HOBBIES - The Magazine for Collectors, March 1948
Mechanical and Electrical Antiques - OLD MECHANICAL BANKS
By INA HAYWARD BELLOWS
OLD MECHANICAL BANKS
When I seriously began collecting penny banks eighteen years
ago who would have thought that they would one day be a leading collector’s
“How did you happen to collect penny banks,” I am asked often. In the first
place, my family had all been ardent hoarders of our old family pieces. My
mother, my grandmother, and my great grandfather all prized things that the
ordinary individual called “junk.” Our little old mirror in front of which
Richard Faulkinghor, my great grandfather, stood to trim his beard, when he went
to play his clarinet before the queen, always hung in my grandmother’s house.
The large old painted cupboard which had been his, also, was filled with colored
pieces of glass from England, and when I was very small I used to beg my
grandmother for just one peek into its cavernous recesses, where I caught
glimpses of blue and green goblets, and old-time English vases.
Whether my love blossomed through environment or heredity I do not know.
I remember well the old cherry slant top desk of my grandmother. It had an array
of small drawers inside its heavy lid, and grandmother always warned me never to
pull down the lid. “It might break off,” she said. But every once in a while
I would feign some interest in the parlor, - dusting, or some other excuse, -
get on a chair, lift back the lid, and pull open some of the many small drawers
inside. In one of the secret drawers my uncle had put a discarded set of false
teeth and some old gold crowns! These I would fit into my mouth and say to
myself “Some day I’ll wear some of these perhaps.”
Our family, like many other families, told and retold the stories of the
courtship’s and marriages and I was so intrigued with the story of grandmother’s
romantic life that I decided, after listening to it many, many times, that I
must write it.
At a very young age, I wrote the life story. Later on, I rewrote it changing the
names, but it was still my grandmother’s life. I called it the “Romance of
the Old Boston Rocker,” and dedicated it to her.
I started writing plays and stories for women’s clubs, and later gave this
particular story before women’s clubs, in our part of the country. I dressed
in my grandmother’s old hoopskirts and gowns, and was introduced by the
dancing school pupils who danced the old-fashioned minuet. The old pictures of
my family substantiated my story, and it was well received. I judged whether or
not I had told the story effectively by whether or not all the elderly ladies of
the club cried. If they cried, I had told it well!
My first collection was clocks. Clocks, and more clocks. Grandmother had told me
about a particular clock that she had in England, and I was endeavoring to find
one like it so that I could describe it accurately in my story, “The Old
Boston Rocker.” Our house was small, and I bought so many clocks I had to have
shelves made in the garage for them. I fussed with these old case clocks all my
spare time, Until one day my husband came home from the office somewhat upset.
He informed me that all he could hear coming down the street was the ding!
ding!! dong!!! Of those clocks in the garage, and unless I absolutely “got rid”
of them at once he was going to leave home!
Not having been married long, and being young and unsophisticated, I was
terrified! I thought it all out that night. I would not dare unload all these
clocks in my home town. It would flood the market with clocks, - they would not
be worth a nickel, I thought. So I drove fifteen miles to a small town where I
knew an old man who lived and ran a little second-hand store and upholstery
I went into the store, and said very nonchalantly, “Mr. R., I’m bringing you
some clocks to sell.” “How many have you, Mrs. Bellows?” he said. I
replied, “Only twenty-six case clocks. I couldn’t get the rest in the car.”
“My, my!” he said, “I can’t afford to buy twenty-six clocks from you.”
But I answered, “I don’t want you to buy them, I’m giving them to you.”
He was quite excited, and said, “You can’t afford to do this,” but I
replied, “You don’t know the half of it! My husband is going to leave home
unless I get rid of these at once!”
And after consoling me, Mr. R. consented to take the clocks. He had in his place
of business several articles which intrigued me, and always had since I had
first seen them there. One was an old cast iron money savings device, Uncle Sam
with his red and white striped trousers, his tall plug hat, and star-spangled
coat. His carpet bag flipped open to catch all the coins placed in his hand. I
looked at the date on the bottom, and the thought occurred to me - a “carpet
bagger,” - I had been teaching about the carpet baggers after the Civil War.
This bank depicted that very thing. So I obtained the first of my mechanical
bank collection. Many people laughed at my curious collection - my funny penny
banks, my copper lustre, my Milk glass, and other historical items.
When in the early Thirties I exhibited my Mechanical Bank Collection at the
antique show in New York City, the press ran pictures of my collection in the
daily papers. Then came the radio, and I was asked to talk, later, I was
thrilled when my “Milking Cow” was photographed for television!
At the next exhibit, bankers came from here and there to see my banks, and to
talk with me. People came who were only vaguely interested at first. But they,
too, became enthusiasts, as I later learned.
About this time Mr. Lightner, publisher of HOBBIES, approached me to write a
book on the subject. So I started a flowery, “Since the beginning of time the
desire to hoard has been one of the characteristics of the human race.” “Bosh
with that flowery stuff,” he said. “What the public wants is not a flowery
history. They want to know what these banks are, and they want to know the
values!” “We’ll just cut out all superfluity on patent rights and history,
and give them what they want.” So the little book that started all this furore
in the mechanical bank world came out. With the help of good friends there was
developed a uniformity of prices and classifications. Keeping in mind that I was
only one of many collectors, I ventured to assemble this data with a view of
establishing a comprehensive standard. The book now in its second edition proves
the great interest in old mechanical banks.
HOBBIES, July 1948
Old Chinese Coin Bank
The mechanical coin bank that rewards depositors with amusing action
was known to the Chinese about 2000 years ago. A primitive example of this
contrivance made by some Chinese craftsman of the Han dynasty (206 B. C. — A.
D. 220) was presented anonymously some time ago to the Metropolitan of Art.
It is a rectangular pottery almsbox with simulated lock and studding indicating
that it was patterned after a more durable treasure chest. The four corners are
supported by fat, squatting human figures.
"Inserted in the top is a movable piece weighted on the inside of the
box", according to Alan Priest, curator of Far Eastern art at the
Metropolitan. "On it sits a bear with one paw raised over its head. This
piece is so arranged that when coins of sufficient heaviness are dropped into
the slot at the edge of the box they strike the weight and the bear bows his
thanks". — Edwin Brook.