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Banks which reflect historical significance

Lecture delivered by Mark Haber at the Second Annual Convention of
Mechanical Bank Collectors of America
at the Edgewood Country Club
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
September 19, 1959

Perhaps the most interesting and intriguing phase of bank collecting may be found in the pursuit of research relating to banks which reflect historical significance. Such banks in some instances reflect the spirit and pulse of the contemporary period during which they were made, and also display political trends in the form of caricatures which were keen, bitter, and satirical. I refer specifically to the Ben Butler "still" bank, the Bread Winner, Bismark Pig and Schley banks. These banks were not particularly attractive, but were symbolical of important events, and no doubt were fascinating to the parent who bought, in preference to the much more attractive banks, which were readily available at the time. It is also possible that such banks as the Bread Winner and Ben Butler were even given gratis or sold at a very nominal figure to those who attended rallies and mass meetings of the political opponents of Ben Butler, who advocated the "Greenback and Anti-Monopoly issues". Banks such as the Bismark Pig, U.S. & Spain, Fort Sumter, Creedmoor, Hannibal Elephant, Hold the Fort and Schley banks are, of course, symbolical of historical events, while such banks as Teddy and the Bear, William Tell, Moody & Sankey and Boy Scout are more or less of ephemeral historical interest.

In expounding the events which made these banks so popular in their time I shall attempt to explain with reasonable brevity the highlights of the occurrences and incidents which apparently justified the creation of these banks.

The Ben Butler bank represents a caricature of the American politician and general, who became one of the most disliked Northern officers in the South during the war between the states. While he was administrator of New Orleans in 1862, he issued such strict orders that he was called "Beast Butler", and Jefferson Davis proclaimed him an outlaw, to be hanged if captured. He held commands in Virginia and North Carolina after he was in New Orleans, but General Grant removed him in 1864. Butler returned to political life and later was elected as a Republican member of the House of Representatives, and after a few unsuccessful attempts he was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1882 by the Democrats. In 1884 he became the Anti-Monopoly and Greenback candidate for President, and the caricature deals specifically with this controversial and hotly debated subject during this period. As a green-backed frog, clutching a wad of paper money, the caricature is quite reminiscent of the work of the great and talented political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, who was unsurpassed for his crisp witticisms and biting sarcasms which were infused into his elaborate cartoons. It is quite possible that Nast may have designed this bank, or at least drawn the design from which the pattern was made. The inscription on the right arm reads "Bonds and Yachts for Me", and the left arm "For the Masses", and in the same hand the wad of greenbacks, marked $1,000,000.

The meaning was quite apparent - - riches and yachts for Butler, and for the populace nothing but inflated paper currency. It may be interesting to note at this point that Butler acquired the famous yacht AMERICA, which won the international trophy cup.

The panic of 1872 and the resultant depression brought the issue of greenbackism to the fore, and the farmers and many business men wanted a more plentiful form of money than specie provided. Butler soon became known as a large scale advocate of repudiation of Government obligations and an inflationist. After the nation had been accustomed to a paper-money currency during and after the Civil War, the hard-money advocates insisted that there should be a return to specie payments as soon as possible. The inflationists, however, argued just as strongly that the Government should continue to

use paper money, even in paying off bonds that had been issued originally for "hard money". He wanted Congress to authorize the issuance of paper money that would not even be a promise to pay. To the House of Representatives he said: "I stand here - - - for inconvertible paper money, the greenback, which has been held by us as a just equivalent for the blood of our soldiers, and the lives of our sons". In short, he was opposed to the promised resumption of specie payment.

Butler said that the greenbacks would be money - not hard money, but FIAT money, from the Latin word meaning "let there be". He illustrated the use of the word: God has said FIAT LUX - Let there be light. A Massachusetts rival of Butler seized upon this explanation. "That, Fellow-Citizens, is precisely the difference between Omnipotence and Humbug, between the Almighty and General Butler. God said let there be light and there was light. General Butler says let there be money and there is - - rags. This is the first time in our history that the American workingman has been gravely asked to take for his wages money it costs nothing to make, that it is no loss to lose, that it is no gain to get, and that even a Chinaman won’t touch.

A national weekly jumped into the fray. "The value of every man’s property, and the amount of his debts, may at present, as one of the effects of the Legal Tender Act, be altered arbitrarily, and suddenly from day to day, every time - a Butler can get forty of fifty demagogues to join him in an assault on the public credit.

