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Darktown Battery Bank
by F.H. Griffith - HOBBIES Magazine - June, 1965

65-06.JPG (21752 bytes)

The popular American game of baseball is well represented by the bank we have chosen as No. 131 in the numerical classification. This is the Darktown Battery Bank, often as not called the Baseball Bank, and it is one of the really great mechanicals. It has just about everything one could want in a mechanical bank—terrific action, clever and unique use of the coin, excellent designing, attractive appearance, and so on. The bank had wide popular appeal in its day as a toy savings device, and this has carried right down through the years to its present status as a collector’s item.

The Darktown Battery was designed and then patented by James H. Bowen of Philadelphia, Pa., January 17, 1888. It was manufactured by the J. & E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Conn. The production bank is practically identical to the drawings and text of the patent papers, both in appearance and mechanism. No doubt, as was Bowen’s custom, he furnished Stevens with the original model or pattern of the bank. Bowen was an outstanding designer of mechanical banks and probably Charles A. Bailey was the only one to top him in this specialized field. Practically all of Bowen’s banks are among the best and most desirable. As example, the Girl Skipping Rope (HOBBIES, April, 1952), A Calamity Bank (HOBBIES, November, 1958), Reclining Chinaman (HOBBIES, December, 1959), Elephant & Three Clowns On Tub (HOBBIES, October, 1963), Creedmoor Bank, I Always Did ’Spise A Mule, and others. Then, too, his banks tend to be unique with unusual features. The Darktown Battery, in particular, and the Elephant & Three Clowns On Tub are outstanding examples. They are the only cast iron mechanical banks having three stationary figures, with each figure having movable parts. There are other mechanicals with three figures such as the Clown, Harlequin and Columbine (HOBBIES, November, 1951), Initiating Bank First Degree (HOBBIES, November, 1952), and the Bowen designed A Calamity Bank, however, these all have figures that move but the figures themselves have no movable parts. Bowen’s Girl Skipping Rope combines both features of a movable figure with moving parts plus sustained action of the figure and parts. Strangely enough, too, is the fact the Darktown Battery is the only mechanical bank to represent the game of baseball. To the best of the writer’s knowledge, only one other patent was issued on a baseball type bank. This was to O.A. Hensel of Pennsylvania in 1928. This bank never got beyond the patent state, however, and thus was not produced commercially.

The Darktown Battery pictured is in excellent original condition with no repairs of any kind. The majority of the examples of this bank that exist today either have some type of repair or need same. The paint on the bank shown is in mint condition and colors of the various parts are as follows: The bottom plate of the base has black edges, the front and back of the base are outlined in brown and the plume type decorations thereon are in pink. The crossed ball bats are yellow with red at the top and handle of each. The two baseballs and small round decorations between the bats are in gold. The name "Darktown Battery," which appears on the front only, is in red. The ends of the base are green. The top of the base between the players is painted brown and the sections under the players are in green with some yellow highlighting. The pitcher has a white cap with red stripes, blue top button, and a yellow visor. He has a red shirt and around his shoulders and down his back is a yellow scarf with blue polka dots. Blue knee britches, black belt, red socks, tan spats, and brown shoes complete his outfit. The catcher is painted exactly the same as the pitcher but he wears no scarf. The batter has a white cap with blue stripes, a red top button, and yellow turned up visor. He has a blue shirt with white stripes and the name "Possums" across the front of the shirt is in red. His knee britches are yellow with a black belt, blue socks with white stripes, and shoes the same as the other two players. He holds a bat painted the same as those on the sides of the base. A brown tree stump is in back of the catcher’s right side. All these colors add up to an exceptionally bright attractive bank.

To operate the Baseball Bank, the pitcher’s arm is first pulled back into the position as shown in the picture. In so doing his head lowers forward and down and the parts snap into place. A coin is then inserted in his right hand where it is held by means of a thumb-like clamp. A lever located by the tree stump is then pressed down. Immediately the pitcher throws the coin toward the catcher and his head snaps back into position. Simultaneously the batter raises his bat high and turns his head from right to left as though watching the coin. The catcher moves his head forward and his left hand in toward his body as though catching the coin. A lower front section of the catcher moves inward so that the coin actually goes inside his body and drops down into the base of the bank. Releasing the lever returns the various parts of the batter and catcher into the positions as shown in the picture. The coin travels so fast that one must watch closely in order to see it in flight.

The Darktown Battery is one of the finest action banks of all the mechanicals. It could be called a perfect example of what a mechanical bank should be. The coin representing a baseball and taking part in the action as it does is especially desirable. Use of a coin is completely essential to obtain the proper effect.

James H. Bowen justly deserves recognition for the fine mechanical banks he designed and patented. As a matter of fact, if he had only designed two banks, The Girl Skipping Rope and the Darktown Battery, he would be credited with two of the greatest mechanical banks ever made.

 

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