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PROFILE section of the MILWAUKEE SENTINEL — Sunday, June 7, 1953

He’s Got Thousands Tied Up In 710 Banks; It’s a Hobby
Collector Johannsen’s House — Mecca for Youngsters

John Johannsen, 1950 Milwaukee Sentinel, photo 1

FORTY-THREE YEARS AGO, over there in Germany, young John Johannsen gave his still younger nephew a going-away present.

It was the mechanical penny bank that John had used as a child — a spectacular affair featuring a hunter with a rifle and a lion ready to charge. The penny goes into the rifle, and when you press a lever the gun goes off, the lion rears up, the penny hits him in the chest — and drops into the bank.

John’s young nephew was heading for America with his family back there in 1910. Fifteen years later, John followed, and ten years after that he got a novel Christmas present from his nephew’s family.

It was the old penny bank — back in John’s hands after a quarter century. But this time it appealed to him as more than a child’s toy. This time it had a respectable start as a genuine antique, and it struck John as a fine beginning for an unusual collection.

That was 1936. Today the old lion hunter bank sits in a place of honor on the trim shelves that run around the upper room of Johannsen’s home at 2524 N. 67th St.

VALUED UP TO $10,000
It is surrounded by 709 other penny banks — 114 antique mechanical banks, 450 "still" antique, and 145 modern banks. It’s part of a collection Johannsen values at $8,000 to $10,000. And Johannsen himself is established in the literature of the hobby as a certified "old penny bank collector."

Beyond that, the contagion of his hobby spread through the whole family. His wife, Amalie, began collecting fine chinaware, and his daughters — now Mrs. Richard Bieganski, 2546 N. 67th St., and Mrs. Victor Hansen, 3355 S. 45th St. — went in for old-fashioned dolls and antique green glassware.

John Johannsen, 1950 Milwaukee Sentinel, photo 2

Like all collectors, Johannsen gets solid satisfaction out of just collecting and having the item of his choice.

But with mechanical penny banks, Johannsen gets an extra dividend. This is the kind of collection that has made a mecca out of "Johannsen’s attic" among the junior citizens of the neighborhood — and he keeps a jar full of pennies handy to make things work.

There are several favorites besides the lion hunter. There’s Teddy Roosevelt with a rifle, who shoots a penny into a tree stump — and out jumps a bear. There’s Jonah being tossed out of a boat into the gaping jaws of a whale — but in the nick of time Jonah tosses the penny down the hatch and buys his life.

1953 Profile-c.JPG (37927 bytes)

There’s a big, fat, old-fashioned cannon with a place for a cap, and it fires a penny into a castle with a good round "bang!" There’s a Chinese fellow who holds out the open palm of one hand and clutches four playing cards to his vest with the other. If you put a penny in the open hand, he flashes four aces at you with the other and puts your money in his pocket.

But the grand climax in Johannsen’s attic is a very non-antique item. Each junior visitor gets to work this himself and keep the proceeds. It’s a gumball machine!

SATURDAY EVENING POST - September 26, 1953

New-Style Saving: You Eat the Interest?

THESE, we make bold to say, are confusing times. Every day raises issues on which we are glad we do not have to take a stand. Consider the new trend in children's toy banks. We yield to no one in advocating thrift, especially for others. To put money in the bank instead of spending it is widely held to develop character, and certainly requires it.

What happens when saving takes on the lovely characteristics of spending, as in children's banks which deal out chewing gum or candy bars? What concept of thrift does the child get from being told, "No, you can't put a penny in your bank, and quit asking. It's too close to dinner"? Or from the stern warning that unless he eats his strained beets he won't be allowed to save any more money between meals? What will happen when children with that pretty picture of saving grow up and learn that the First National gives out with nothing but a little paltry interest?

All our generation ever got by putting a penny in the piggy bank was a dull clink and a feeling of self-satisfaction. These new savers will grow up expecting five shots on a pinball game for every nickel deposited or Tommy Dorsey playing Dry Bones. What's more, they'll probably get it.


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