanded their toy manufacturing activities in lines other than banks, and gradually the hardware lines fell into the background. It would seem they were dropped entirely by about 1890, although old timers at the factory still remember a large display case of hinges and similar articles in the office as late as 1903. Frisbie himself designed and patented a number of other types of toys as time went on, including miniature working steam engines, and in time the Stevens line of toys contained such varied articles as cast iron trains, pull toys, jack stones, miniature tools, stoves, dolls’ mirrors and furniture (a miniature cast iron chest of drawers they made is sometimes incorrectly regarded as a still bank), “Japanese Folding Wagons”, tops, kettles, skillets, coal hods and shovels, anchors, cannon, sad irons, and finally the cap pistols which eventually superseded the mechanical banks.
The stories of the Stevens banks has been told elsewhere, and a list of all the styles made at this factory from 1869 (or whatever the exact date of their inception may be) to 1928 would be needless repetition. Here we are concerned primarily with the history of the company itself, and with the men behind it. There are many names connected with the Stevens line of banks, but only a few contributed largely to the basic trend of Stevens bank designs, and hence to the industry itself. Hall was such a man, but by the late 1870’s he has vanished from our stage, and hovers only in the wings, an obscure but important figure in mechanical bank lore. From the standpoint of number of designs, and a connection with Stevens during an even more active period of bank production, Charles A. Bailey is without question the most prominent.
Bailey was a typical Yankee craftsman. Not only was he an inventor of banks, but also a skilled pattern and model maker. In fact, he was one of the outstanding figures in the early American toy industry, for he not only designed banks for Stevens (after having manufactured some mechanical banks on his own) but designed and made patterns for countless other toys for both Stevens and other manufacturers, notably bell toys for the Gong Bell Mfg. Co. of East Hampton, Conn. Today, many boys whom he taught the art of pattern making in his old shop are among the ranking pattern makers of the New England toy industry.
Charles A. Bailey was born September 16, 1848, at Cobalt, Conn., where he was raised. Cobalt is one of the towns of Connecticut where the American toy industry may really be said to have been born. These towns are of necessity mentioned frequently in this and other writings on the subject, and each seems to have a special glow all its own-Plymouth, Bridgeport, Cromwell, Cobalt, Middletown, East Hampton, Durham, Meriden, and others. Bailey had a small shop in the back of his home in Cobalt. Where he learned his trade is not known, but it is reasonable to assume that just as he later passed on the art to others, so he had in his time learned it as a boy from some older craftsman. The shop in Cobalt was his source of income, and in it he pursued his trade from around 1875 to 1882, including a great deal of pattern making and designing of toys. He was extremely interested in toy designing, as were many of his friends. This art, considered too insignificant to bother with elsewhere, in Connecticut bloomed and grew apace.
Bailey’s first bank patent, issued in 1879, was for a watch bank which was not a mechanical. He manufactured it of white metal in the little shop behind his home in Cobalt. In 1880, the first of his many mechanical banks appeared, the Baby Elephant which opened at “10 o’clock”, and, in 1882, the Cat And Mouse Bank, which was also cast of white metal. They were his first patents, but he also produced other ingenious banks which he designed and made the patterns for, which were unpatentable. Though he was free-lancing and was a bank manufacturer on his own, he soon was making patterns for casting banks in iron for Stevens. Russel Frisbie considered Bailey an ideal man for banks, and from his shop came a number of designs, including the patterns for the Bismark Pig (and related varieties), and its companion in style and treatment, the Hannibal Elephant, and the various Stevens standing bears, Surly Bruin, Sulky Bruin, and the more common unlettered variety. Bailey married in 1880, and several years later moved to Middletown where he opened a pattern shop on Main Street. This shop he maintained until 1889 or 1890. Then he yielded to the entreaties of Frisbie and went to work at Stevens where he designed many banks and continued until 1916 as their ace pattern maker and bank designer.
After leaving Stevens in 1916, he again opened a shop of his own, this time in Cromwell, and once more designed and made patterns for anyone who wanted such work. His letterhead in the early 1920’s read as follows:
CHARLES A. BAILEY
MECHANICAL TOYS, NOVELTIES,
INVENTIONS PUT IN PRACTICAL SHAPE TO
MANUFACTURE A SPECIALTY
This represented the type of work he had always specialized in. At the time these letterheads were printed up, Bailey was in his seventies. He died on February 14, 1926. During the years of his permanent connection with Stevens he designed, invented, or at least made the patterns for almost every bank they turned out. His work and style is distinctive and easily recognizable on any toy on which it appears, from its complicated detail and profusion of floral work and other delicate ornamentation. Without question, Bailey was the leading mechanical bank designer of the entire era.
If there is a pattern to which the early New England toy designers might be said to conform, it is well represented by Bailey. Like Ritchie, Ives, and others who somewhat resembled him in appearance, he was not an inventor or idea man alone, but a competent craftsman capable of turning the conceptions of his mind into practical form. Further, his work was a matter of personal pride and interest, and not merely a source of income. After he had designed a new bank he would frequently bring home an assembled casting or two of the new model, and take especial pleasure in spending a Sunday in decorating the bank himself as he saw fit. He would buy his paints in tubes, mix his own colors, and beautifully decorate the bank in a variety of shades and delicate designs that would not have been possible on a production paint job. These special banks he would present to friends and children. Such banks, together with some others fancifully painted for their own use by employees in the factory painting room, account for the specially painted and decorated banks that turn up occasionally. Salesmen and drummers never carried or displayed specially decorated samples as some have imagined in an attempt to account for such pieces; the extra decorated banks were personal jobs for private use, and most of the handful surviving today are known to have been done by Bailey himself.
James H. Bowen, the Philadelphia designer of a number of Stevens banks, also played an important part in the development of that line of banks, but he was not as prolific a designer as Bailey, nor personally connected with the company. However, it is interesting to note, he probably not only invented and designed such banks as the Creedmoor, the Bull Dog, the Monkey And Coconut, and others, but he was also called upon to make up the patterns which were then sent on to Cromwell in their completed form.
Early in the present century, a number of leading American toy manufacturers and salesmen hit upon the idea of a giant merger of domestic toy companies. At first it was rumored that the entire American toy industry was entering into this organization, and newspapers quickly dubbed it “The Toy Trust” and predicted dire happenings once the trust got to work. Reports were current that the company would control 90% of the American toy output. These stories were quickly squelched through the efforts of R. H. McCready of “Playthings” and others.
When the cloud of rumor cleared away, it was found that even with the late comers who were not in at the very start, only twenty-two firms had undertaken to combine under the name National Novelty Co., in 1903. Many of the leading companies refused to have anything to do with the idea. Ives stayed clear, as did Weeden, and numerous others of importance. Among the most prominent member firms, however, were Stevens, Kenton, Wilkins, and the Wrightsville Hardware Co., later to become a part of the Grey Iron Casting Co., as well as N.N. Hill, Gong Bell, Morton E. Converse, and the jobbers, Riemann, Seabrey & Co. In the formation of the new company, Stevens had played a prominent part, and when the officers of the new firm were announced, Edward S. Coe of Stevens was found to be creditman, while Nicholas H. Colwell was president, Ralph B. Cooley, sales manager, and F. W. Crandall of Elkland, Pa. (who had been concerned in the manufacture of the Presto Bank), secretary. A showroom was opened at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway in New York.
Each factory more or less retained its identity and its individual line, and was generally under the supervision of its former owners. All selling was done through the main office, and while some modification was necessary to prevent needless duplication, for the most part the lines remained the same. This was particularly true in the case of Stevens.
The founders had expected to obtain a great deal of outside capital once the new company was formed, but were doomed to disappointment. The history of the “toy trust” was a stormy one, and only an outline can be given here. When the organization was founded, members had been quick to voice their opinion that non-members would soon find it impossible to get any business, as jobbers and dealers would naturally incline to buy from the source that gave them the greatest variety in a single line. But the National line was far from a complete toy line and the problems confronting the management were many, for they had not one but more than twenty factories to direct, and each one had to be managed in conjunction with the others!
The company eventually, by internal reorganization, attempted to correct the weak spots in its selling and distributing system. It emerged as the Hardware & Woodenware Mfg. Co, in 1907. The company had a superb selling force, including the leading toy salesmen of the day, such as the indomitable Major Edward Washington Brueninghausen. The Major, a Civil War veteran, had entered the toy business in 1875, selling banks and novelties which he had especially manufactured for his trade. These activities of the Major’s may in part account for some of the mechanical banks of this early period whose production cannot be definitely traced to any of the lines of the regular manufacturers.
Although the member factories of the Hardware & Woodenware Mfg. Co. were for the most part fully experienced in the design and manufacture of well made, fast selling toys, the troubles lay in the inherent faults of the combine itself, and in 1912 its tempestuous history was ended, and the factories sold at auction. In most cases they were bought back by their original owners. After the dissolution of the Hardware & Woodenware Mfg. Co., Riemann, Seabrey & Co. acted as Stevens’ New York sales agents.
Few mechanical bank designs were brought out by Stevens after 1918, the exceptions being the Pay Phone Bank, and the semi-mechanical radio banks, in 1927. However, such old favorites as Teddy And The Bear, William Tell, and others continued as strong items, and these were last manufactured by Stevens in 1928, many years later than most people imagine. Cap pistols were rapidly crowding out the banks, and were becoming a more profitable line.
Today at the Stevens foundry are old timers who vividly remember working on the banks. A nostalgic air surrounds Stevens today. Here and there are relics aplenty of the days of bank production; all of the old patterns, carefully shelved forever, wooden boxes that never received their banks, barrels of old castings, boxes of dry, unmixed pigment for the bright colors of the banks, memories, traditions-and many an unsolved problem of mechanical bank history. The mists still hang over the valley.
In all that charmed circle of American mechanics and inventors whose names seem surrounded by an aura of double magic because of the two-fold pleasure their creations have brought, once, in their own lifetimes, to those who bought and used the ingenious products of their hands and brains, and again, today, to those who delight to study and preserve the surviving relics of their skill, few names stand out so brightly as that of Jerome Burgess Secor, American mechanician extraordinary.
In the course of a lifespan of eighty-four years, he left his imprint firm and deep in a half dozen or more of the most important American industries-including such basic and vital ones as sewing machines, typewriters, and machine tools. But it is for what was one of the seemingly lesser channels of his work, his extremely fascinating, extremely ingenious mechanical toys, that he is perhaps best remembered today. Unquestionably, this is largely due to the fame of one of his products, the only mechanical bank which he ever manufactured, the Freedman’s Bank.
Despite the fact that he made only this single mechanical bank, Secor is the epitome of toy bank making, the sum total of all the inventors and designers and manufacturers who in their varied large or small parts, pass across our stage. His Freedman’s Bank is certainly the most interesting of all mechanical banks, and through its superb design, Secor himself of necessity looms large on our pages. He was one of the pioneers of the American toy industry, and the bank itself follows mechanical toy practice in design, mechanism, and construction far more than it does the usual mechanical bank treatment.
