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Bismark Bank
by F.H. Griffith - HOBBIES Magazine - March, 1956

56-03.JPG (16842 bytes)

A mechanical bank that is very much under-rated is our choice to occupy the 44th position in our numerical classification of the mechanical banks. The bank is the Bismark Bank, and along with being a rare interesting item it has a rather fascinating background and origination.

The top mechanical bank designer, Charles A. Bailey, is responsible for the Bismark Bank, and, as is often the case with certain of the banks he designed, there is more to it than just being a child’s saving device. Offered as a toy savings bank and definitely sold commercially as such it nevertheless had political significance appropriate to the times.

Bismark was born in 1815 and died in 1898. In 1866 he was made Chancellor of the German Empire and this began a long period of his trying to unify Germany as a world power. In so doing he did many things that reacted directly against the United States. For one thing Bismark impaired the Monroe Doctrine and went so far as to call it an ‘international impertinence.’ Bismark while posing to be friendly, actually did many things that reacted unfavorably to the United States, covering such things as religion, immigration, colonial expansion, and others. Relations between Germany and the United States after 1880 were affected by German commercial restrictions. For some years one of our main exported items to Germany were various meats. This consisted chiefly of pork and pork products, and in 1883 they prohibited the importing of United States pork into Germany. The possibility of trichinosis was used as an excuse to ban any more U.S. pork and pork products being imported into Germany. So, in any event, it’s obvious to see how Bailey associated Bismark with a pig and had Bismark himself popping out of the pig’s back. The bank was, of course, first made during the 1883-1884 period. This is definitely substantiated by the Ehrich’s Fashion Magazine, Winter 1884, which pictures the Bismark Bank for sale.

The bank pictured was obtained through the good help of Mr. Edward Rost of St. Louis, Mo. It is in excellent condition and the paint exceptionally good. The pig itself is black and he has a red mouth. The nose, eyes, and hoofs are white, and the lettering of the name is gold. The face of Bismark is flesh color with black eyes and moustache. His jacket is red and the tray is gold.

The bank operates as follows: The figure of Bismark is depressed forward and locks in place by means of a spring action in the tail. With the figure of Bismark thus inside the pig’s body a coin slot appears just above the tail in the pig’s back. This coin slot design is similar to the tail of the goat on the Germania Exchange Bank, also made by Bailey. A coin is put in the slot and then the tail is pressed. The figure of Bismark pops from the pig’s back as shown and the coin is deposited in the bank. It is not a well designed piece from the standpoint of being strictly a savings bank since the coins themselves when inside the bank actually interfere with the mechanism. This, of course, doesn’t detract but actually adds to the interest of the piece. Of further interest is the spring inside the pig that accentuates the Bismark’s bust. It is necessary for this spring to have three extra twists put into it when placed in the bank so it will operate properly. If this is not done the tray catches in the spring and interferes with the action.

A number of Bismark Banks are around, but to the best of the writer’s knowledge there are only about four or five actual original specimens that exist in present collections today. It is a very difficult bank to find as an original specimen. Unfortunately a number of years ago a limited number of this bank were recast and sold as originals. They are very easy to recognize, however. The casting of the pig is exceptionally heavy and painted a light cream color. The figure of Bismark is quite crude and not like the fine work of the Bailey original. The tail of the pig operates differently, by lifting it instead of pressing it down. The loop of the tail is down instead of up as in the original. The spring mechanism is also differently arranged inside the recast specimen. To repeat, the recast of this bank is very easily recognized and it isn’t even like the original except in a rough general appearance. These recasts made some years ago in no way affect the fine rarity and value of an original specimen.


F.H. Griffith, who conducts the Mechanical Bank Department for HOBBIES Magazine, has prepared a new booklet on mechanical banks. The booklet comprises a numbered and alphabetically arranged listing of all authentic mechanical banks, and each is graded under a new type system which affords a greater degree of accuracy and permanency.

The booklet is divided into seven parts which include the American made mechanical banks, foreign made mechanical banks, semi-mechanical banks, mechanical bank patterns, uncertain and recast mechanical banks, fake mechanical banks, and variations.

It is necessary to charge a nominal price of $2 for the booklet to cover the cost of printing, publication, and other incidentals. To obtain the booklet write to Mr. F.H. Griffith, Harris Pump and Supply Company, Pittsburgh 3, Pa.

The booklet will be helpful to both collector and dealer in evaluating their mechanical banks. R.P.


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