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Hobby Hitching Post
THE ROTARIAN -August, 1950

THE hobby of MORTON BODFISH, a Chicago, Illinois Rotarian, makes possible this statement about him: He is president of a savings association - and owner of some 150 banks. But before you visualize a chain of branch banks stretching across the United States, read ROTARIAN BODFISH'S story about the 150 banks he owns.

1950_Bodfish-a.jpg (41570 bytes)YES it's true that I own about 150 banks, but they're not the kind that offer savings accounts, loan departments, safe-deposit vaults, and other facilities. They are miniature mechanical coin banks, and they comprise my collection of ingenious cast-iron devices that deposit coins in a clever and frequently amusing way.

For instance, there is my "Bulldog" bank, set on an oblong base. The coin is placed on the dog's nose and when his tail is pulled, the lower jaw drops forward and the coin falls into his mouth. My "Artillery" bank shoots the coin from a mortar into a blockhouse opening when a lever is pressed. The bank called "Indian Shooting the Bear" is more intricate, with an Indian warrior, feathers and all, holding a gun that shoots the coin into the chest of a bear standing by a tree stump.

If you have by now deducted that all the banks in my collection "do something," you're right. By means of levers, springs, rollers, cranks, or other moving parts, these banks perform synchronized movements in the process of depositing coins placed at a designated spot. Banks built simply to hold coins inserted by hand in slots are known among collectors as "still" or "dumb" banks. My banks are mechanical ones, the first of which was invented in 1869 by a New Englander.

The theory behind the mechanical bank and its "trick" way of placing a coin in a receptacle was to encourage thrift among youngsters. Fascinated by the action of such banks, children needed no coaxing to save their pennies, nickels, dimes, or whatever coin their bank was built to accommodate. When these banks were popular a few generations ago, they were manufactured by several foundries in the Eastern part of the United States and sold for varying nominal amounts. Today they are so rare that avid collectors have been known to travel many miles to obtain a particular bank for their collection at a cost of several hundred dollars.

Bodfish, Rotarian Article, 1950 photo 2

My interest in mechanical banks can't be traced like the pursuits of many hobbyists to a definite moment in my life, nor to a particular experience. As a boy, we had a few of the banks in our home, but their period of great popularity had passed and my interest in them was no more than casual. It wasn't until I entered the savings field that these toy like contrivances for saving coins made a hobbyist of me.

Like many other collectors of rare items, I have done my share of searching the shelves and counters of antique shops and exploring slightly musty attics for a type of mechanical bank I have heard or read about, but do not possess. Of course, all the early vintage banks have only relative values, and the extremely rare ones are frequently worth about half of what the collector is willing to pay. But the serious collector of mechanical banks - and there are quite a few members of this fraternity - will gladly pay 50 times the original selling price for an exceptionally rare item.

In my collection are several items which I especially prize. One is called the "Dentist" bank. The action involves a patient sitting in a chair and a dentist poised in the well-known tooth-pulling position. As the dentist pulls the tooth, he falls over backward causing the coin placed in his pocket to drop into a gas-bag receptacle mounted on the base, while the chair and the patient both tip over in the opposite direction.

1950_Bodfish-c.JPG (14125 bytes)

Music, also, plays a part in the action of some of these mechanical marvels. A bank which I obtained in Switzerland belongs in this category, and is one of the largest items in my collection. Built along the architectural lines of a Swiss chalet with several doors and windows, its intricate mechanism plays a tune called The Reindeer Polka, while a miniature dog and reindeer swing to and fro from their recessed positions within the chalet. Another is the "Organ" bank that chimes as a crank is turned. Atop this one are a seated monkey, and a boy and girl who revolve like dancers as the music plays.

Most of the mechanical coin banks manufactured in the '80s and '90s can be said to be products of the imagination and ingenuity of their designers; others, however, portray legendary or Biblical events and famous personages, both real and fictional. There is the "Jonah and the Whale" bank, with the coin instead of Jonah being tossed into the whale's mouth; the "William Tell" bank which shoots the traditional apple off a boy's head with a coin that goes sailing into a castle; and others which feature Santa Claus, Theodore Roosevelt, General Ulysses S. Grant, Punch and Judy, and Christopher Columbus.

A study of the intricate handiwork incorporated in banks of this type, their ingenious construction, and their clever movements, usually leads even the most "unmechanically-minded" person to realize that these cast-iron automatons are certainly among the cleverest of all moving novelties. In a mechanical-bank collection, the observer sees not only lifelike precision movements produced by skilled mechanicians, but also well-proportioned design, amusing action, and the application of psychology to the habit of thrift.

As a savings and loan association manager, I find that my coin-bank collection is satisfying in many ways. And I have observed that it holds interest for people in many fields of business activity. I know this to be true, for in the lobby of the savings association with which I am associated in Chicago, I have my collection on display in a glass showcase, and through most people have important personal transactions on their minds, they still take a little time to look at the collection. I must admit that I like to watch them.

And speaking of things I like, if it's a coin bank and it moves - I like it.


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