Actually, this mechanical bank was but one of a series of almost equally intriguing mechanical toys which Secor manufactured. All of them are outstanding, in quality, design, and conception, because, to the seemingly minor field of toy making, Secor brought all of the inventive and manufacturing ability which distinguished his productions in so many other fields. True craftsman that he was, he created and made his toys as if they were an end in themselves, and as deserving of the best in designing, materials, and workmanship as any of his devices perfected for purely utilitarian usage. As a result, the Secor mechanical toys of the late 1870's and early 1880’s are unquestionably the finest toys of their kind which have ever been manufactured in the United States.
Jerome B. Secor was born at Liberty Village, N.Y., on October 8, 1839. The family was of French Huguenot extraction, the name being variously spelled Secor, Secord, Sicard, and Sycard. Jerome’s father, Oliver, was a gun maker, and maintained a gun shop on Avenue A in New York. From there the family subsequently moved, in turn, to Honesdale, Pa., where Jerome attended Honesdale Academy, to St. Louis, Mo., to Weston, Mo., and finally to Peoria, Ill., where Oliver opened a new gun shop. Among his customers, according to family tradition, were Kit Carson and Jefferson Davis. In his youth, Jerome naturally spent much of his time in or near the shop, and fast developed into a skilled metal worker and tool maker.
Even as a boy, Jerome became interested in producing toys, deriving his amusement from designing and constructing them, rather than from playing with them. In Peoria, he constructed and sold toy locomotives and boats, including one boat large enough to carry two boys. This latter craft he exchanged for a diamond ring which he presented to his stepmother.
His mechanical ingenuity was already marked when, at the age of twenty, he took a job in the model room of a sewing machine factory in Chicago. There he perfected a device to “take up” the tension in the machine, which he sold to the company for a round thousand dollars. Most youths would have been content to continue in so lucrative a position, and Jerome was assured of rising to the very top, but his mind had already conceived other ideas. He had long before determined to enter into the manufacture of a sewing machine of his own at the first opportunity. Taking his thousand dollars, he resigned his position, and, designing a machine to his own ideals, he opened a small factory and commenced production.
It had been his intention to move his business eventually to Bridgeport, Conn., which was then the center of the sewing machine industry, and to interest eastern capital in the expansion of the firm. This move was suddenly hastened by the advent of the great Chicago fire on October 8, 1871-his thirty-second birthday! Without delay he moved his entire family, wife, four children, father, and stepmother, to Bridgeport and prepared to begin operations there as soon as possible.
He located the plant of the Secor Sewing Machine Co. in a capacious building in East Bridgeport, and, upon beginning production, met with considerable success. His machines were widely sold, and, through gaining awards at various American expositions, and at the Universal Exhibition at Vienna in 1873, became somewhat in demand. He attained a production of several thousand machines a year, a small number in comparison to the tens of thousands being turned out by his Bridgeport competitors, but enough to have assured him a comfortable livelihood.
In the meantime, he had purchased half of a double house on West Avenue in Bridgeport, and found, as fate would have it, that the owner and occupant of the other half of the house was none other than Edward Ives, then already well on his way to fame as America’s foremost toy maker. Ives was manufacturing a great variety of mechanical toys in his Bridgeport plant: clockwork figures and dancers, locomotives, miniature velocipede riders, etc. It is almost certain that from his contacts with his new friend Secor became interested in the commercial possibilities of toys.
Without entering the field on a wide scale, and more or less simply as an interesting side-line to his sewing machine business, he perfected and started to manufacture mechanical singing birds in cages. A music box in the base, for which Secor not only made the designs and tools, but also composed the tune, furnished the song. The birds were covered with real feathers and wired to perform lifelike movements in conjunction with the tune. These mechanical singing birds met with some success, and they were displayed by Secor, standing on top of the polished wooden cases of his sewing machines, at the Vienna Exposition. They received a medal there, and, back in America, again at the American Institute Fair in 1875, and at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. Still, they remained merely a sideline.
However, when, following the Panic of 1876, Secor suffered a complete overturn of his fortunes, and the sewing machine factory was closed, he found it necessary to cast about for some new field of endeavor through which he could recoup his fortunes. Seemingly, the manufacture of toys was the least consequential of all industries, and the one least calculated to produce the desired results. Actually, the exact opposite was true, for, contrary to popular belief, even at that early date the American toy industry was extremely large in size and was expanding at a rapid pace with each succeeding year. As an example of what could be done, Secor had to look no further than his friend and next door neighbor, Ives, who was producing and selling mechanical toys by the tens of thousands. Moreover, it was a field with great personal appeal for Secor.
He first started making toys in the attic of his house, producing a number of different types of articles. The odor of cap pistols baking in the kitchen oven often pervaded the house. He had bought the house furnished; the lace curtains had originally cost $40.00 a window, and there had been an enormous pipe organ inside which Secor had had removed for some reason. It was not exactly the most perfect place for a toy factory, but it was not long before the press of his new business compelled Secor to move his toy manufacturing into space rented in the Ives factory, which occupied the entire top floor of a large four-story building at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Broad Street.
Much more ingenious than the cap pistols and other toys which he had started making in his attic was the series of fine clockwork toys which he soon began to produce, the woman of his family participating by sewing the clothes in which the little figures were dressed. These mechanical toys were manufactured by Secor from about 1878 to 1882; certainly none of them was produced earlier than 1877, and probably none in that year. The toys were all somewhat larger and more elaborate than the similar Ives mechanical toys, and so retailed for rather higher prices. The Freedman’s Bank at one time sold for $66.00 a dozen wholesale, and probably for about $7.50 retail, quite a price for a toy in those days.
In 1880, the Bullard Machine Tool Company moved into the lower floors of the building where Secor and Ives had their factories, and for a time at least, in 1883, Secor served as superintendent of their plant.
There were at least six separate toys in Secor’s clockwork series: the Freedman’s Bank, a white girl in lace-trimmed dress playing a piano, and four types of Negro figures, playing a banjo, shaking a tambourine, shaking castanets, or waving a round fan. The last four figures and that of the Freedman’s Bank all had heads cast of a white metal alloy, from the same mold. They were cast hollow by filling the two-part mold with molten metal, then quickly inverting it so that the excess metal flowed out, leaving a thin layer of hardening metal adhering to the inside of the mold. When the mold was thrown open, a perfect hollow head was removed.
The mechanisms were fine quality brass clockworks, with special iron frames. Brass wires ran from the wheels and crankshafts to pull the various parts of the toys in correct rotation and with lifelike movements, turning the head, moving the arms and hands, and operating the beat of the foot, which kept time to the playing of the banjo or tambourine. In the Freedman’s Bank the hand was constructed with separate brass fingers which operated independently of each other and the figure would smile, turn his head, scoop the coin across the table top into the hole in the surface, raise his other hand to his face and thumb his nose with astonishing realism, then shake his head in a perfect gesture of derision!
The Freedman’s Bank has, of course, always fascinated students of mechanical banks. At one time it was seriously doubted if any would ever be found, and so little accurate information was available concerning it that it was frequently said to have been made in 1865, or even to be of Ives or Strasburger manufacture. Its whole history was shrouded in obscurity. It may come then as a complete surprise to many readers to learn that there are alive today, at this writing, not one but several people who actively participated in its manufacture, including Secor’s half-sister, Mrs. Charles F. Smith, who sewed clothes for the figure on the bank!
The mechanical piano player was another toy of especial merit and possessed great charm. The figure was beautifully dressed, complete even to a blue ribbon in her hair. A bit of this ribbon is still preserved by a member of the Secor family. The Negro figures had wide flaring collars, made of tin painted white, and were generally dressed in bright checked coats, with brass buttons and large bow ties.
These were not, however, by any means the only types of toys made by Secor. He obtained a patent in 1880 for a cast iron clockwork locomotive, and manufactured toys in accord with this patent.
Often the simplest and cheapest article is the most profitable, however, and this was true of Secor’s toys. In 1880 he patented a small singing bird or “mechanical warbler” which was entirely different from his earlier clockwork singing birds in cages. The new bird, which was merchandised variously as “Secor’s Improved American Songster”, “The American Gold Finch”, and under other names given it by jobbers, was mounted on top of a tube leading to a small metal bowl, from which led another tube and a mouthpiece. The bowl was partially filled with water, and when one blew into the mouthpiece, a diaphragm was actuated, producing a birdlike sound and at the same time moving a rod which operated the bird’s beak and tail. This production met with immediate and widespread success, and was sold in vast quantities for a number of years.
The Secor home was always a mecca for the children of the neighborhood, for there, ready for anyone who wished to use them, were the wonderful mechanical toys. Secor also manufactured a watch bank, and his nephew, State Senator Audubon Secor, also recalled something of another bank, perhaps only an experimental model, that had a coin shot from a gun, but this might have been merely a Stevens bank which Secor had in his possession. In the Secor family the Freedman’s Bank was affectionately called “Sambo”, for they were all attracted to the toys. A favorite cry among the small children of the Bridgeport district around his home was “I want to go to Tetor’s”, for well they knew the pleasant things that awaited them in the parlor on West Avenue, even though their little mouths could not yet pronounce their friend’s name correctly.
Secor’s toy making activities started to give way before renewed activities in other lines. With the profits from the “mechanical warblers” and his other toys, Secor was able to resume the manufacture of sewing machines, both under his own name, and on contract for others. Business began to boom; he turned out around a thousand sewing machines a month and employed about a hundred persons in his new factory. The toy business was almost completely overwhelmed by orders for sewing machines, special tools, and similar articles. Secor was glad to sell it to Ives, who continued some of the numbers, and dropped others. Secor married for the second time in 1887, and had stopped making toys before that date. His brother-in-law, Charles F. Smith, gives 1884 as the date by which he had sold out the toy business to Ives. A careful study of all available evidence points to the Freedman’s Bank as having been made no earlier than 1878 (the earliest known ad for this bank is for Christmas, 1879), and having been discontinued by 1883. Secor appears to have retained the rights to the “mechanical warbler”, however. His son, Hamilton, took up its sale when his father began to devote himself to the sewing machines and other products, including typewriters.
In 1899, Secor left Bridgeport for Derby, Conn., to take charge of the Williams Typewriter Co. He had made the tools for this machine, and also for the product of the American Typewriter Co. The Williams was one of the first visible typewriters, but it was extremely complicated in action, with a double shift key, and only one line of writing was visible at a time. Its chief advantage was that it stimulated a desire for an actual visible typewriter.
