In the good old days, kids got a big kick out of saving. Not that they
were any less tempted by ice-cream or jelly beans than moppets today,
but each deposit in an old-time mechanical coin bank was worth a trick
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
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 patient's tooth, the patient toppled backward,
and the dentist himself went sprawling to the floor.
Invented and patented in 1869 by John
Hall of Watertown, Massachusetts, 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 the market.
In the heyday, 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 in 1920.
Collectors' items today, the banks range
in value from $8 to $200 or more. One of them, in fact, recently sold
To the collector, age is not so important
as paint and mechanical condition, with rarity and the kind of action
One well-known Midwestern collector is J.
Lisle Laufer. Five of the banks — plus the collection — pictured on
these two pages 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 thanks.
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.
Photos and story courtesy of the Chicago
Tribune and Walgreen Drug Stores.