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THE BOSTON SUNDAY GLOBE, October 29, 1950

Brighton Banker Owns 65 Banks - -
                    - and They’re All Empty!

1950_Perkins.jpg (31474 bytes)Banking is Philip Perkins’ business — and his hobby too.

Mr. Perkins, who lives in Brighton, is associate secretary of the Savings Bank Association of Massachusetts and is the owner of about 65 antique banks, most of them 70 or 80 years old.

He started collecting banks about 10 years ago, Mr. Perkins says, when he was given one as a Christmas present. That first bank is known by the title "Paddy and His Pig." Like most of the others, it is made of solid cast iron, and works by a series of springs and levers.

"Paddy" sits with the pig on his lap. When a penny is placed on the pig’s nose, the animal starts up and tosses the penny into Paddy’s mouth, which opens to swallow the coin.

Shortly after Christmas, Mr. Perkins saw another mechanical bank. This one was named "William Tell," and is a handsome affair nearly a foot long. An iron "William" aims a gun at a child backed up against a turreted castle. The child holds an apple on his head with one arm and when a penny is placed on William’s gun, the gun shoots the coin, the apple falls off, and the penny lands inside the castle.

Used for Displays
From the time he acquired "William," Mr. Perkins has been a bank collector and has had his banks on display in local savings banks half a dozen times. He keeps then in his Boston office.

Mechanical banks first went on the market back in 1869. The very first mechanical bank — as opposed to "still" banks, which have no moving parts — was called "Hall’s Excelsior," and is a small square building, supposed to be a bank building.

When a string hanging from the front door is pulled, a turret opens at the top of the building and a little man identified by a sign as the cashier pops out. A penny placed in his arms makes him topple back into the bank, depositing the coin there.

"That was the very first mechanical bank," says Mr. Perkins, who has a Hall’s Excelsior in his collection. "Then for about 30 years, hundreds of mechanical banks, in 250 different styles, were made. They were designed particularly for children and children today still get a big kick out of putting pennies in them.

"In the country, traveling peddlers carried banks in their packs and country stores stocked them with food and yard goods. The average price then was about one dollar.

"By 1900, however, the rage for mechanical banks had ended and now there is only one firm left in the United States making mechanical banks. That factory is in
Ohio."

Many Different Types
While mechanical banks were popular, however, Mr. Perkins says the patterns covered politics, sports, houses, animals and circus figures.

The banks were made with skill, humor and a lot of bright paint, usually red, yellow and blue. They were sizable objects — most of the figures are four or five inches high and they frequently are a foot long.

Mr. Perkins’ newest bank is a good example of the mechanical bank craft. It’s called "Chief Big Moon" and is made of heavy iron. The chief sits in front of his tepee holding a big fish in his hands. On a small pond before him are floating two or three iron ducks.

"I think the chief is supposed to be catching the ducks for his dinner by baiting them with the fish," says Mr. Perkins. "But when I put a penny on the bank the Chief is fooled! The pond pops open and a big bullfrog leaps out to snap up the fish while the penny falls into the pond."

His all-time favorite however, is a milking scene. A farmer sits quietly in front of a cow until a penny is placed on a lever. Then the cow’s back legs fly out, her tail waves in the air and she kicks over the farmer and the pail of milk.

"That’s full of action," says Mr. Perkins.

One of his most prized banks he found in Cambridge Eng. It shows a Chinaman with a long black queue and a suit of pajamas lying on his side. When a penny is slipped into his pocket the figure’s right hand flips over and shows him holding four aces.

"I guess nothing beats four aces in poker, so he keeps the penny," says Mr. Perkins.

Other banks in his collections are a Punch and Judy show, where Punch beats Judy with a stick when a penny is slipped into the bank, and a baseball scene, where a penny placed in the pitcher’s mitt makes him throw it, a batter swing at it, a catcher catch it and put it in the bank.

Another bank has a small dog, a clown holding a hoop, and a barrel. When a penny is balanced in the dog’s mouth, he leaps through the hoop and drops it into the barrel. A stout figure of a man sitting in a chair represents Boss Tweed, head of New York’s powerful Tammany Hall, and was made and sold in the 1880’s and ’90’s as a nasty dig at politicians. When a penny is put into Boss’ hands, he nods his head politely and puts it in his own pocket.

Teddy Roosevelt, the hunting President, appears on a bank, too. He is aiming a big gun at a tree, and when a penny is balanced on the gun, Teddy shoots it into the tree trunk, and out of the top pops a bear.

"The Organ Bank" has a little monkey, who tips his hat and deposits the coin when it’s put in his paw. And a big mother eagle flutters her wings and drops a penny into a nest of small eaglets who are opening their mouths.

Uncle Sam Too!
Uncle Sam appears about six inches tall on one bank, with a carpet bag by his side. When a penny is put into his hand, the bag opens and he drops it in.

One of the last banks made before they went out of style was a Spanish-American war piece. Depositors could fire a penny through a Yankee cannon and sink a Spanish ship.

Three styles are still being made, One of these is an elephant, one a dog-and-clown bank like Mr. Perkins’, and a monkey and organ grinder, also like his.

Today’s children and grownups alike are fascinated by Mr. Perkins’ collection, and, since he is used to working them for visitors, he is prepared. So that no caller will miss a chance to see the banks in action, Mr. Perkins keeps in his desk drawer, a box of pennies.

 

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