The Williams Typewriter Co. soon became the Secor Typewriter Co., although the name Williams was still used on the machine. Eventually, however, Secor created an entirely new machine, and it was marketed as the Secor Typewriter. This machine, although made nearly forty years ago, was so
advanced in construction that it is hardly distinguishable from any modern standard typewriter. In time, however, Secor discontinued the manufacture of the typewriter, and started making small tools and special machinery once more. During the First World War, he was very active in making tools for rifle production, and experimented with a rapid fire gun which he would personally carry out back of the factory and test by firing into a pile of sand. He also took up the manufacture of small toys again, inexpensive quantity sellers, and once again “Secor Toys”, albeit of an entirely different type, were advertised to a new generation of toymen.
After 1919, he practically retired, although his mind remained active until the end, and when he was over eighty, he was called on to design some new machinery for the manufacture of rubber tires. He had a little shop in the attic of his house in Derby, where he could work as his granddaughters watched him by the hour, fascinated. Still his mind kept turning to toys and mechanical banks, as it had almost half a century before, when he had been wont to describe himself as “Jerome B. Secor, Manufacturer of Mechanical Toys”, and had written it thus in broad strokes across the mountings of photographs of his products.
Toward the end, his hands shook and he was sometimes unable to make his models, although his agile brain remained sharp and he knew exactly what his ideas were and what he wanted. Not long before his death, he invented still another mechanical bank, in which a little bear climbed up a pole, took the coin, and deposited it in the bank. He interested two Derby business men in the idea, and they came out to see what he had, but the palsy was so bad by then that he could not get his ideas over, or make them comprehend how the bank was to be contrived, an it was never placed on the market. He died September 18, 1923, at the age of eighty-four.
THEY MADE THE BANKS
Edward Ives, Jerome Secor, “Billy” Weeden, and a score of lesser known American toy makers of bygone days have long since passed on but, through their ingenious toys which made generation after generation of boys happy, they have achieved an enviable form of immortality. These toy makers were “Yankee Craftsmen” in the strictest sense of the phrase.
The American toy industry is a development of the kind of skill, artistry, foresight, and faith wrapped up in the term-a definite yet hard to define property. All of the great toy pioneers possessed it. Those who made banks had it in common with countless equally interesting and important figures in toy history who do not appear on these present pages because of a lack of “banking connections”. Edward Ives, the greatest of all early American toy makers, possessed it to a tremendous degree. So, too, did “Billy” Weeden, “Billy” Ritchie, John Hall, Charles A. Bailey, W. S. Reed, Russel Frisbie, and virtually all of the others who made banks.
It was not merely the perfection of mechanical skill, or inventive ability. It is not impossible to define, but extremely difficult. These men possessed an innate quality, an attachment to this work, a “feel” for fineness, a constant striving for improvement, an essential understanding of the problems confronting them in this then new field of toy making. They had, also, a practical side so often lacking in inventors and mechanical geniuses, which enabled them successfully to commercialize their talents. Words alone can hardly convey the full picture of this quality, but a study of the ingenious toys that these men made, the technical and mechanical perfection, and the loving care built into each model will explain more clearly than any writing, the backgrounds and characters of these pioneers. There was no cutting of corners, no building down to meet a price instead of up toward a goal of quality, as is so often of necessity the case today. Ives, Secor, Ritchie; there was no compromise with quality with these men. Goods might be made to sell at lower prices than before, but each article was built with all of the consummate skill and care that could be summoned. That is why, though these men helped to introduce mass production to the toy industry, each toy was of a quality equal with, or even superior to, the older handmade work of the most expensive foreign models. And perhaps this is why it is so hard today for some people to realize that these old toys were actually mass produced; turned out by the thousands.
The stories of two of these bank makers, Stevens (whose products were the result of the combined efforts of several such men), and Secor, have already been related at a length befitting there place in the history of the subject. Most of the other makers, especially Ives (about whom a full length biography is now in the course of preparation), and Weeden, also deserving of almost equal treatment in this volume. Unfortunately, due to limitations of space, only the following brief histories can be presented here:
IVES: The story of Edward Ives, and of Ives toys, is known to everyone interested in toys, indeed, to practically everyone who ever had a toy. The Ives toy business was started in Plymouth, Conn., in 1868, and two years later moved to Bridgeport. It was known in turn as Ives & Co., Ives, Blakeslee & Co., Ives, Blakeslee & Williams, Ives & Williams, the Ives Mfg. Co., and the Ives Corporation. Besides a fine large still bank building, Ives manufactured the Bulldog Savings Bank, one of the most elaborate of all mechanical banks, in the late 1880’s. This was one of the few clockwork operated banks, and was furnished with a variety of typical Ives clockwork toy keys, including, at one time, a very fine and large key with the initials “I.B.Co.” cast in the handle. Ives also manufactured the Uncle Sam Bust Bank. The patterns for these banks were made by Charles A. Hotchkiss, who was employed by Ives as a pattern maker and designer for over fifty years, starting in 1874, and who made almost all of the Ives patterns during this period.
The Blakeslee of the firm was Cornelius Blakeslee, Edward Ives’ brother-in-law. Joel Blakeslee, Cornelius’ father, was also connected with the company. Williams was Edward G. Williams, who served as sales manager and conducted the New York office. Edward Ives’ son, Harry C. Ives, carried on the business after his father’s death. It continued as an independent company and an important factor in the American toy business until 1930, when it was taken over by a competitor. After 1932 it was completely absorbed. The Ives Co. is the most important and best known of all American toy manufacturers from an historical standpoint.
WEEDEN: The Weeden Mfg. Co. of New Bedford, Mass., was formed in 1882 by William (Billy) Weeden to manufacture a “luminous match safe” which Weeden had invented. Weeden was known as one of the foremost mechanics of the day. The Weeden Mfg. Co. soon became noted for their steam toys, especially stationary steam engines, and are still engaged in the manufacture of this class of article. A large part of their early output of steam engines, steam trains, etc. went to “The Youth’s Companion” for use as premiums in obtaining subscriptions. About 1886, a line of small light stamped metal mechanical banks was introduced, six to eight styles in all, including the Plantation Bank, the Ding Dong Bell Bank, a Grasshopper Bank, a bank depicting a schoolmaster beating his pupils, and others. All of these were of a similar general style, and were operated by small clockworks.
William Weeden died in 1889, and the management of the company devolved upon his chief associate, William Ritchie, also familiarly known as “Billy”. For fifty years, until his death in 1939, “Billy” Ritchie was in active charge of the company, and not only designed a number of the banks (although in later years even his usually keen memory failed to recollect the details of some of the more obscure models), but as president of the company he attempted to revive the Plantation Bank in 1918, and in the early 1920’s. The same dies and tools were used in their manufacture as previously, and the design was identical to that made in the 1880’s and 1890’s. His son, also named William Ritchie, is the present head of the company.
SHEPARD: The Shepard Hardware Mfg. Co. of Buffalo, N.Y., was one of the largest and most important makers of iron mechanical banks. They were manufacturers of hardware novelties and related lines, and seem to have entered the mechanical bank field in the early 1880’s, originating such banks as the Circus, Uncle Sam, Punch And Judy, Trick Pony, Jolly Nigger, etc. In 1892 their line of mechanical banks was bought by the Stevens Co., who continued many of their designs as a part of the Stevens line.
JUDD: After Stevens and Shepard, one of the most extensive lines of cast iron mechanical banks was that of the H. L. Judd Co., Wallingford, Conn. The Judd line, however, differed greatly from the others. For the most part, Judd banks were smaller and had very simple actions and movements. The line, however, was at times an extensive one, and a great many banks were sold.
The original company was founded by Morton Judd in New Britain, Conn., in about 1830. The original foundry and shop were small, but the business grew as time went on, and by 1855 his three sons had joined the firm, which was then called M. Judd & Sons. The Judd lines consisted then, as now, chiefly of hardware staples such as drapery fixtures, house furnishing and carpet hardware, wire goods, and similar products.
In 1861, one of the sons, H. L. Judd, opened a sales office in New York, where not only the products of his father’s company but other lines as well were sold. This business was continually expanded until a factory was opened in Brooklyn in 1876 for the manufacture of sheet metal goods. Business relations were continued with the older company which, in the meantime, had become the Judd Mfg. Co. and located in New Haven. It was later moved to the present location, Wallingford, where the manufacture of mechanical banks was begun about 1882, as nearly as can definitely be established, possibly a year or so earlier. Both still and mechanical banks were made and the line rapidly expanded, increasing from eleven styles in 1882 to eighteen by 1884. The most popular Judd mechanical banks were the Gem, and the Dog On Turntable, both of which were made for years and widely sold. Other Judd productions included the Mosque in its various models, the Boy And Bulldog, Miniature Bucking Ram, Miniature Bucking Mule, etc. The banks were usually small and simple, with finely lined castings, but usually very little action. Most of them were finished in a brown or maroon lacquer finish.
In 1885 the Brooklyn factory was destroyed by fire, and in 1887 H. L. Judd & Co. (which had been incorporated in New York in 1884) bought out the parent company in Wallingford. The plant there was enlarged and all metal manufacturing finally concentrated there in 1896. In the meantime, however, a factory for the making of wooden goods had been put in operation in Chattanooga, Tenn. Today, as the H. L. Judd Co., the firm operates both factories, as well as five other branches. The manufacture of toys and banks was discontinued some years ago. It is interesting to note that Judd also produced a paper weight employing the identical figures as the Boy And Bulldog Bank, except that they were mounted on the paper weight facing in the same direction, whereas they faced each other on the bank.
SMITH & EGGE MFG. CO.: The Smith & Egge Mfg. Co. of Bridgeport, Conn., was organized in the spring of 1874 and was located at 188 Lafayette St. It was incorporated in 1877 with Friend William Smith Jr. as president and Warner H. Day as secretary and treasurer. Smith was born May 11, 1829 and came to Bridgeport in 1849, where he opened a dry-goods store which he was forced to close within a short time because of the dishonesty of one of his clerks. He then went to work as a clerk in the dry-goods house of E. Birdseye. He attained a great deal of success and prominence and was appointed Postmaster of Bridgeport by President Lincoln in 1861, a post he held until 1869.
While Postmaster, Smith became interested in the subject of mail lock improvement. The chief specialty of the Smith & Egge Mfg. Co. was mail locks and keys which had been invented by Smith and Frederick Egge, who became superintendent of the plant. These locks and keys, together with sash chain to replace the cord then used in all window frames, brought the firm its reputation.
Smith patented a mechanical fortune telling bank as early as 1870 (This patent is No. 100,564, issued March 8, 1870, and should not be confused with patent No. 98,643, issued January 4, 1870, to another Smith, W. P. X. Smith of New York. As far as is known, this latter bank was never manufactured. It is not, as has been stated, the Initiating Bank, said bank being patented September 23, 1880-Patent No. 232,699-by George W. Eddy of Plainville, Conn., and assigned to the Mechanical Novelty Works of New Britain, Conn.). This appears to be the bank which is known as the Moody And Sanky Bank. In 1873, Smith obtained a design patent on the Nest Egg Bank, a still bank in the shape of an egg, lettered “My Nest Egg”. The Nest Egg Bank was manufactured in three sizes, the largest being lettered “Our Nest Egg”, for family use.
