of Mechanical Banks, Valued
at $15,000, Have Nearly $2000 in Deposits
An exhibit of late 19th and early
20th Century "Americana" exists in the living room of Vernon
D. Howe of 395 West Utica St. The retired detective has about 300
mechanical banks valued by him at $15,000.
Such banks , all of which have internal or attached machinery triggered
by the insertion of a coin, were thrift encouragers in almost every
American home 50 years ago and their behavior was a source of amusement
and interest to grownups and children. Now they are collectors' items
occasionally turning up at auctions and eagerly sought by enthusiastic
Most of Mr. Howe's collection is kept in a showcase running the length
of one side of his living room and reaching almost to the ceiling.
Bank Plays "Yankee Doodle"
There is a piano bank dating back to the Gay '90s. When a penny is
inserted, a small music box inside chimes out a chorus of "Yankee
Doodle." An antique collector once asked Mr. Howe to name his price
for it, but he was unwilling to let it go.
"You won't find any other banks similar to most of those I
have," said Mr. Howe, and I wouldn't sell most of them for
One bank, made some time in the 19th Century, has a clock on its face
which can be set to run for any period between one and 60 days. At the
expiration of the period, the clock will stop and a small door in the
bank's side will pop open.
A model locomotive, which Mr. Howe values at $300, raises its stack when
a penny is inserted. Near it is a bank on which a mustachioed figure
grinds a tiny organ while a bear shuffles when a coin is inserted.
Oldest Was Patented in '69
The oldest bank in the collection, patented in 1869 and called
"Excelsior" has a monkey which pops out of a trapdoor and
takes the coin inside with it. Another has a replica of Teddy Roosevelt
aiming a rifle at a crouching lion. A cap detonates the rifle, which
"shoots" the ;ion with a penny, knocking it back on its
The most treasured item in Mr. Howe's collection is the "Shoot That
Hat," patented in 1882 and valued by him at $2500. When a coin is
placed in it a figure vigorously slams a hat on another figure seated in
front of it.
The collection captures the attention of all visitors to the Howe
residence. He estimates that approximately $2000 worth of coins are in
the banks now, placed there by himself and others to make them run.
"It's a good way to encourage saving." he says, "but my
gosh, it's almost too much of a good thing."