Builder of Safes and Bank Vaults
The massive vaults that protect the nations gold supply at Fort Knox and a collection of antique mechanical penny banks have a common bond.
Edwin H. Mosler, Jr., president of the 109-year-old Mosler Safe Companythe firm that built the Fort Knox vaultsis a collector of penny banks. He owns one of the few remaining originals of the famous Ferris Wheel model, commemorating the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893, where the first ferris wheel was introduced.
Mechanical penny banks date back to the late 1800s when lessons in thrift were a common practice in American homes. To encourage this trait in children, artisans designed original penny banks, which were cast in iron or brass. Once an original design had been cast, the sand molds were destroyed. After casting, the banks were hand-painted and decorated with all the care and imagination of a work of art. While they cost only a few dollars in the 1880s, today many of them are worth hundreds of dollars.
The earlier models generally attempted to depict humorous situations such as a boy being butted by a buffalo, or a boy caught stealing a watermelon. Later, politics, social phenomena and national events inspired designs.
Typical was the so-called "Tammany Penny Bank," showing Tammany Boss Tweed pocketing pennies and nodding his thanks.
The Mosler collection contains some of the rarer specimens of antique mechanical penny banks.