There is a great deal of confusion concerning the Smith & Egge banks, and the firm’s exact status as a manufacturer. There is some question if Smith & Egge actually made these banks as their own products or on contract for Ives. The Smith & Egge factory was adjacent to that of Ives, and they are known to have made various parts for Ives at times. The Nest Egg Banks are listed in the Ives 1885 catalog in the section devoted to Ives’ own products, rather than those of other firms whose goods they jobbed, but this may merely have been a special accommodation for Smith & Egge, because of their close connection. A mechanical toy mouse, which was also manufactured by Smith & Egge and known to have been advertised at one time as a Smith & Egge product, is similarly listed in the same Ives catalog mentioned above.
In 1877, Smith obtained a patent on the first of the bust banks (No. 189,907), wherein a figure’s eyes would roll when a coin is deposited. This patent has been the cause of a great deal of speculation and misunderstanding and it, together with the story of Smith’s connection with the Moody And Sanky Bank, is treated at length in Chapter X.
SELCHOW & RIGHTER CO., New York, N.Y.: This was a jobbing house, founded in 1868 by Elisha G. Selchow under his own name. He was soon joined by John H. Righter, although the company did not change its name until 1881. They controlled the patent on the Panorama Bank, which was manufactured for them on contract by Stevens. The bank was featured in their catalogs as an exclusive article, something above the usual in quality.
S. S. & G. D. TALLMAN, New York, N.Y.: Stephen S. and George D. Tallman were toy jobbers in the 1880’s. Several mechanical banks were apparently made for them on exclusive contract by some manufacturer. These include the small monkey that takes the coin on a tray, and the Shoot The Hat Bank, both patented in the early 1880’s by Charles F. Ritchel, a toy inventor of Bridgeport, Conn., and probably manufactured in that vicinity. About 1886, the Tallmans joined with George R. Johnston in forming a new jobbing concern, Johnston, Tallman & Co., which presumably took over the exclusive rights formerly held by S. S. & G. D. Tallman. In the early 1890’s, Ritchel briefly operated a toy manufacturing firm of his own in Bridgeport, the Ritchel-Simmonds Co., but it is not known if any mechanical banks were made by this concern. Ritchel’s associate in the undertaking was George Simmonds, who was manager and treasurer. Ritchel’s title was “Inventor and president.”
TRENTON LOCK & HARDWARE CO., Trenton, N.J.: This company made the Pelican Banks with the various types of tiny figures in their mouths which appeared and thumbed their noses when a coin was deposited.
MECHANICAL NOVELTY WORKS, New Britain, Conn.: This company was owned by George W. Eddy, Robert E. and Andrew Turnbull, and James A. Swanston, and made the Initiating Bank, the Zoo Bank, and several others. The Mechanical Novelty Works seem to have been active in the field of mechanical banks from the late 1870’s to the early 1890’s.
ENTERPRISE MFG. CO., Philadelphia, Pa.: Enterprise was a large and well known manufacturer of hardware goods and store fixtures, including lawn mowers, meat choppers, presses, coffee, spice, corn, and other types of mills, etc. They manufactured several types of Centennial Banks, starting in 1876, including the globe with eagle on top, the two sizes of Independence Hall Tower, with four and six inch square base respectively, and a bank shaped like the Liberty Bell. Only the first and last named were mechanicals. They were still making banks in 1880, but had dropped the line by 1888.
KYSER & REX, Frankford, Philadelphia, Pa.: Louis Kyser and Alfred C. Rex were frequent patentees of mechanical banks in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. They were the owners of the firm of Kyser & Rex, manufacturers of iron castings and hardware, and their line of mechanical banks was one of the most important and widely sold. After 1884 the concern became Alfred C. Rex & Co., and was continued under that name for some years thereafter. Their foundry was located at the corner of Trenton Avenue and Margaretta Street, Frankford, and at times they also had an establishment in Philadelphia proper. Rudolph M. Hunter, who was associated with Kyser and Rex in patenting several banks (see page 14) was a mechanical engineer and patent attorney, but it is not known if he was regularly employed by the company or merely became interested in the subject of mechanical banks through serving them professionally.
Among the banks manufactured by Kyser & Rex and by Alfred C. Rex & Co. were the Bowling Alley, Uncle Tom, the various size Organ Banks, the Baby Mine Bank (Feeding The Child), Chimpanzee Bank, Confectionery Bank, Motor Bank, Dog Tray, and the Lion And Monkeys. From certain records at the Stevens factory, however, it seems that Stevens acquired the patent rights to the Motor Bank, although this bank does not appear listed as a Stevens product in any of their catalogs of the period which have been examined.
McLOUGHLIN BROTHERS, Springfield, Mass.: This concern was founded in 1803 by John and Edward McLoughlin, and manufactured toys and games. In 1877 one Edward McLoughlin patented the Guessing Bank, which was manufactured in the form of a man seated in a chair, with a wheel on which various indications are given by chance as a coin is dropped in. This bank is very elaborately made and finished, with a heavy iron base containing a drawer fitted with a key, into which the coin drops. It would appear to be more of a game device than a children’s bank. A similar figure exists, cast in white metal, but with the wheel indications referring to drinks. The same design figure, in smaller size, was also used on a match safe.
It is not known if there is any connection between the patentee and the Edward McLoughlin of the toy firm, although some have assumed from the patent that the bank was made by McLoughlin Brothers. That company definitely state that they never manufactured any banks. Even if the patentee was connected with McLoughlin Brothers, it is possible that this device was manufactured by another firm. McLoughlin was bought out by Milton Bradley & Co. in 1920, but continued as a separate company. Bradley themselves made wooden still banks at one time.
W. S. REED TOY CO., Leominster, Mass.: This company was established in 1874 as the New England Toy Co. That firm was dissolved and the W. S. Reed Toy Co. succeeded it in 1876. William S. Reed was president and C. E. Dresser, vice-president. They specialized chiefly in wooden toys and at one time were the largest toy manufacturers in the United States. In the 1880’s, Reed yielded to the lure of the mechanical bank, and manufactured at least two types, the Old Woman In The Shoe Bank, which he invented, and the Little Red Riding Hood Bank. The present Whitney Reed Co. of Leominster is a descendant of the original company.
GREY IRON CASTING CO., Mount Joy, Pa.: This company was originally known as the Wrightsville Hardware Co., which was formed in 1881, the present company having been incorporated in 1913 following the dissolution of the Hardware & Woodenware Mfg. Co., although the Grey Iron name had been used for some time previous. The original parent companies had their origin in 1840. The Wrightsville Hardware Co. made the Camera Bank, a mechanical, and the semi-mechanical Merry-Go-Round Bank (which should not be confused with the mechanical of the same name) was produced under the Grey Iron name.
HUBLEY MFG. CO., Lancaster, Pa.: Hubley was originally known as The Novelty Works, but was organized under the present name by John Hubley in 1894. They have made a number of still banks, and also several important mechanical ones, including the Trick Dog, Trick Monkey, and the Trick Elephant, all of which were still being manufactured until the advent of the Second World War necessitated a suspension of production. Hubley also made the Ferris Wheel Bank, a fine clockwork bank which was marketed for a few years in the 1890’s. The same Ferris Wheel was also sold as a mechanical toy without the bank feature.
KINGSBURY MFG. CO., Keene, N.H.: This firm began making toys in 1890 as the Wilkins Toy Co., and was purchased in 1894 by H. T. Kingsbury, although the name was not changed for some years. They manufactured the Bankclok in the 1920’s, which may be considered a mechanical, and also the Keene Registering Bank which, in the past, has at times been incorrectly classified as a mechanical bank.
NEW MARKET MFG. CO., New Market, Ontario, Canada, were Canadian manufacturers of an extensive line of iron toys of more or less standard design, and included at least one of the Canadian made elephant banks in their productions.
FREDERICK AND CHARLES CRANDALL, Montrose, Pa. seem to have made the Presto Bank, the type in which the mouse comes out of the roof. Frederick W. Crandall was secretary of the National Novelty Co., which is described in Chapter VI, and later one of the two receivers of its successor, the Hardware & Woodenware Mfg. Co. The Presto Bank was patented in 1884 but may not have been manufactured until somewhat later. At the time of the National Novelty Co., the Crandalls were conducting a toy factory in Elkland, Pa., the F. W. Crandall Co.. Charles M. Crandall was the patentee of the Presto Bank (patent No. 298,830).
ROBERT J. SELLENTINE, Cleveland, Ohio, patented the Steam Boat Bank in 1896 and manufactured about 3,000 pieces which were largely sold locally at fifty cents retail and twenty-five cents wholesale. It was made in a Japanned finish, of sheet metal, and so far no surviving specimens seem to have turned up, due, no doubt, to the extremely small quantity made. Sellentine subsequently sold the patent to a purchaser whose name he did not recall when questioned about the bank many years later.
J. CHEIN CO., New York, N.Y. made one or more semi-mechanical banks in the early 1900’s, and recently introduced modern lithographed tin versions of the Uncle Tom Bank, this time in the form of a clown, and a monkey who tips his hat, both of which are still being made.
LABOR, INC., New York, N.Y., made a musical bank in the mid-1920’s. When a coin was dropped into the bank, it played a tune.
STRAUSS MFG. CO., New York, N.Y., made registering banks in the early 1900’s, and were the manufacturers of the Little Jocko Musical Bank, which appeared in 1912. This bank was similar in conception to the Kyser & Rex Organ Banks of the 1880’s, but was made of stamped metal.
LOUIS MARX & CO., New York, N.Y., produced several banks including “Dapper Dan, The Jigging Banker”, in the early 1920’s, and more recently a telephone bank and a mechanical automobile bank.
OTIS-LAWSON CO., New York, N.Y., put out the pulp composition Hitler Pig Bank in 1942. In 1946 they brought out a colored plastic mechanical Pig Bank, which grunts when a coin is inserted.
STACK PLASTICS, Culver City, Calif.: The “Stack Fare-Box Bank” is a modern mechanical or semi-mechanical bank, made as a replica of a street car or bus fare-box.
CENTER PLASTICS CO., New York, N.Y.: In 1946 this firm put out a molded plastic replica of the old Jolly Nigger Bank, named “$avin’ $am”.
Other manufacturers of telephone banks, in which the insertion of a coin usually rings a bell, aside from Marx and Stevens, have included the IMPERIAL ELECTRIC CO., Cleveland, Ohio, who made the Phone Savings Bank in 1913, the N. N. HILL BRASS CO., East Hampton, Conn., and the STRUCTO MFG. CO., Freeport, Ill.