Butler did not win many adherents in Congress in 1868, for the legislators were more responsive to the cause of the bondholders than to the demands of the debtor classes, who preferred to pay back their debts in depreciated currency. In 1874 Grant vetoes a bill, which would have raised the authorized total circulation of greenbacks, due in a large measure to Butler’s active work toward the achieving of inflationism. However, Butler won many new sympathizers in the South and West by his efforts to help the debt-ridden people pay off their obligations in inflationary paper. The New York Tribune called Butler "one of the most picturesque characters that ever figured in American History". A New York Herald editorial referred to "the remarkable career of a remarkable character". The Boston Globe observed that he "will assuredly rank among the famous and commanding figures of the nineteenth century". He was, in truth, not merely part of the career of the nation, but in a peculiar sense a real maker of history.

Butler was a difficult man to appraise. "His whole career was filled with bitter controversy. He had been the object of more abuse than any other great figure in the war. Yet every denunciation of Butler can be matched with just as vigorous praise. He was always arrayed against an army of enemies and was always supported by an army of friends". He was a soldier, statesman, lawyer and patriot, unprepossessing, even repulsive to many, with his squint eyes, heavy paunch, and bald pate. He was no silver-tongued orator, and actually was a poor speaker, but he had the virtue of being a dauntless fighter, and usually against tremendous odds. He will be remembered as a remarkable American.

The Bread Winner Bank is another caricature which is suggestive of the activities of the Anti-Monopoly party in 1884. In that year they held a national convention in Chicago, and nominated Benjamin F. Butler for President. The party was strongly opposed to monopolies in business, and its platform was designed to have popular appeal among the laboring classes, with promises of greater abundance for the average working man. The party disbanded after the 1884 election, as Butler received only 130,000 votes and was badly defeated, and it is difficult to appraise the reason for the bad defeat. The platform had very definite appeal for the average voter, but perhaps the candidate was lacking in this quality.

The bank is represented by the dominating figure of a working man holding a sledge hammer in hand. The sledge is directed at a fulcrumed lever, which is held by a caricatured monopolist. A receptacle in the end of the lever holds the coin. As the working man strikes the lever which represents MONOPOLY, the coin drops into the large loaf of bread. The bank is lettered, BREAD...... STEAL...... BOODLE, SEND THE RASCALS UP. A large loaf of bread is lettered, HONEST LABORS BREAD. The bank is also embellished with the head of a corrupt politician emerging from a well-filled money bag. The bank is quite meaningful. If labor will strike hard at monopoly, monopoly will then disgorge some of its ill-gotten gains into honest labor’s bread and labor will then enjoy a more adequate way of life. Coincidental with this action the monopolist will be sent heels over head and sent up, speaking in the vernacular, "Behind the Bars". The politician emerging from the money bag illustrates the definite inference that the monopolists of that era were closely associated with the crooked politicians of that period, and that they exacted plentiful "BOODLE" to legislate measures which were particularly of benefit for the monopolists.

The bank represents other possible implications, and that is the founding of the American Federation of Labor in 1886, although trade unions began to appear in some of the larger cities as early as the 1790’s. One of these was the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, which was founded in 1869 and lasted into the 1890’s. It was a secret order which tried to improve the condition of workers through education and cooperation rather than through strikes. In any event, the bank represents labor striking at the corruption and avarice with which it was confronted in those years.

This diminutive bank represents the struggle between British and Russian interests, when the British compelled the Afghans to surrender control of their affairs in 1879. The chief cause of the struggle was Russia’s continued efforts to obtain an outlet to the Arabian Sea, as in the case of the Crimean war, where Russia made the attempt to get an outlet to the Mediterranean through the Straits, in the years 1854-1856.

Afghanistan is one of history’s great battlefields. Alexander the Great took the country from the old Persian Empire in 326 B.C. and Greeks ruled Afghanistan for many years thereafter. The Mongol Hordes of Ghengis Khan swept over Afghanistan in 1220. The country remained under Mongol rule for about 100 years. After that the country was split up among several rulers until the early 1700’s. In 1839 British troops entered the capital and placed on the throne a native prince chosen by Great Britain. Since that time relations have always been strained, but Russia has never invaded the country.

The bank actually portrays the gate to the Walled City of Herat in Afghanistan, and the lion and the bear are symbolical of Great Britain and Russia, respectively. Herat has long been regarded as the "Key to India" because it lies on the chief trade route to the south, and has remained for many years Great Britain’s life line to India.

This simple still bank with portraits of Dwight Lyman Moody and Ira D. Sankey is worthy of mention among the historically interesting, inasmuch as Mr. Moody was an internationally known evangelist. He founded the Moody Bible Institute and Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, as well as two secondary schools in Northfield, Mass.

