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THE DAILY ARGUS — Mount Vernon, N.Y., Thursday, September 11, 1952, page 3

Pennies? It's Smarter To Save Penny Banks, Says Collector Of Odd, Antique Coin Boxes 

By GLORIA MERTENS

Don't save pennies if you want to make a fortune save penny banks.
  
That's Henry W. Miller's advice to this generation of youngsters.

Pennies might be a foolproof way of getting rich, but collecting and reselling old penny banks is more interesting and lucrative, according to Mr. Miller, who does just that.
  
Stepping into Mr. Miller's hobby room in the back of his 18 Elliott Street home is like stepping into the childhood of your grandfather. The small room is filled with tiny iron people and animals mounted on banks, depicting scenes of the 1880s and 1890s.
   
With a proffered penny and the flip of a switch, the colorful figures on each mechanical bank come to life. Uncle Tom rolls his eyes; a pitcher hurls and catcher reaches forward; a quaint Santa with bell in hand drops a coin into his snow-covered chimney.
  

 

INDIAN BRAVE  (upper right) lowers his rifle as the bear before him opens his mouth and thus another penny shoots into the 75-year old penny bank held by Henry W. Miller, Mrs. Miller carefully oils the mechanism of a Punch and Judy bank while Punch brings his worn stick down on the head of Judy, who dumps penny into backstage bank. The mechanical banks shown here, most of them made in the 1880's, were once children's toys, but today are collected and sold for as much as $25 to $300 apiece.
  
Other Ingenious Devices
A polished black pony prances with his head bobbing, or a diminutive, still angry Punch brings his stick down on Judy's head as her dustpan drops another coin into the backstage bank. An old organ grinder produces music from his hurdy-gurdy for a penny, and a red-capped monkey capers before a cat and dog. For a penny a large-sized dog seated before a tiny girl dressed in button shoes and ankle-length, beribboned dress wags his tail. In still another bank, a coin makes a mule swing around and kick his keeper.
  
The intricate action in Mr. Miller's current collection is fascinating to him after 18 years of collecting and selling the antique banks.
  
"Man is a grown-up boy and just as vulnerable to the ingeniousness of mechanical action," Mr. Miller and his fellow collectors agree. For these banks, which once sold for less than $1, hobbyists often pay $25 to $300, depending upon the bank's condition, mechanical action and scarcity.
  
His Favorite Bank
One of Mr. Miller's favorite chuckle-producing penny banks is called "Bad Accident" and is worth close to $100. A penny is placed in the lap of a man driving a mule-pulled cart. When a tiny lever is pressed, a child jumps from behind a clump of bushes in front of the mule; the mule rears up, upsetting the cart and sending the coin sliding into the bank beneath the driver's seat.
  
Another one depicts a hod carrier and mason at work. The penny is carried in the hod which moves to meet the trowel, dropping the coin into a slot in the wall.
  
The start of this valuable collection was unplanned by Mr. Miller, who is an agent for Soil Conservation Service, Department of Agriculture, Mr. Miller and his wife were in an antique shop one day looking for old furniture. He spied what appeared to be a child's toy but proved to be a mechanical bank. A few moments of experimenting made him decide to be its next owner.
  
Paid $10 For First Bank
But the business-wise Mr. Miller purchased it only after the shop owner dropped the price to $10. Nineteen penny banks and several months later, after Mrs. Miller had been urging him to "get rid of the clutter," Mr. Miller reluctantly placed an ad in an antique journal. The deluge of offers, all offering much more than the original price of the collection, launched Mr. Miller on his first toy-collecting career. Since then his wife, now an ardent fan has become the mechanic for the collection. A single telephone sale has brought as much as $1,500 for picked selection. Buyers may be bank officers who use the expensive "toys" for displays and advertising models. The collection brings inquiries from avid hobbyists from coast to coast and makes him a welcome guest in the offices of such VIP's as the president of Chicago's First Federal Savings and Loan Association bank.
  
Started Work at 12
Born into a hard-pressed family of seven, Mr. Miller claims it was this which fired his ambition to become financially independent. He began his climb toward a fortune at 12 years of age as an errand boy for a hat store. Since then he has worked as a South American agent for the Nemours Trading Corporation, an accountant for American firms in Cuba, real estate agent, Tariff Commission employee, Soil Conservation area manager, and as an executive in the administrative office of the State Department's international broadcasting division.
  
Although he calls himself "a materialist," asserting "I'll sell anything that has a value," Mr. Miller admits that when he buys a bank from a non-collector for less than its real value, he follows up the payment with a check labeled "coffee money." He also admits that when a prospective seller asks "what's it worth?", he hands over the trade's price booklet for the answer. Although Mr. Miller will sell any of his collection to another hobbyist, he will refuse to sell it if he knows it's for a child.
  
Passed Up Good Offer
One of the stories Mr. Miller likes to tell happened when he first began collecting banks for profit. A friend in the antique business sent him a package containing five mechanical banks, with a note asking if he could sell them. The man added that the price was $7.50 for the five. Mr. Miller looked them over and sent them back with a note politely joshing the man's sanity. A few weeks later he received another note gleefully telling him that one of the banks had been sold for $25, and the remaining four had brought close to $50.
  
"But I had the last laugh in this case," Mr. Miller relates. "Two years later I was looking over a recently published book on antique banks and discovered one alone would have brought over $200.
  
Now retired, Mr. Miller devoted his time to collecting, but penny banks aren't his only stock in trade. To them he has added old toy cap pistols, and now he plans to begin a collection of antique paper weights.


 

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