A few other companies have made only one mechanical bank apiece, as far as can be ascertained. These are the JOHN HUGO MFG. CO., New Haven, Conn., who made the Wireless Bank in the 1920’s, the PROCTOR-RAYMOND CO., Buffalo, N.Y., who made the Bank Of Education And Economy, the RICHARD ELLIOTT CO., Chicago, Ill., who made the Dime Savings Bank Pistol in 1909, the E. M. ROCHE NOVELTY CO., Plainfield, N.J., who made the Time Safe, the HENRY C. HART MFG. CO., Detroit, Mich., who made the X-Ray Bank, and the LOUIS MFG. CO., New York, N.Y., who made the Electric Savings Bank in 1905.
The IDEAL MFG. CO. of Detroit, Mich., also made banks, possibly including some mechanicals. It should also be borne in mind that Major Brueninghausen had had certain special banks made up exclusively for him, thereby making him a manufacturer, and that Charles A. Bailey had also manufactured some mechanical banks on his own before he became affiliated with Stevens.
Unquestionably, there were several other manufacturers of mechanical banks than those listed above, but their identities are as yet unknown. Rumor located one small foundry at Rocky Hill, Conn., supposedly the manufacturers of the Uncle Sam Bust Bank, but no traces can be found of a manufacturer ever having been located in that place, and this particular bank is known to have been made by Ives. There are also rumors of obscure foundries located in Pennsylvania, but they are usually found to refer to one of the above mentioned concerns.
The last company to enter the field of cast iron mechanical banks extensively was the KILGORE MFG. CO. of Westerville, Ohio. This company was established in the early 1920’s, and their chief lines have always been cap pistols and caps. In 1926 they brought out four iron mechanical banks, in the form of an owl, rabbit, frog, and turtle. While they met with some success, this line was discontinued about 1934. While the owl (which was made in two varieties), rabbit, and frog banks were made and sold in large quantities, the turtle bank was not very widely distributed, although it was actually made and sold commercially.
The following firms manufactured still or registering banks, but never mechanicals, as far as can be ascertained, although it is frequently stated that some of them did so: Arcade Mfg. Co., Freeport, Ill.; Dover Stamping Co., Boston, Mass.; Durable Toy & Novelty Co., New York, N.Y.; O. B. Fish, New York, N.Y.; Burdick-Corbin Co., Hartford, Conn.; Ferrosteel Mfg. Co., New York, N.Y.; Gong Bell Mfg. Co., East Hampton, Conn.; Victor M. Grab & Co., New York, N.Y.; Hoge Mfg. Co., New York, N.Y.; Huntex Co., Worcester, Mass.; Keyless Bank Co. Lmt., Chicago, Ill.; Mountville Machine Co., Mountville, Pa.; Moyer-Shaw Mfg. Co., Detroit, Mich.; Mudd Mfg. Co., Chicago, Ill.; Nicol & Co., Chicago, Ill.; T. C. Page & Co., Florence, Mass.; Piaget Novelty Co., New York, N.Y.; Wm. Shimer, Son & Co., Freemansburg, Pa.; Chas. W. Shonk Co., Chicago, Ill., and A. C. Williams Co., Ravenna, Oh..
The field of foreign made mechanical banks is an interesting one, particularly as almost all of the iron models at least, are copied or adapted from designs originating in this country. There exists a widespread popular misconception concerning the relationship between American and European toys. It is still generally supposed that not only were the majority of toys sold in this country until recent years of foreign origin, but also that most of the early American toys were simply copies of foreign designs. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth, or tend to give a falser picture of the American toy industry, than the hint that American toys were copies of foreign ones. A careful check of designs and construction will show that the bulk of the toys made in this country were always the products of American design, and that the imported toys were of an entirely different class. This is particularly true as regards nineteenth century mechanical toys, and, as previously pointed out, the iron toys were almost exclusively American productions.
Aside from British and Canadian banks, which were copied from American designs, the remaining few types of foreign banks have no relation to our domestic productions and are quite dissimilar. These include the Kneeling Chinese Beggar, and a similar kneeling Negro figure. There are several minor variations. These banks are constructed largely of wood and a plaster composition. There is little definite information available regarding them. They are of continental origin, probably German. Both bear inscriptions, the Chinese Beggar in Italian; the Negro in German. Translated, the inscription on the Chinese Beggar reads:
“Send all offerings collected
There is little doubt but what these are not toy banks in any sense of the word, but were designed and used to collect funds for missions in China and Africa and belong to a class of article in whose manufacture several European firms were engaged. There are also plaster of Paris angel figures of this type, designed to be used as collection boxes. One, which was used in a church in Cleveland, is lettered “God Bless You”, and nods its head when a coin is inserted.
There is also a mechanical alms box in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which is attributed to the period of the Han Dynasty in China, between the years 206 B.C. and 220 A.D. There is a small bear or other animal mounted on a box, which bows when a coin is deposited. Obviously, none of these alms boxes are mechanical banks.
A few cheap tin mechanical banks were made in Germany in the last half century, The Windmill, Signal Cabin, several figures of men and animals, and the “Stollwerck Vending” which is a miniature candy bar vending machine. This piece was put out by a leading German chocolate manufacturer, Gebrüder Stollwerck of Cologne.
There are several examples of English wooden pieces known, although it is impossible to determine if they were single handmade pieces, or production wooden banks. One large wooden bank of this type is almost identical with the Tammany in action, and quite similar in appearance except that a dog seated between the man’s legs also bows his head when the coin is deposited. The idea for this may have come from the Tammany, or just possibly vice versa, or there may be no connection whatsoever between the two.
The "Stollwerck Vending” Bank and one or two very similar pieces were mechanical toy banks, but there are a number of other vending devices which have no relation to the banks, including English pipe tobacco vending boxes, and the Peptum Gum Vending machines. These latter were American devices of the early twentieth century and feature small figures of comic characters such as Foxy Grandpa or the Yellow Kid, who turn and deliver a stick of gum when a penny is inserted. The list might be expanded to include a number of other vending machines and coin operated amusement park devices which feature animated figures.
The British iron mechanical banks present a fascinating study. The English have always been attracted by the iron mechanicals, and many a large shipment went from Stevens and other factories for sale in the British Isles. Many American banks were not only patented in the United States, but were also registered in England. Some specimens bear a registration number as well as a patent date, such as the Humpty Dumpty (the bust banks were particularly popular in England). It was only natural that the manufacture of iron mechanical banks should have been undertaken in England itself.
The development of the English banks, and their relationship to the American designs is an interesting and complex story, rendered all the more complicated by the lack of a great deal of basic source material, and by the usual inaccurate traditions, misconceptions on dating, etc. The first of the English banks were almost certainly the Volunteer and the Grenadier Banks, both of which are almost identical with the American Creedmoor Bank, except for the names. The Creedmoor was patented in 1877, and allowing for a period in which Creedmoors were probably exported to England, it is unlikely that any of the British banks were made before the late 1880’s or 1890’s at the earliest.
The Volunteer and the Grenadier follow the Creedmoor design closely, except for the names which are marked quite distinctly on the top of the base, unlike the Creedmoor on which the lettering is often well-nigh illegible. The Volunteer has the same figure as the Creedmoor and would seem the earlier of the two English banks. The Grenadier figure has a peaked cap. There are two minor varieties, one with a small peaked cap with insignia, the second with a larger cap, but without insignia on the front of the cap. One chief difference from the Creedmoor is in the coin trap, which, while similar in design to the standard round Stevens trap, is perfectly plain and without any lettering at all.
The Wimbledon Bank is another English shooting bank, but unlike the Volunteer and the Grenadier, it is strictly a British design. In this bank a soldier is lying flat on the ground aiming his gun into a small structure, presumably a fort, above which flies a flag. As the coin is shot into the fort, the figure nods his head. This is not a registering bank, as has been reported. It is about a foot long, and a later bank than either of the two mentioned above.
John Bulls Money Box is the English version of the Trick Dog Bank and follows the American design closely. Instead of the clown, however, there is a figure of John Bull with his hands in his pockets and the hoop is omitted. The base is cast in one piece and is similar to the later American model in construction, but has a wide flare at the bottom of the base. The name is lettered on this flare instead of on the top. This is also a later bank than the Volunteer or Grenadier, although its original date of manufacture precedes the First World War. In 1915, a specimen of this bank, along with several of the other types already mentioned, was used in bank displays in England to collect money for the Belgium Relief Fund. This fact definitely places all four banks as having been manufactured before this date. It has also given rise to the erroneous story that these banks were designed and manufactured especially for Belgium relief fund collecting.
Another British bank of the same period as the Wimbledon, and apparently of the same make, is the Foot Ball Bank. This bank should not be confused with the two American mechanical banks which also bore that name, the Stevens bank in which three players collided in what the bank called “A Calamity”, or the bank of the late 1880’s, one of Bailey’s designs, in which a single figure kicked the coin into a watermelon. The English bank features a single player, in uniform, who kicks the coin into the bank. The trap on this bank and on the Wimbledon and John Bull’s Money Box consists of a square plate, which is removed by taking out one or two screws.
The British Tank Bank was patented in the United States in 1920 (patent No. 1,338,879) by Robert Eastwood Starkie (of whom more anon) and Nellie Starkie, of Burnley, England. It was possibly manufactured in England a year or two previous to this date. This bank is rather crude in construction, which gives strength to the theory that it was originally manufactured under wartime difficulties. It consists of a tank and a cannon, mounted on the same base. The cannon is fitted with a spring which shoots the coin into a slot in the side of the tank. The cannon casting especially is very rough and crude. Later in 1920, another bank patent was issued to Starkie for a Charlie Chaplin Bank which does not seem ever to have been made, in either England or this country. In this bank, the blithesome Charlie stood in the street, hit a passing banker a clout over the head with an enormous mallet, and then tipped his hat while the coin was deposited and the banker arose from the pavement.
It is quite possible that there are other types of English banks besides these and the bust banks which are about to be described, which have not yet been recorded in this country due to lack of research on the British banks. All in all, the English bust banks make up one of the most interesting of bank groups, and the variety of styles is far more extensive than on the similar American banks. It is difficult to date the English bust banks. The earliest may have been made in the 1890’s or early 1900’s, but most of them seen to be of later manufacture, and certainly many come from the 1920’s. Except for minor variations in the base plate, and the change from the Shepard to Stevens plates, the American Jolly Nigger Bank was made in one style only, and all of the numerous other varieties-high hats, the so-called “butterfly ties”, moving ears, etc.-are of English make.