Moody established and founded an inter-denominational church, now called the Moody Memorial Church, as well as the Bible Institute of the Evangelization Society. He also established a publishing house which is now part of the Institute.

In his lifetime Moody addressed more than 100,000,000 people. With Ira D. Sankey, song leader and hymn writer, he held meetings in all parts of the United States, and several campaigns in the British Isles.

A crude attempt was made some years ago to convert this still bank into a mechanical by the insertion of a roller on which was printed the titles of several hymns, such as "Ninety and Nine", etc., and which would come into proper position upon insertion of a coin. The still bank is attractive and quite scarce and desirable.

The Fort Sumter bank reflects a very important historical event, inasmuch as the bombardment of this important fort marked the beginning of the war between the States.

In 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union and prepared to seize the United States forts in the harbor at Charleston, S.C. The Harbor defenses were in charge of Major Robert Anderson, whose headquarters were in Fort Moultrie. Major Anderson realized that he was about to be attacked and that Fort Moultrie was a hard position to defend, so he moved his headquarters to Fort Sumter, about six miles southeast of Charleston.

General Beauregard demanded the surrender of the fort in April, 1861. Anderson refused. The vigorous bombardment which followed began the war between the States. On April 13th the fort was evacuated. Major Anderson and his command were permitted to leave with honors of war. The confederates held Fort Sumter until the evacuation of Charleston in February, 1865. In April of that year the flag that had been lowered in 1861 was raised again over Fort Sumter with impressive ceremonies.

This attractive bank is quite rare, and its historical significance is important in the annals of our American history.

In covering the historical significance of these banks I have combined the date concerning the events of importance with which they are identified, for very obvious reasons. I shall deal specifically with the Schley Bank, inasmuch as it is an interesting caricature, and also because the fact that Schley was responsible for bottling up Cervera is a debatable issue to this very day.

In February, 1898, a great explosion shook the harbor at Havana, Cuba. The blast destroyed the United States battleship MAINE, which burst into flames and sank in the harbor. Two hundred and sixty American seamen were killed, and the cause of the ship’s destruction was never learned. The slogan "Remember the Maine" became popular among persons who wanted war with Spain, and the sinking of the Maine set the stage for the war between the United States and Spain.

The war began in April, 1898, and ended four months later. It grew out of sympathy for the oppressed peoples of Cuba, but some Americans favored the war for other reasons. They saw in it the opportunity for the United States to become a great world power. The war ended in American victory, and the United States won possession of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, and independence for Cuba.

The chief events of the war to which these banks allude was the American plan to catch the Spanish fleet between ground forces and naval vessels. These battles were marked by the daring deeds of the famous Rough Riders, a regiment under the command of Col. Leonard Wood and Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, who defeated the Spaniards at the battle of San Juan Hill, and who trained their cannon fire in the direction of Santiago Harbor at the Spanish ships. At the same time the United States North Atlantic fleet took a position outside the harbor of Santiago, with the resultant bottling-up of Cervera, who tried to run through the blockade, with disastrous results.

Admiral William Sampson was Commander of the North Atlantic fleet, and when the Spanish fleet slipped into Santiago Harbor, Sampson blockaded the port, and the American fleet destroyed them. Sampson was absent at a conference with General William Shafter, and Capt. Schley commanded the fleet in his absence. A bitter quarrel developed between the two officers as to who was really responsible for the victory, and the dispute has really never been settled. It seems, however, that the designer of the Schley bank must have been thoroughly convinced as to who was responsible for the victory, and the popular opinions must have played a part in reaching this decision.

Hannibal was the greatest general and statesman of ancient Carthage, and his masterly strategy and his talent for overcoming handicaps ranked him with the leading military geniuses of ancient times. He had the ability to take a situation which seemed to be against him and turn it to his own advantage. His skill made him able to defeat enemies who had much larger armies than he had.

Hannibal was taken to Spain and trained for a military career when he was still a boy, and at the age of twenty-five he became Commander of the Army in Spain. Hannibal believed that the Romans should be conquered in Italy, so he made careful plans to attack them there. He marched across the Pyrenees Mountains, the Rhone River, and on into Northern Italy. Hannibal brought a large herd of elephants with him from Africa to break the ranks of the Roman Legionaries, but the trip across the mountains and rivers cost him many men and most of his elephants. The mountain paths were very narrow and steep, and the elephants often lost their balance and fell over cliffs to their death.

Hannibal reached the Rhone River before the Romans could stop him, and defeated a Roman army, which he followed by two other victories. His successes came to an end in the year 203 B.C. when he was called home to defend his country against Scipio, and after eighteen years of warfare Carthage was forced to accept the most shameful conditions of peace. Eventually the Romans demanded the surrender of Hannibal, who took poison, preferring death than to become a prisoner of the Romans.

