One of a number of reasons for a collectors interest in mechanical banks has to do with the diversified subject matter as represented by the many different type banks. The great variety of themes and actions of the banks seems unsurpassed in any other collectors field and the originality, techniques, and ingenuity used in designing the banks resulted in an intriguing group of animated toy savings devices representing a broad assortment of subjects. If a person takes the time to seriously think about it mechanical banks comprise a unique group in the toy category and practically every mechanical bank is a unique item in itself. The numerous different actions and figures used in connection with the usually routine depositing of a coin in a bank are really almost unbelievable, particularly to those not familiar with the general subject.
Mechanical banks have one thing in common, they are all savings devices with the addition of entertaining action. This sets them apart from all other type toys and puts them completely in a class of their own. Where else in the field of collecting can one find in animated form the following: people and children in various activities including games and sports such as baseball, football, leap frog, roller skating, and so on; all types of animals performing tricks and various other actions; buildings with action; objects such as a street-car, camera, sewing machine, pistol, and so on; historical items representing the Civil War, Spanish-American War, North Pole, World War I, and others; political and satirical representations; religious representations; nursery rhymes and stories; circus items; and last, but not least, those with a surprise or comic motif.
As we reach No. 92 in the numerical classification we come to a bank that well illustrates the broad subject coverage discussed here. This bank is the Atlas Bank and it depicts Atlas supporting the world on his shoulders, and certainly there is no other remotely similar bank among the other known mechanical banks. The Atlas Bank is very attractive, has good action, and the statement, Money Moves The World, one of the most significant appropriate statements to appear on any of the banks, appears thereon.
Very little is known as to the background of the Atlas Bank. To the best of the writers knowledge there are no known facts as to the designer, manufacturer, or the period in which the bank was made. Extensive research in patents has been fruitless and so far there are no old catalogs or like material that would shed light on the Atlas Bank. Also nothing about the bank is characteristic of any other bank that would offer possible clues to indicate any particular designer or manufacturer. An examination of the map used on the globe of the bank offers some possibility of estimating the approximate period of the bank. Based on this it is the writers opinion that it dates prior to 1900 and possibly in the 1880 to 1900 period.
The specimen shown is in fine completely original condition and was obtained by the writer some years ago in an antique shop in Boston, Massachusetts, under never forgotten circumstances. The bank was in the front window of the shop and this attracted the writers attention to the place for the first time. It was run by two elderly sisters and they had cats all over the place among the antiques, on tables, up on the shelves, on top of chests, under chairs, and around the floor. Every now and then one of the cats would take off, others would follow suit, and over would go some antique piece of glass or china. The sisters would sit impassively through these occasions and seem to take it as a matter of course and purely routine. No time was wasted in leaving the place after the bank was purchased and, as a matter of fact, subsequent visits to the shop mainly consisted of opening the door slightly and asking if there was anything new lately. The writer has had numerous weird and unusual experiences over the years of collecting mechanical banks and the one mentioned is one of many. Experiences of this type offer an added interest to the normal routine of collecting and discussing them with other collectors and their experiences adds up to interesting conversations.
The Atlas Bank is very attractive, although it is not highly decorated. The figure of Atlas and the entire top of the building-like base is gold, the sides of the base are silver, and the door, two windows, and name are in gold. The globe is made of wood covered with a paper map of the entire world. There is a varnish-like finish on this paper surface and the colors of the different countries and continents are toned light yellow, light red, and so on.
The operation of the bank is quite simple but effective. The lever on top of the base is pressed to the left, a coin is then placed in the thus exposed slot. Upon releasing the lever, which is at spring tension, it snaps back into place and causes the world to spin around counter-clockwise. Thus the motto on top of the base, Money Moves The World, is accurately and actively demonstrated.
In conclusion a point of interest is the fact that the Atlas Bank is the only known mechanical bank based on Greek mythology. Atlas was the son of Titans Iapetus and Clymene and his name means bearer or endurer. Originally he was supposed to support the heavens on his head and unwearied hands, and in earlier works of art he was depicted in this fashion. In later times after the earth was discovered to be spherical he was then pictured as carrying the terrestrial globe. Thus the Atlas Bank accurately and properly portrays him in his endless task of supporting the world through eternity.