WALGREEN’s, Pepper Pike,
Cast-iron kids: they made
Put a penny in the
elephant's trunk and watch
him toss it into the basket on his
back — that's the way
youngsters in the 1880s
and 1890s combined thrift and fun!
In the good old days, kids got a big kick out of saving. Not that they
were any less tempted by ice-cream sodas or jelly beans than moppets
today, but each deposit in an old-time mechanical coin bank was worth a
trick or two.
There was the William Tell bank, based on the legend of the famous
Swiss archer. A penny put in Tell's gun breech tripped a trigger that
fired the coin at an apple on a boy's head. The penny knocked off the
apple and fell into a tiny castle, which held the coins.
Chief character of another toy bank was a hard-working dentist. When
a penny was put in his pocket, the dentist yanked out his cast-iron
patients tooth, the patient toppled backward, and the dentist himself went
sprawling to the floor.
Invented and patented in 1869 by John Hall of Watertown, Mass., the
first toy bank proved to be a sure-fire way to make kids save. It was a
miniature cast-iron house complete with a doorbell. When the youngster
rang the bell, a monkey popped out, took the coin, and vanished into the
house. The idea spread like wildfire, and toy banks by the thousands hit
In their heydey, the fascinating little gadgets cost from 75 cents to
$18 a dozen wholesale. But as costs rose, the banks gradually took on the
status of luxuries, and with the drop in sales, manufacturing was halted
Collectors' items today, the banks range in value from $8 to $200 or
more. One of them, in fact, recently sold for $2000.
To the collector, age is not so important as paint and mechanical
condition, with rarity and the kind of action close behind.
One well-known Midwestern collector is J. Lisle Laufer, a member of
the Illinois House of Representatives from Hampshire, Ill. Five of the
seven banks - plus the collection – pictured on this page are his.
In Laufer's collection is 'an 1886 Paddy-and-his-pig bank. Originally
called the Shamrock bank, the pig kicks a coin into Paddy's mouth while
the son of Eire rolls his eyes.
Most valuable of
Laufer's banks is an 1882 organ-grinder which cost $150 a few years ago. A
penny dropped in the music box is rewarded with a tune which the organist
grinds out while his bear dances in a circle.
The over 150 known U. S. collectors have some rare specimens, dug up
in searches through musty attics, old trunks, and even horse barns. One
bank, especially apropos at income-tax time, features Uncle Sam. Dressed
in stove-pipe hat, blue coat, and red and white striped trousers, Uncle
leans on an umbrella waiting expectantly with outstretched hand. When he's
given a coin, he "drops it in his carpet bag and shakes his whiskers in
U. S. government bonds may be a more profitable way of saving. But
you'd have a hard time selling that idea to any 5-year-old lucky enough to
have one of these ingenious banks.