The bust banks were tremendously popular in England. The English models follow the American ones closely except most of them have the so-called “butterfly tie”, a tie with flowing ends (the term “butterfly” was actually suggested not by the tie but by the fact that on some of the English banks the collars are painted white, giving the appearance of a large butterfly standing out on the bank), and the base plate which has no trap and is held in by a screw. Some of these bases are simply cast iron sheets, others are perforated, while still others are of heavy stamped metal. Some of the latter have key locks. There are any number of varieties. The backs of these banks are similar to the American except that the patent date is omitted. Some models have perforations drilled in the back of the head, or in the back, or in both places. There are several varieties of hands and arms, and the shirt buttons are somewhat different from the American. Some of the arms are cast in one piece, and are hollow on the underside. Others have stamped metal hands attached. Some of the varieties also exist with the high hat, of which there are also several types, a strictly English variation.
In addition there are other English Jolly Nigger Bank sizes and styles, some differing noticeably from the typical model. One, which is labeled “Starkie’s Patent”, moves his ears as well as his eyes. Others, of smaller size, are made of aluminum (It is just possible, however, that these aluminum models were made in Canada). Another, of the large basic type, is lettered “Jolly Sambo Bank”, a somewhat more pleasing name than the commoner title on the British and on all of the American Banks (except the modern plastic version). These varieties do not begin to make up the list. Even more intriguing are the banks identical in design and mechanism, but of greatly reduced size and bearing other names. They are about two-thirds of the size of the standard bank, and include the Little Hi-Hat, which is fitted with a high hat, the Sambo and the Little Joe, which are of the normal type, except reduced in size, and finally, the Little Moe, which has a flat hat which he politely tips at the same time he swallows the coin. The English also produced a female bank of similar type, the Dinah, which is the same size as the Jolly Nigger and works similarly. Dinahs with hats, as well as Jolly Nigger Banks with straw hats or derbies, or any of the American model with a high hat, are not original productions, however.
Mechanical banks were also made in Canada. At least several types of elephant banks were made there, and the banks so labeled. The New Market Mfg. Co. of New Market, Ontario, is the only known producer. There is also a possibility that some Jolly Nigger banks, including some of the aluminum ones, were made in Canada. The exact status of the aluminum banks, which are quite crude, is, however, open to question.
Just what arrangements, if any, were operative between Stevens and the English manufacturers is open to further research. Possibly the banks were not made in England until after the original patents had expired. Little definite data can be obtained. Running through the subject of the English banks like a brightly colored thread is, of course, the name of Robert Eastwood Starkie, who apparently manufactured many of them, or at least was connected with the company as a designer. The boxes that these banks came in do not give any information about the manufacturer, although some bear the trademark “Beatrice”. A recent attempt to contact the Starkies resulted in the letter being returned from Burnley marked “Not known”. Thus the English banks continue to present one of the most interesting mysteries of bankdom, but if diligent research and probing can eventually solve it, then solved it shall be.
ROMANCE IN BANK LORE
As a class of toys, mechanical banks are unique. To the trade, as well perhaps to the casual customer, they are all similar because their basic purpose was the same, the safekeeping of coins. Yet no other toys exist in such a variety, showing dozens of entirely different ideas, whose only point in common is that these ideas and designs have been applied to banks. One reason for the popularity of mechanical banks in their hey-day is seldom noted. It is that actually their popularity was not for the most part that they really induced saving. The use of a mechanical bank to promote thrift was a selling point to parents, but the real prestige that the bank held for a youngster was that it was almost always an amusing toy aside from being a bank, and could be played with and operated whether or not there was a coin available. This is a point that is usually overlooked; the vast majority of mechanical banks operate as toys equally well with or without a coin. Out of the several hundred types, only about thirty banks actually required the use of a coin to activate or give motion to the figures.
In the days of their greatest popularity, many banks were sold and bought as much as mechanical toys as banks. Compared with many contemporary imported mechanical toys, the banks were far more substantially made, and cost less. Numerous Creedmoors were sold as a mechanical soldier who would actually fire his gun and explode a cap at the same time. All of the shooting banks were, in fact, provided with a cap firing device in the gun or cannon, and this point was featured in the catalogs and advertising, “It is so arranged that a paper cap may be fired at the same time.” The William Tell Bank was a mass of movements and sounds when operated at “peak capacity”. The cap exploded, the coin shot, the apple fell, and the bell rang. Here a coin was necessary to knock over the apple and ring the bell. Teddy And The Bear, on the other hand, presents a number of amusing operational variations. The bear actually pops up out of the tree stump before the gun shoots, as the trigger is depressed slowly, although when it is pushed down all the way at once, both actions seem simultaneous. It is therefore possible to have Teddy shoot the tree and the bear pop up to his surprise, or to make the bear pop out first, surprising Teddy, who then quickly pulls his trigger.
The charm of the mechanicals lies mostly in their action as mechanical toys, rather than banks. Even if a coin were needed, it was not difficult to obtain. Only a few of the banks, those with key lock traps for which the parent might retain the key, baffled their youthful owners long in removing the coin. The majority of the coin traps could be removed with a screwdriver, or in some cases the coins could be shaken out by inverting the bank. Certainly the boys who owned these banks knew all the tricks. Most certainly, the coins that went into the banks were placed there by elders, or at least in their compelling presence. The idea that mechanical banks were hypnotic influences towards thrift, and that children saved every penny for the chance to operate their bank and see it in action belongs with the other myths of toy bankdom.
Closely connected with the thrift motif, is the belief that these banks were repositories for pennies alone. In fact, some people have dubbed them “mechanical penny banks”, as if the word “penny” was an essential part of the name. Mechanical banks were actually used continuously for coins ranging up to quarters. The slots were made large and wide in most banks for two reasons, namely, to accommodate any coin up to a twenty-five cent piece, and also to allow for the size differential in foreign coins, for many banks were exported. In many cases, however, the slots are not large enough to take the old fashioned United States copper cent and half cent, for these coins went out of use before the mechanical bank appeared, the last big cents being coined in 1857. Some of the very first banks, including the Race Course Bank, have a slot only large enough to accommodate a regulation size penny.
It is surprising how many banks were thrown aside or put
away still containing coins. There is as much silver as copper discovered in
these banks, and some banks were designed with the idea in mind that silver
would be used. Witness, for example, French’s Automatic Toy Bank, which a
scarce and beautifully colored slip tells us the “Children’s Choice”. The
boy on the trapeze (the bank is often called by that name) would perform
“For one penny dropped in the head the boy revolves
The bank was cleverly balanced so that the weight of the coin alone regulated the number of turns the boy would make on the trapeze. With the proverbial thin dime, however, the boy had to be pushed to start because the weight of the coin itself was insufficient. Here is a bank that specifically called for coins up to fifty cent pieces for its correct automatic operation. According to the advertisement, it showed “that the more money the boy gets, the more he will do to earn it.” On this theory the idea is sound, but unfortunately, from another standpoint, the boy would revolve as much for six pennies as for a half dollar, and furthermore, he could be started on an even longer spin by hand, without benefit of a coin. Which way should the moral be drawn?
The moral or symbolism of the 10 o’clock Elephant Bank, patented by Bailey in 1881, is obscure. This bank “opens at 10 o’clock” and portrays a baby being held by an elephant over the jaws of an alligator, cast in relief on the top of the bank. A balloon from the baby’s mouth encloses the words “Oh, if I had only put some money in the bank.” A writer in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” in 1939 noted that “One rather wonders of what use money would have been in such an emergency”, but possibly the concealed allegory was clear to users in the 1880’s.
The Confectionery Store Bank was a designer’s answer to the failure of most banks to continue to attract coins. The bank was to be kept filled with candy by a parent, and upon inserting a coin, the depositor would be presented with a bit of candy, via an iron salesclerk. How much stale candy was consumed, and just how long parents kept the candy compartment filled after buying the bank is problematical.
There are a great many interesting stories and anecdotes
concerning mechanical banks which can be uncovered with a little digging. Some
of these tales have been passed around so much that they have become
traditional, while others have recently been brought to light in the preparation
of this volume, and are as fresh and authentic as possible. Many of the old
tales are questionable, and one suspects that many of them were manufactured
In somewhat the same class is, for example, the very popular legend concerning a certain bank supposedly being withdrawn by the manufacturer because of protests, or to avoid offending someone. This tale has had a number of variations. At one time it was most generally told about the Shamrock Bank (Paddy And His Pig), which was a very popular seller all during the 1880’s, although at the time the story was most popular, the bank was generally believed to have been put out during the Irish immigration of the 1850’s, following the great famine. After a while the story was gradually transferred to the banks relating to the Spanish-American War, especially the Called Out Bank (which was, of course, actually a World War I item) and to the U.S. And Spain Bank, about which it is generally told today. According to the tale, this bank was discontinued after the war at the request of the Spanish government! In an expanded version it has the Spanish government making a special official protest, and in its final and most grandiose version, it tells of a special envoy journeying from Madrid to Cromwell to plead his case!
Still another popular story concerns the Moody And Sanky Bank, named after the famous revivalists, and which was made as both a still and a mechanical bank. According to this epic of bankology, there was once a very religious minded workman employed at the Stevens plant from time to time, “Friend” William Smith. Rather, he was supposedly employed there continuously, the time to time element entering into the picture from his habit of abruptly breaking off work whenever the mood came upon him and setting out on a walk through the surrounding New England towns, peddling from door to door a mechanical or still bank of his own devising, which, so the story went, he was allowed to make up on his own in the Stevens plant by an indulgent company. The banks do exist; in the mechanical version the insertion of a coin exposes the name of one of four hymns, while in the still bank there are simply the photographs of the revivalists pasted in oval recesses on the front casting. According to the legend, their creator would make them up in small lots. After he had been gone for a few days or a week or so, and disposed of the supply he had carried with him, he would return to regular work for a while.
Actually, the Moody And Sanky Banks were regular production banks, turned out by the thousands as part of a regular line. The bank was invented by Friend William Smith, and patented by him in 1870, although the bank does not seem to have been manufactured until several years later at least. The story recorded in the preceding paragraph was unquestionably suggested to some spinner of tales by the fact that Smith’s first name sounds like a religious title. The story was built up and supposedly collaborative evidence added by the fact that in 1877 Smith patented another mechanical bank which some were quick to assert was the bank which appeared on early check-lists under the title of “The Preacher In Pulpit Bank”. Thus, those who recited the tale of “Friend” William Smith, the humble, pious workman at the J. & E. Stevens Co. factory could point out that he had created two mechanical banks, both religious. There was a third bank patent under his name, the Nest Egg still bank, which also seemed a proper creation for such a man as Smith was pictured.
Unfortunately for the sake of an intriguing story, as we have seen in Chapter VIII, Smith, far from being a workman employed by Stevens, was in reality a wealthy manufacturer, former Postmaster, and leading citizen of Bridgeport, Conn. The Moody And Sanky Bank was either a product of Smith’s own company, or of Ives (see page 33). Far from having a religious motif originally, however, the wording on the patent drawing shows such phrases as the demanding “Give Me A Penny”, rather than the titles of hymns such as “The Ninety And Nine” which appear on the production banks. Obviously, the bank was created by Smith as an ordinary toy bank, and the religious motif applied later when the bank was put into production.
