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DAILY ITEM, Wakefield, Mass., Tuesday, April 26, 1966

Historical Society Ends Season

Mechanical Banks A Unique Hobby

The Wakefield Historical Society concluded its 76th year with a unique talk and demonstration which proved illuminating and enlightening. Developed as a hobby some 16 years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Hubert B. Whiting of Friend St. shared with the members the history and development of "Antique Mechanical and Still Penny Banks."

Mrs. Whiting spoke first, recalling briefly the early history of penny banks, from pottery receptacles prior to the Christian era, those of the Aztecs, then those in England during the reign of Charles II in 1664. The first known banks in the United States were in 1793 of pottery, glass, wood and tin, all handmade, of course, and in 1865 the use of cast iron was begun, the material being considered quite inexpensive.

The Stevens Company of Cromwell, Conn., had commenced manufacturing hardware in 1843, but in 1860 the lure of bank manufacturing proved so great that the firm turned its entire production to this field. To trace the procedure, Mrs. Whiting took her audience on an imaginary trip through the factory, ideally situated in a small community, overlooking a hollow valley with a big pond, filled with fish and croaking frogs, all of which undoubtedly influenced the early designers.

On one side of the road was a foundry, with its sand molds; on the other, a red-painted frame factory to which the casts were sent to the finishers for filing, sanding and fitting of small parts, wrought by careful and skilled workman, men who took real pride with their work, and who worked perhaps 11 or 12 hours a day for $15 per week.

The banks now went to the assemblers and testers, then upstairs (under the eaves) where women painted them by hand, some doing the basic work, others the striping and decorating, mostly on a piecework basis, for as little as one cent per bank. The workers were happy at their places of work and several generations were recorded among the company’s personnel.

Such was the early production, in general. The designer, like one Charles Baily, was a pattern-maker with imagination, and an engineer of a sort, with considerable artistic ability.

When finished, each bank was boxed for gift-giving and eventually sold. Thrift was an attribute and widely practiced and children to whom most of the banks were given, were careful of their toys. They cherished them for a period of from five to ten years, then carefully tucked them away in attics. It was from these attics, and later household dealers, that the hobby of collecting the banks started, and although there are, or once were several large professional collections, the Whitings have pursued their hobby only since 1950, when Mr. Whiting visited an antique shop in Baltimore and saw and purchased a small bank which took his fancy.

Since then, his leisure time interest has developed, as has that of his wife, so that in "togetherness" they frequently take off on a Saturday to go browsing, shunning the limited-access highways and just looking in antique places, old farmhouses and other possible locations where there might be some old time treasures. They have seen some lovely spots in New England, on these leisurely trips, and have browsed many places and homes not usually visited. They do not consider their efforts a waste of time in any sense of the word, and they have loved every minute of it, they admitted.

Mr. Whiting took over the program and described the workings of about 20 of the 50 or more representative banks which he and his wife had arranged on a table on the platform. Some were passed around for the members to see and operate. They represent only a small part of their collection. He answered the questions from the audience as to how he got so many by noting his affiliation with "The Mechanical Bank Collectors of America", a hobby club of which he is currently the president, and by advertising in two popular hobby magazines. Much swapping and purchasing is done by mail, he pointed out in telling of a recent job-lot purchase of 162, out of which he kept about 50, sold another 50 to a West Coast collector and is swapping and selling the remainder.

Among the banks shown were Plymouth Rock, the State House, Old South Church, Uncle Sam, farm and wild animals, funny paper (comic) characters and some old-model automobiles, a tugboat, and a number of "shooting" banks, such as William Tell, Indian, circus and artillery groups, Jonah the Whale, Punch and Judy, hen and chicks, eagle and eaglets, mason and hod carrier, donkey in a barn, Tammany (politician), Teddy Roosevelt shooting a bear, organ and monkey, boy on trapeze and Mutt and Jeff. He concluded his demonstration by inserting a penny in his prize mechanical bank.

The meeting was held in the lecture hall of Lucius Beebe Memorial Library and was the fourth and final program of the current season. President Cyrus M. Dolbeare presided and had invited the vice-president and program chairman, Mrs. Ralph L. Thresher, to present the speakers, which she did in a gracious manner.

The annual report of the treasurer, Miss Ruth A. Woodbury, the last meeting report of the secretary, Miss Grace MacDonald, and the report of the nominating committee were heard. Mrs. M. Kent Fletcher reported for the latter, on behalf of her co-workers, Mrs. Abbott W. Boyles and Alfred E. Delaney, and the following officers were elected to serve for the 1966-67 season:
            President, Mrs. Ralph L. Thresher.
            Vice-president, Roger H. Wingate.
            Secretary, Miss Grace E. MacDonald.
            Treasurer, Miss Ruth A. Woodbury
            Curator, Charles E. Purrington.
            Directors, Cyrus M. Dolbeare, Robert N. Duffle, John J. Galvin, Mrs. Jean C. Hartshorne and Roland B. Oliver.

Mrs. Threasher, president-elect, noted that Mr. Dolbeare had expressed the desire to step down after heading the organization for the past seven years, during which time the membership had risen from 40 to 140 members, and he had conducted four excellent meetings each season. She was assured he would continue his interest in the Society and on behalf of the directors, she presented him with an animated bird feeder for his yard, as a token of appreciation for a job well done. Mr. Dolbeare thanked his associates for the surprise recognition.

The new board will meet later to discuss future plans for the Society and tentatively outline next year’s program.


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