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Chinaman in Boat With Rat on Tray
by F.H. Griffith - HOBBIES Magazine - May, 1955

55-05.JPG (20979 bytes)

An item of great intrigue and interesting conjecture is picked to occupy 36th position in our numerical classification of the mechanical banks. This is the Chinaman In Boat With Rat On Tray and the question as to its actually being a mechanical bank made as a children’s saving device.

First let us clarify several things. Assuming it to be a recognized mechanical bank the Chinaman In Boat should be higher up in our numerical classification. That is to say it should not be down in the 36th position. It is a very rare interesting desirable item regardless of what it actually is and as a mechanical bank it is even more so. Then too since there have been only about four of the Chinaman In Boat banks turn up so far this has been the first opportunity for the writer to completely study and examine one thoroughly. Since the writer is now convinced in his opinion that it is a mechanical bank he will refer to it as such.

After considerable study and checking it is the writer’s opinion that the Chinaman In Boat was made by Chas. A. Bailey of Cobalt Connecticut. There are various definite earmarks and characteristics of his work, including the wording, the fine detail, the odd theme, the moon-face on the prow, and the cat, and it is made of the same lead-like material as his Springing Cat Bank and the Baby Elephant Bank Opens at X O’Clock.

The bank pictured was obtained by the writer through the good help of Mrs. Agnes Koehn of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She found it in Minneapolis, Minn., in August of 1954. The lady who had the bank had found it in the home of her parents who lived near the Canadian Border. Her parents had passed away and in closing up the old home she came across the bank, and thinking it an interesting piece she decided to keep it and brought it back to Minneapolis with her.

The bank shown is in very fine condition particularly under the circumstances of the material of which it is made and the general fragile setup of the piece. It is painted attractively as follows: The Chinaman has a red jacket, yellow trousers, and he is holding a gold fan in his right hand. His queue and hair are black, his mouth red, and his face is painted a yellowish color. The bottom part of the boat is silver and the top section is a purple or raspberry color. The cat is black and the moon-face is yellow, red and silver, and the other side of the tray is gold with a silver rat on a silver platter. The inside edges of the boat are painted blue and the deck is gold, silver and yellow.

There are no identifying dates or marks on the bank as is also the case with the Springing Cat. To the best of the writer’s knowledge there are no patent papers covering the bank.

The wording on the bank is very interesting and a complete description is in order. On the opposite side of the cat perched on the prow is the wording ‘I Am Seasick Oh Morrow,’ on the flat top deck in back of the Chinaman are the words ‘Hotel Yacht, Free Excursion, Music By The Band Forward When It Is Not Seasick.’ Underneath the coin is a red half circle with ‘Cash’ inscribed on it. Along with this on the movable lid is the wording ‘Cheap Labor, Hotel Dinner One Cent In Advance.’ On the other side of the lid the printing reads ‘Dinner Is Ready.’

In operating the bank the coin is placed as shown, then the Chinaman’s queue is pressed and he raises his left forearm and flips the lid-like cover over. This causes the coin to be deposited in the hull of the boat and the lid flips on over showing a rat on the platter, a knife and fork are beside the platter. Releasing the queue causes the weight of the Chinaman’s forearm to flip the cover over to its original position and the bank is again ready for operation.

The Chinaman In Boat has been accepted by some collectors as being a mechanical bank and others have thought differently. It has been said that it was a special novelty item for a dinner in St. Louis or New Orleans. If this were true it is logical to assume that it would have been made in a limited number and all would have been painted alike. This is not the case, however, as the Chinaman in Mr. Leon Cameto’s collection is painted differently than the writer’s. The boat has a green bottom and the top part is painted red and there are other differences in the paint. Unquestionably the paint is original on both the writer’s and Mr. Cameto’s bank.

It has also been said that the Chinaman In Boat being an anti-Chinese item could never have been intended as a child’s toy much less a bank. Well the same could be said about the Germania Exchange with the goat holding a mug of beer. It could also be said about the Breadwinner’s Bank which is obviously a labor-capitalist item, and who would ever think of the Baby Elephant Bank Opens At X O’Clock being made for a child as a toy bank with its theme of an elephant throwing a baby into an alligator’s mouth. Of course it’s to be admitted that these three banks have the name Bank imprinted on them, however, many of the banks designed by Bailey had no name on them at all. As example, the Shoot The Chute, Springing Cat, and a number of others.

Along the same line of reasoning are two toy animated cap pistols, "The Chinese Must Go" and "Shoot The Hat." These were made in the same period as the Chinaman In Boat with the same anti-Chinese theme and they are most certainly toy cap pistols made for children to use.

Another point in proof of the Chinaman being a bank is the fact that in Mr. Cameto’s bank there is a tin slotted piece under the revolving tray that prevents the coins from being removed by shaking the bank when held upside down. There would certainly be no point in having this part inside if it were not intended to be a savings bank. Mr. Cameto has kindly furnished the writer with this part for his bank. There was evidence of this part having been in the writer’s bank originally.

It might be well to explain the background of the anti-Chinese theme that was used in several of the mechanical banks and toy pistols. The mechanical banks are the Reclining Chinaman where he holds the winning card hand, all aces, and the rat is crawling from the end of the log. Then, of course, the Chinaman In Boat With Rat On Tray. The toy pistols are the Chinese Must Go, Shoot The Hat, and a single-faced and a double-faced Chinese Head cap exploder. All these toys were made for a definite reason in the period of 1879 to 1882. The background starts around 1871 when there was unrestricted Chinese labor immigration into our country. They worked for very low wages and many people felt they were destroying our labor standards and taking jobs away from our own laboring group already in our country. In 1887 there were serious outrages against the Chinese workers instigated by Dennis Kearney, the burden of whose song was ‘The Chinese Must Go.’ This relates back to the Burlingame Treaty which granted the Chinese residence in America and was agreed on in 1868. In 1877 the Senate investigated the Treaty but made no changes and this set off the agitation led by Kearney and others. It wasn’t until 1882 that Chinese laborers were denied admission to our country for a 10-year period. Then in 1892 the Geary Law extended these restrictions for another 10 years. So, to repeat, there is no question but that the Chinaman In Boat was made in the period of 1879 to 1882 when the anti-Chinese feeling was at its peak.

To sum up, the Chinaman In Boat With Rat On Tray is a very desirable rare item and the reader can form his own opinion as to its being a bank or not. In the writer’s opinion it is unquestionably an authentic toy mechanical bank made by Bailey in the period of 1879 to 1882 and that it was for sale the same as the Springing Cat Bank and the Baby Elephant Bank Opens At X O’Clock. Further definite proof of this may turn up in the future but this is possibly remote since Bailey made a number of his earlier banks in his own workshop in Cobalt, Connecticut, before he went with the J. & E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. There is very little information that exists on these earlier banks other than those that he was able to patent.


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