The Preacher In Pulpit Bank remains to be commented on. Such a bank is recorded on the check-lists, and the bank in question was made, but it is not the bank of Smith’s patent. Smith’s patent covered two principles, each illustrated as applied to a different bank. The first was a complicated system of weights and links to operate the eyes and jaw of a head. The second was a much simpler device wherein “the direct action of the coin, in its passage into the body” caused the parts to move. Smith illustrated the first principle applied to a figure “behind a desk or pulpit”. The word “pulpit” alone seemed to leap out of all the details of the patent and was enough to convince some that this was verily the Preacher In Pulpit Bank.
It should be emphasized that it is not known if banks closely resembling either of the models shown in Smith’s drawings were ever actually manufactured; none have come to light. The patent, of course, covered mechanical principles, and these principles could be applied in actual production to greatly differing external forms. It appears that the principle illustrated in Smith’s second pair of drawings, involving the direct action of the coin to create movement, was employed in several banks. The most notable of these is the Uncle Sam Bust Bank, which is known to have been an Ives product, and a clear line of connection between Smith and this bank is therefore indicated. Other banks which would appear to have been manufactured under this patent, and which are, therefore, likely to be Ives or Smith & Egge productions, include the Peg Leg Beggar Bank and the two varieties of the Circus Ticket Collector Bank, with and without beard. The Circus Ticket Collector with beard, incidentally, seems to be a portrait figure of General Grant. The name “Circus Ticket Collector” was applied to this bank by collectors, and its correct name is unknown. It may represent an old circus ticket collector with his barrel, although the figure of Grant would suggest some possibility of a political allusion.
There are a number of other stories in circulation about various banks. It should be pointed out that all of them are products of the last decade, since there began to be evinced a widespread historical interest in banks, and that none of those of this type were current, more or less as traditions of the industry, while the banks were being made. They should not be confused with the various bits of anecdote and story which are presented elsewhere in this volume as absolute historical fact. The type of story which we may enjoy, smile over, and file away as worth repeating in talking about banks, but at the same time note down as very questionable, is another matter. Take the case of Jean Paul Marat, and the Organ Bank:
The first of the Organ Bank patents was issued in 1881 to that prolific bank inventing team of Louis Kyser and Alfred C. Rex of Philadelphia. As the story goes, they were working in their little shop (The story always tells of their “little shop”. Actually, Kyser & Rex were large manufacturers of iron castings and had a large plant. See page 34.) one afternoon in 1881, finishing up their models and drawings for the first Organ Bank (the variety with one monkey and no other figures). One of the partners was sitting at a bench either trying to model a realistic monkey in wax, or to draw one for the patent specifications. Skilled mechanic that he was, he was unable, despite countless tries, to produce a realistic monkey. His partner had to go out to obtain a left-handed monkey wrench, or something of a similar technical nature. This fellow was a student of the French Revolution, and had a shelf of historical books in the shop, handy like.
Mr. Kyser (or maybe it was Mr. Rex) had on his coat and hat and was in a hurry to get out when his partner appealed to him again: “I can’t make a realistic monkey face no matter how hard I try!” With the door half open the other paused in exasperation and pointed to a history of the French Revolution on the shelf. “There’s a picture of Marat in there,” he said, “make it look like him.” Then, presumably, he slammed the door shut and went about his business while the other copied the face of “The Peoples’ Friend” onto his monkey, from whence it went into the patent papers, patterns, and every bank cast from them. It is a good story, one of the best, and it hardly loses goodness from the fact that it is almost certainly not true.
There are stories behind every bank, not necessarily exciting and bizarre, but often interesting. Where did the idea for the external design come from? If only the bank inventors, designers, and production men could come back to us, what stories they could tell! For the most part they have passed away, and now that what may have been, to some of them at least, the prosaic work of their lifetimes has taken on the aspects of a fascinating story, we are hungry for facts. If they had only left more letters, more stories told to their children and grandchildren while living. In a few cases we are fortunate, but for the most part this store of knowledge can never be ours now. We must content ourselves with the fragments which research has uncovered.
As to the external designs of the banks, it might be pointed out that many of them are based on that oldest and most basic of all comic themes, the human frailty to find humor in the misfortune of others. Many of the actions were comical when happening to others, but rather unpleasant as personal matters. Someone was always getting kicked or butted or thrown or bucked by some unruly cow or mule or goat, or even a bison! On the other hand, it must be admitted that some banks, such as the Hen And Chicken, are pleasantly pastoral. And, while some banks are perhaps almost laughingly crude, others are almost too realistic. The dog that springs at the man in the clockwork Bulldog Savings Bank, and seizes the coin from his hand is a veritable Hound of the Baskervilles, and about as vicious a creature as one could conjure up in any nightmare.
It is interesting to note how, as time went on, the earlier motifs were repeated again and again, both in the manufactured banks themselves, and even more so in the later patents of banks which were never put into production, perhaps for this very reason.
The later banks, such as the Kilgore series, did not present any extremely novel ideas. The Kilgore frog was similar to the older Stevens frogs, and similarly their rabbit followed the much older rabbits who had wiggled their ears forty or fifty years previous. It will be noted, however, that in all four of the Kilgore banks, the insertion of a coin was necessary to produce the action, and the banks had key locks, two points that might, theoretically at least, induce saving. As a matter of fact, in designing their 1926 series of banks, Kilgore was more interested in external design and realism than in any startlingly new actions. In truth, the boys and girls who had the Kilgore banks had not an inkling of what had gone before, and the Kilgore banks were novelties to them, just as Hall’s banks had been fifty odd years before to their grandparents. The Kilgore banks were especially modeled from life by M. Elizabeth Cook, a well known artist and sculptress. The locks on the traps were advertised as “of special construction” and safeguarded against the opening of the bank without the accompanying key. They were packed in printed cardboard boxes, each with an appropriate poem. The verses on the Jug-O-Rum Bank box ran as follows:
“The frog jug-o-rum croaks all day,
DEPARTURE FROM THE NORM
Any subject such as that of mechanical banks, especially during the period which marks the earliest efforts at study, will naturally acquire a sort of nebulous outer area in which are contained such specimens or reports as must be placed in a more or less “doubtful” class. This is particularly true in the field of mechanical banks, where there existed from the start of the vogue for them a flourishing collectors’ interest and demand for as many different types as could be found, before any sort of a serious historical study was undertaken.
In mechanical banks this area contains certain rumors of supposed fakes. These are now known as largely groundless. Sometimes, however, they approached the hysterical in their obvious efforts to push back the dating of banks by endeavoring to smear perfectly legitimate late pieces as fakes. Conversely, there have been a very few actual fakes which have seldom been detected, or even brought into question. A “fake” in the field of mechanical banks, or kindred subject, is, of course, a bank which was privately manufactured deliberately to fill the vociferous demands of collectors for a continuous stream of new and rare types of banks, as contrasted to a legitimate bank which was regularly designed and manufactured by a toy manufacturer, and sold to the toy trade through the usual channels.
As has been mentioned previously in this volume, deliberate efforts were made to foster a general belief that the modern banks, usually the three Hubley types - Trick Dog, Trick Monkey, and Trick Elephant (the fact of the contemporary manufacture of banks by Stevens and Kilgore was not known at all), were either fakes or recasts. This information was carefully planted in various articles and write-ups, where in addition to serving to make supposed “genuine” banks seem older, it undeniably added a certain element of glamour to the subject by recounting the supposed pitfalls in wait for the unwary. Writers of feature articles for newspaper Sunday supplements especially loved to bring in this note. The following example is quite typical:
“The racket usually is to produce a rare bank in perfect condition from a worn and dusty box. The salesman builds it up as part of a stock discovered in an old toyshop storeroom, offers it at a ridiculously low figure and forgets your face when you come back. Such ‘finds’ are reproductions of original models and worthless.”
While there were slight variations in the details of the design or painting over the many years these banks were made, the presence or absence of a lip on the barrel of the Trick Dog Bank, or of a chain in the Trick Monkey Bank, or of an internal swinging baffle plate in the Trick Elephant to prevent coins being poured out by holding the bank upside down, all of these banks are quite genuine, and such supposed authentic “old” varieties as the Trick Elephant with welded instead of riveted ears, non-existent.
There were also a number of stories of various other banks having been recast for sale to collectors (actually a great number of genuine banks have been repaired by the use of recast parts) although in most instances the banks cited were of fairly common types and would not seem worth the time and effort involved. The banks usually mentioned in this connection are the Gem, Shamrock, Tabby, and Jolly Nigger. There is some evidence that the last two named were actually recast in small quantities, although barrels of original castings for the Jolly Nigger were actually lying around the Stevens foundry at the time!
Much nonsense has also been written about how to tell the difference between old and new iron, or how to detect the age of a bank by examining the paint. Actually, of course, the quality and smoothness of the castings used in banks, as well as the types of paint, varied greatly between the different manufacturers and over the great period of years in which banks were made. There is a difference in very old iron, which was smelted with charcoal, and later iron, but even expert foundrymen freely admit their inability to distinguish the two with any degree of certainty after it has been made up into banks. For a number of reasons, malleable iron, which is sometimes cited as the material in “genuine old” banks was never used in the manufacture of any mechanical banks. The paint is no clue either, as old paint is carefully preserved, as on banks found in old stores and warehouses in “proof” condition, appears as bright and clean as any modern paint job.
Of far more interest than the many supposed and few existing recasts or reproductions of regularly manufactured banks, are the few banks which were deliberately made to create new varieties for collectors. Strangely enough, such pieces have usually been readily accepted without question, and those who possess them are frequently ready to defend their authenticity no matter what evidence is brought against them. The list of such banks is short, but it is a potent one in the field:
The Jolly Nigger Bank With Straw Hat cannot be authenticated. It is said to be made up of a combination of genuine parts, the iron straw hat from a still bank being mounted on an ordinary Jolly Nigger Bank in order to produce this variety.
The Carnival Bank: This is purportedly a late Stevens bank, with the castings shaped and finished in modern style. A thorough investigation of the bank itself, the circumstances under which they were “found”, and their supposed history indicates beyond any question that this piece was produced as a prank by a bank collector, who cast up several. Though the bank is very cleverly designed, it is nevertheless fraudulent from a standpoint of historical authenticity.
The Feed The Kitty Bank was never manufactured. A few sets of castings were made from the original model which was borrowed from the inventor, and banks made up from these castings for sale to collectors.
