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Marvelous Mechanical Misers
TRUE, October 1961

Samuel Pryor, 1961 TRUE photo 1Piggy banks from grandpa's day still lurch, bump and clang when fed America's smallest coins.

Just after the Civil War, Americans developed a passion for thrift. Youngsters were spurred on to greater efforts of miserliness by acquisition of ingeniously contrived banks that made satisfying clanking and whirring noises when fed coins. Between 1876 and 1886, some 175 different designs were turned out; as was to be expected these delightfully heavy mechanical gimcracks had great appeal for adult males who latched onto the kid's toys for their own pleasure.

One of the largest collectors of these old banks is Samuel Pryor, a vice president of Pan American World Airways. Pryor has been gathering banks since 1925, and a few of the rarer and more active types are shown here. Recently, duplications of the originals have been placed on the market, some selling for less than $5, But for one of the rarer prototypes, collectors have to pay 20 times that amount.

Samuel Pryor, 1961 TRUE photo 2

ALTOONA MIRROR - July 24, 1965

Tyrone Man's Penny Bank Collection Among Country's Finest
Retired Banker John Meyer Spent 30 Years Collecting

"Almost everyone at heart is a collector. Some collections are rare and costly, some cost little or nothing, but the true value of any collection is best measured by the continuing pleasure it brings to the collector, and one of the greatest pleasures of owning a collection is seeing it out in the open as a tangible decorative part of a room," said John D. Meyer retired Tyrone banker.

This was quite evident as I had the pleasure and privilege to interview him one afternoon. The visit was rewarding to view his vast collection of unusual banks, numerous cases of ruby and coin glass and many antique clocks, to name only three of his collections. "When I began collecting many years ago, I got a lot of pleasure out of acquiring these rare objects," said Mr. Meyer. "Now my pleasure is showing them."

Recalls First Bank
With a twinkle in his eyes, Mr. Meyer recalls his very first penny bank which was given to him in 1878 by his uncle. The bank, named Tammany, is a figure of a little fat man to represent Boss Tweed in his palmy days. You place a coin in his right hand and it then drops into his coat pocket and he nods his head in appreciation. The bank is sometimes called "The Little Fat Man." Mr. Meyer said his niece used the bank when she was a little girl and after her it was used by her three daughters in turn. His niece returned the bank to him in 1937 and it became the inspiration for his collection of old penny banks.

The bank is in perfect condition although it does look a little as though the trap had been tampered with in a childish effort to get the pennies out.

"Although it is one of the common banks, to me it is the most prized one in my whole collection and I keep it protected under a glass dome." Mr. Meyer said.

International Reputation
Mr. Meyer has gained an international reputation as one of the most important private collectors of mechanical banks. His name synonymous with the other greats; Andrew Emerine of Fostoria, Ohio; W. F. Ferguson of New Rochelle, N. Y.; Jones of Cleveland; Richard Hegarty of Coalport, Pa.

A few years back the retired banker and bank collector had written a book on this hobby called "A Handbook of Old Mechanical Penny Banks." This book gives complete descriptions of some 245 banks and attempts to set a uniform system so that each might be identified readily by a dealer or collector.

This was accomplished, as today many leading dealers and catalogs describe a certain bank by the Meyer number. The Meyer collection includes all but perhaps 20 of the banks listed in his book along with hundreds of wood, tin, glass, iron and pottery "still" banks.

Most of the banks, Mr. Meyer said, were made between 1860 and 1910," back in the good old days when thrift seemed a virtue," even to the extent that foundries in Ohio and New England were competing to produce the most attractive and best selling bank.

Like coins or stamps so far as values are concerned where only 40 or 50 of a certain type were made, they are rarer and more valuable today.

If many of a type were made they are not as expensive now for more collectors have them. The most valued bank in his collection is the unique "Baby Elephant Bank," the only one known to exist.

Perhaps the next rarest in the group is known as the "Freedman's colored cashier" and is much prized by collectors. The date of its make is not known but the nature of the device places it soon after the Civil War so you can see that mechanical banks encouraged thrift since the time Abraham Lincoln was in the White House.

Glass Collection
Turning to his ruby and coin glass, Mr. Meyer explained, the star of his collection is the famous U.S. Coin glass which was introduced at the Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1892. It marked the centennial of the establishment of the United States bank and mint. Its designers did not rekon, however, with the federal law which prohibited reproduction making the pattern rare and therefore sought after by collectors today. His prize piece in the collection is a spooner which is a combination of ruby and coin glass.

The Meyer clock collection consists of some 60 exceptionally fine clocks. Many of which are museum pieces. Some are key wind, weight driven, clocks with wooden works, clocks that require but one winding to run a year, striking clocks that indicate the time during the night. Some are American made, others English, Dutch, German and French origin. Some of the rarer in the collection are Eli Terry Pillar and Scroll, Willard banjo, English shelf cuckoos, Wagon spring Double Steeple, French and ancient wag-on-the-walls, Dickory Dock Mouse clock, Statue and "blinking eye" character clocks, even down to horse and buggy dash clocks.

Mr. Meyer remarked, "One of the best things about having a collection is sharing it, so please come back sometime."

Mr. Meyer is looking forward to his 91st birthday Aug. 4 and with his many hobbies and interest in youth, along with civic projects in the community, I am sure that Mr. Meyer will remain as Tyrone's "youngest citizen" for many more years to come.

Mr. Meyer has won wide recognition for his varied activities in state and national banking and is a member of the 50-Year club of Pennsylvania Bankers Association. He serves as a dedicated trustee of both Franklin and Marshall College and Hood College. His distinguished banking career began in 1909, and before retiring at the age of 89, he served as president of the First Blair County National Bank of Tyrone.

(Web Note: Due to poor quality, Photos in the original article were not reproduced.) 

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