The Boy Scout Bank commemorates the founding of the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910, and is a picturesque and very attractive bank, illustrating in part the activities of the now world-wide organization.

The Scout movement was founded in England by Sir Robert Baden-Powell in 1908, and was brought to the United States by W.D. Boyce, a publisher, of Chicago. In 1910 it was incorporated, and it was granted a Federal charter by Congress in 1916. The President of the United States is the Honorary President of the organization.

The Boy Scout movement has spread to all parts of the world, and more than seventy countries have Boy Scout Troops. The Boy Scouts of America have a national program intended to build up the minds and bodies of its members, and Scouts are taught service to God and country and duty to all human beings.

Robert E. Peary was an American Arctic explorer who became famous as the discoverer of the North Pole. He made previous expeditions to Greenland, and other expeditions between 1893 and 1897 resulted in important scientific discoveries about the nature of the Polar regions. In 1905 Peary set out to reach the North Pole, and sailed in the Roosevelt, a ship that had been especially built for the voyage. After coming to about two hundred miles of the North Pole, many hardships forced Peary to turn back. In 1908 Peary again set out on the Roosevelt, and on April 7, 1909, he reached the Pole with four Eskimos and one Negro servant, who were the only ones left in the party with enough stamina to carry on.

The news of Peary’s discovery was not received as enthusiastically as it might have been. Another American explorer, Frederick A. Cook, had announced just a week before Peary’s return that he had reached the Pole in April, 1908, a year before Peary, but the United States Congress investigated Cook’s claims, and finally gave The bank commemorates Peary’s achievement, and is nicely adorned with Eskimos and sleds and other Arctic embellishments, topped by the American flag, which rises from the North Pole upon the insertion of a coin.

This fine bank is a commemorative item relating to an incident during a hunting expedition in Africa by the illustrious President Theodore Roosevelt during his term of office from 1901 to 1909.

Theodore Roosevelt, as some can remember, was a man of abundant energy, who hated inactivity, and practiced what he called "the strenuous life" as vigorously as he preached it. He is remembered for his attacks on big business combinations or "trusts", on militant labor leaders, and on conservative members of Congress. His forceful and aggressive ways captured the public imagination, and millions spoke of him in deep affection as "Teddy".

The incident which occurred during Teddy Roosevelt’s African hunting expedition was the fact that he had spared the life of a bear, because he noticed that the bear was still nursing a litter of young cubs. This incident was widely publicized in all the newspapers which were following the events of his safari, and his fine sportsmanship in the jungle seemed to thrill the public imagination to the extent that toys and children’s items of wearing apparel were soon identified with the word "Teddy". The Teddy Bear is an outstanding example of a stuffed toy, which was tremendously popular for many years, and this stuffed bear is still being made and sold to this very day, even though the association of the event relating to its manufacture has been somewhat dimmed by the passing years.

The Tammany Bank, which cannot be rightly classified as a caricature in the strictest sense, is rather a composite symbol of the many crooked and disreputable politicians who were closely associated with Tammany Hall during the period when this bank was manufactured. Having been manufactured about 1875, and a continuously popular bank for the next forty-five or fifty years, may also be indicative of the public’s reaction and awareness of Tammany Hall’s political mire, and the graft and corruption with which it was identified at that time.

The bank is definitely not Boss Tweed, nor does it bear any resemblance to the head man of the Tammany Ring who was convicted in 1873 for his misdeeds. It is quite possible, however, that the attendant publicity about his trial and conviction was the inspiration for the creation of this bank, as it captured the public’s fancy for many years thereafter, and became one of the most popular of mechanical banks.

The allusion, of course, in the action of this bank, is the pocketing of money by the seemingly well-fed and comfortable politician, and the implication is quite obvious.

The Society of Tammany was founded in New York City in 1789 by William Mooney. It began as a "fraternity of patriots" consecrated to the independence, liberty and the federal unity of the country. The original members had belonged to the Sons of Liberty and the Sons of Saint Tammany, which were colonial societies that worked for independence.

But Tammany soon came to have a political purpose, and for many years it has been a political machine wielding vast power in the governments of New York City and New York State.

The original intent and purpose of the Society of Tammany have been dimmed by the years, and many scandals have darkened its history, the worst having been that which occurred in 1871 under the leadership of Boss William M. Tweed.

Text from the original 1959 lecture notes of M.B.C.A. Historian Mr. Mark Haber


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