The Bull And Bear Bank and the Saving Squirrel Bank: (The last named should not be confused with the Squirrel And Tree Stump Bank). A limited number of Bull And Bear and Saving Squirrel Banks were made up from patterns which reputedly came from the foundry which is said to have manufactured them. While the patterns may have been used originally to produce commercial banks, all known specimens of these banks have been made up in this manner and no authenticated specimens of production models, catalog listings, or other positive evidence that they were ever actually manufactured has as yet been uncovered. The Bull And Bear Bank exists in two types; in one, a single swinging piece holds the coin between the two figures and drops it either into one or the other, although existing specimens do not work properly. In the other type two swinging pieces each hold a coin, and when the trigger is depressed, one piece drops a coin into the bull and the other into the bear. No information which might clarify these two types is available, although the latter is operative and does not seem quite as crude as the former.
The "Misers Purse Bank” is not a bank, but is a pipe and tobacco pouch smoking outfit. The late James C. Jones stated that a specimen in his possession had been pronounced a medicine container by a New York Museum. That it is not a bank of any kind is beyond question.
The Forty Niner and the Trick Donkey Bank presented a real problem, and one which occupied a considerable length of time, in the preparation of this volume. Both pieces resemble each other closely, consisting of the figure of a pack mule standing on bases which are respectively lettered “The Forty Niner” and “Trick Donkey Bank”. In both pieces, when a coin is admitted it causes either or both the tail and the ears to wiggle slightly. In The Forty Niner the coins are retained inside the mule’s body; in the other, they fall from the body, through a sheet metal column, into the base of the piece. In both cases they are admitted through a slot in the pack.
A great deal of misinformation and many errors in regard to details has been printed concerning these pieces and the cigar cutter from which they both originated. The cigar cutter is similar in design and shape to The Forty Niner, but without any lettering on the base or on the pack on the mule (There also exists a second type of cigar cutter. This is similar to the plain variety, but carries the following on the front of the base: “I. Goldstein and Co., Mfgrs. of Havana Cigars”, and on the reverse, “Pat. Mar. 30.97”, the genuine patent date. It would seem from this that the cigar cutters were made up bearing the names of various cigar manufacturers.). The cigar cutter itself is located in the base, not in a slot in the pack. The supposed removal of the cutter from the pack, leaving a slot open, did not, therefore, convert the cutter into a bank. The coin slots had to be especially provided. In both The Forty Niner and the Trick Donkey Bank bases may be found unused support lugs and uncleared holes for the cigar cutter.
The features of these devices, in which the ears or tail of the mule move, was patented as a bank in 1897. The same patent would of course, cover their application to a cigar cutter. The bank illustrated on the patent called for the coin to either be retained inside the mule’s body, or to drop through into a small cup mounted on top of the base between the legs. This feature was retained in the cigar cutter, except that three small nickel balls were supplied to operate the ears or tail instead of a coin, and the small cup supplied to receive them as they fell through. This allowed the cigar cutter to be employed as a gambling device as it stood on a cigar store counter.
The fact that this device was patented as a bank does not necessarily mean any such device was actually manufactured as a bank. In actual practice, the principle may have been applied solely to cigar cutters. It should be borne in mind that the fact that it was patented as a bank does not in itself provide proof that any such bank was ever made. Dozens of mechanical banks were patented which were never put into production.
The Forty Niner is identical with the cigar cutter except
that there is a slot in the rear of the pack to receive the coin, the small cup
is lacking from the base (although the hole in which it was mounted is present)
and the base is lettered with the name of the bank on the front and the patent
date of Oct. 1, 1849 on the back. While there has since been collaborative
evidence that this piece is a fake simply made up for sale to collectors by
slightly altering and recasting a cigar cutter, it was an investigation of this
patent date which first convinced the author that this bank was spurious.
Previously the patent date had gone unnoted, or was accepted at face value even
The patent date is false, and the otherwise clever faker overstepped himself in creating this bank by placing this false patent date upon the bank, seemingly in an effort to make it appear that this piece actually came out during the gold rush! Not only is there no such patent recorded for October 1, 1849, but all patents issued in a week are issued and dated the same day of that week. October 1 was not a patent issuing day in the year 1849 and there can be no authentic patent bearing that date!
The Trick Donkey Bank is very similar to The Forty Niner except the base is decorated and has the other name, there is a shaft from the mule’s body into the base, a perforated plate across the bottom of the base to retain the coins, and the pack omits the funnel at the top for the entry of the small balls and has the coin slot there instead of at the rear of the pack. There are slight differences in the casting, and the screw which goes through the center of the mule's body in the cigar cutter and The Forty Niner (to deflect the balls toward the ears or tail) is omitted.
The Forty Niner is a fake. The authenticity of the Trick Donkey Bank must be left open to question for a time. It is possible that it was created especially for sale to collectors in an effort to provide a “genuine” bank of this type after The Forty Niner had fallen under suspicion. On the other hand, although in some respects crude, and differing from the patent drawings structurally, if not mechanically, it may be a production bank.
The Lost Dog Bank is apparently a conversion from a still bank of this name, made by filing a slot in the back and inserting a small piece of wire which may be moved back and forth so that it serves to block the mouth of the dog, through which the coin is admitted, when it is in one position, and permitting the coin to fall into the bank when it is moved to the other.
The “Bird On Round Base Bank” and the dog that kicks the coin into a little house on a tree were converted from ornamental bell ringers, and were made up deliberately for sale to a collector. There was only one of each.
There is also a piece which has been termed “The Bootblack”. There is a slot and receptacle for coins, but the entry of a coin has nothing to do with the operation of the unit. A figure nods his head and shines a boot which he holds in his hand. The boot turns, and, in addition, there is a music box in the base which plays a tune. This device is very hard to classify, but because of the lack of action in connection with the insertion of the coin, it can hardly properly be called a mechanical bank.
Some few banks must be regarded as examples of the occasional aberrations of good taste found at times in almost every type of article. It is highly doubtful if they were actually designed as children’s banks. Certainly the Chinaman, Rat On Tray Bank, or Chinaman In Boat Bank, as it is sometimes called, was not. It is hard to see how any parent, even at the height of the unfortunate nineteenth century anti-Chinese feeling, could possibly wish to place such an object in the hands of a youngster. It is quite possibly not a bank at all, but actually an ash-tray
or some other device. One story, which cannot be traced, has it being used as a souvenir by a St. Louis hotel, and another and similar tale is that they were used on a banquet table in New Orleans at one time. Both stories probably stem from the same original source, and have been changed by repeated telling.
The piece itself consists of a boat with a cat in the prow
and a Chinaman seated in the stern. Before him is a flat tray with the words,
“Cash cheap labor hotel dinner one cent in advance.” When the Chinaman’s
queue is pressed, his hand turns, and if a coin has been placed on the tray it
is deposited as the tray turns over and presents its other surface bearing a rat
on a plate, side dishes, knife, fork, and spoon, and the words, “Dinner Is
Ready”. Other lettering on the piece reads “Hotel yacht free excursion”,
“I am seasick, oh morrow”, and “Music by the band forward when not seasick”.
This last sentence is frequently misquoted using “bank” instead of “band”,
and thereby confusing and changing the meaning so as to substantiate the theory
that this is a bank. There
There is also a considerable group of what should be classed as reported or legendary banks. These banks were believed to have been made, based usually on reports of persons who described some bank they vaguely remembered having had as a child, and were recorded on various early check-lists as definitely having been produced. In some cases, people described still banks they had had, and which over a span of years they had forgotten the details of until both they and the person they spoke to believed it was a mechanical. Several people who had Devil still banks as children were much impressed by them. They weren’t bewitched, or under the influence of the evil eye, when they described a Devil mechanical bank; they simply recalled their bank as such, or didn’t appreciate the difference between a still and a mechanical. Similarly, many people believed that the General Butler Bank simply must be a mechanical because of its extraordinary historical connotations and unusually high interest value.
Other people, in those early days before there was any research done in catalog files and other reliable sources of information, would describe a fairly common mechanical bank in such a way that it would be put down on the check-lists as a separate type. A very incidental feature of the Speaking Dog Bank is the ping pong racket the girl holds in her hand. Someone, however, for some reason remembered this detail above all others, and in describing a bank she had had as a child as a “girl and a ping pong racket”, was responsible for the inclusion of the legendary Ping Pong Bank on the check-lists.
Other such banks which were listed but never made, or are listed under another and more correct name are the Elephant With Welded Ears (never made), Girl Rolling Hoop (Perfection Registering Bank), Ping Pong Bank (Speaking Dog), Lion Tamer Bank (Lion Hunter), Sleighride Bank (never made), Boy Eating Watermelon Bank (Bad Accident), Croquet Player Bank (never made), Spanish Soldier Bank (Creedmoor), Civil War Soldier Bank (Creedmoor), and G.A.R. Bank (Creedmoor mounted on a wooden box and used to collect funds at some G.A.R. function). To this list, it would seem, may safely be added the Chapman’s Bank which was vaguely described as having “side brackets” and it was noted that only some “fragments” had been found.
Perhaps the most interesting reported bank attained wide
notice because of its appearance in a newspaper comic strip a few years ago.
This was at a time when mechanical banks were first attracting attention as
collectors’ items and the high prices paid for a few rare pieces had naturally
created the impression that almost any old mechanical bank was of considerable
cash value. One day Gene Ahern let little Duncan discover an old mechanical bank
of Judge Puffle’s in the comic strip, “Room and Board”. The bank which
excited Duncan’s interest portrayed an iron man chopping down an iron tree.
The Judge explained it was the cherished bank of
Here, obviously, was just the thing to attract collectors avid for new types. It developed, however, that the bank had seemingly been created by the artist. Almost everyone was convinced that there had never been such a bank made, although it was found a bank very similar in conception, portraying a boy chopping into a tree, had been patented in 1895 by William H. Beal. Recently, however, new evidence and reports have come to light which would seem to indicate that some such bank was actually manufactured.
Somewhat similar is the “Steam Engine Bank”, actually a steam locomotive bank, in which the fireman shovels the coin into the firebox. This bank was reported, placed on the check-lists, and finally was believed to be completely legendary. Nevertheless, it now seems quite definite that the bank was manufactured and sold, for a surviving specimen has actually been reported by a reliable source.
There are also reports of a gigantic Swiss William Tell Bank, described as having a clockwork mechanism, but nothing to either confirm or deny these reports has as yet turned up.
It should not be imagined that every type of mechanical bank which was ever manufactured in this country is by now known and classified. It is still quite possible for additional types to turn up from time to time, as happened within the past few years in the case of the rare Schley Bottling Up Cervera Bank, a bank of the Spanish-American War era. This bank, of iron, was shaped like a bottle and a picture of the Spanish Admiral Cervera was visible in the neck. When a coin was inserted, Cervera’s picture vanished and was replaced by that of Admiral Schley, who thereby “bottled up” Cervera. The allusion is, of course, to the “bottling up” of the Spanish fleet under Cervera in Santiago harbor.