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By RALPH GORDON (Of The Republican’s Staff)

Cast Iron Banks From Past
Delight Greenfield Collector

1966_Jillette.jpg (47346 bytes)GREENFIELD — A lot of men in the Connecticut Valley can boast about being bankers, and a few can brag about being associated with several banks, perhaps as many as a half-dozen, but one man in Greenfield makes the rest look like pikers. Samuel H. Jillette of 48 Place Terr. is associated with over 50 banks.

Jillette’s banks are not the common, everyday, multi-million dollar stone and steal structures either — they are all made of cast iron. None of Jillette’s banks could be called stogy or ultra-conservative either, because they are all colorful and full of action.

Dates From Pharaohs
Jillette is one of a rare breed of hobbyists that collect mechanical toy banks, of the type seen today mostly in museums, antique shops, or just in pictures of the last century. Jillette has 45 different operating mechanicals, and a dozen or so cast iron "stationary" banks, that just stand there and make you do the work of depositing the coins.

All the mechanical banks make one or more movements when triggered, to deposit the coins into the base. The most common type are the variations on the "hand to mouth" or "propellant" types, in which the coins are thrown from one figure to another. A softball scent, in which a pitcher throws the coin across about six inches of open space into a catchers chest protector, while the batter strikes out, is typical of the "propelled" type bank.

The idea of savings banks, according to several books on banks, dates back to the Pharaohs, and banks in the 1600s were of pottery, porcelain and a few in bronze or copper. Cast iron banks came into full development in the middle 1800s, and a large number of them were made by J. E. Stevens Co. in Cromwell, Conn. In the 1890s, a lot of the mechanical, cast iron banks were sold through Sears and Roebuck Catalogs.

Game of Thrift
The number of serious mechanical bank collectors are few, only about 200 in the whole country, and the Bank Collectors of America have stringent regulations — a collector must have five qualified banks to join. Jillette said that when he applied for membership a few years back, and told the club representative that he had 40 banks, "they wouldn’t believe me. They sent a man back here to actually see the banks before they would accept me."

Early American savings banks were mostly home made of wood, but the development of the mechanical banks in the 1860-1870 period was based on the idea that the child would receive the pleasure of watching the banks in operation as his reward for thrift. Some banks added noise to the game of thrift, by outfitting cannon and rifle, coin propellers, with cap firing devices.

Some banks were aimed at the adults through, like the satirical Tammany Bank, which depicted a figure from the old Tammany Hall era wolfing down the coins placed in the hand of a portly politician. Some banks would get into civil rights disputes today, such as the ones plainly marked "Jolly Nigger," with a smiling Negro that rolls his eyes when he places the coin in his mouth with a movable hand.

Began As Coin Collector
Jillette started his bank collection 12 years ago by chance. A 40-year coin collector and dealer, Jillette was given a Tammany Bank one day by a traveling coin collector who bet that Jillette wouldn’t want him to take it back when he returned through Greenfield. "He was right — I became intrigued with the bank, and that was the start."

Jillette made his next purchase of five banks from a collector in Springfield, now deceased, but from there on found it hard going. "Except for one other five bank purchase, it has been one to three banks a year on the average.

The banks are not cheap — he paid $175 for a bank showing a mason building a wall, and a hod-carrier assistant. The coin is placed in the hod, and when triggered, the carrier trips and dumps the coins into a hole, and the bricklayer throws his hands up in disgust. The banks in Jillettes collection run from $40 to $250, "and none of them are for sale — this is my own hobby." Banks cost could run up to $1500 for examples like the "Merry Go Round." a rare type with a lot of working parts.

Difficult to Repair
The problem of moving parts is a major consideration in this hobby, since repairs are virtually impossible unless the collector can locate a good blacksmith. The repairs on a bank, except for mending of original pieces, reduces value, and Jillette notes that "replacing broken parts with new pieces of metal just about turns it into a plain toy. You never monkey with the paint either — you don’t even touch up."

Youngsters who come into his coin shop at 19 Federal St. "always want to see them work," he notes, but because of the delicate nature of the cast metal, he uses only a couple of simple movement types to show how they work. On Rare occasions when the banks have been displayed alongside coins, "the banks drew more attention than the coins."

All Carefully Made
"Even though they are old," he notes, "they are for the most part, in better condition than miniature banks today — there was no such thing as shoddy workmanship in the late 1800s."

There are many variations: a bucking race horse that dumps the jockey into a hay pile with the coin in his mouth; William Tell shooting a coin-arrow into the stump behind the apple on his son’s head; the mother eagle that feeds the coin-worm to her babies; the Stump Speaker that dips the coin into a carpet bag; the elephant that puts the coin into his back with his trunk. They are part of an era when life wasn’t so hectic, and personal thrift was taught at home.


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