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ANTIQUES OF AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, 1970

Kathryn Morrison. McClinton

 

Banks (excerpt from book)

One of the most popular collector’s items today is the toy bank, both the still, or non-mechanical, and the mechanical type. Tin banks were probably the earliest, made mostly between 1800 and 1860. Early tin peddlers, like the Pattersons of Berlin, Connecticut, however, may have made tin banks around 1770. In the late 1860’s the J. E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut, put out a still bank shaped like a bank building, and George W. Brown & Company of Forestville, Connecticut, also made many tin banks. In 1868 the two companies went into partnership, and in 1870 the Stevens and Brown Manufacturing Company issued a catalogue of mechanical, tin, and Britannia toys. This catalogue included tin banks shaped like houses and Gothic clocks.

The most common were the house banks, usually small rectangular structures with a center chimney and stenciled windows and center door, but also including octagonal summer houses, Victorian gingerbread houses, and Swiss cottages, all of which were painted and decorated with stencils. One of the most fascinating banks in the catalogue was a church. Later tin house banks had porches and angled eaves ornamented with borders of Victorian gingerbread that was soldered on, and also had lithographed rather than stenciled, decoration. The design of the applied decorations is often the key to the identity of the maker. The house banks made by George W. Brown (1857-1880) and illustrated in the 1870 catalogue have a border trim of vertical rectangular pieces alternating with a leaf form. This and similar borders are found on almost all the larger house banks and also on the church bank. Other tin banks were drums with patriotic symbols of the Civil War, and hats made after the Mexican War.

By the 1890’s, beautifully detailed cast-iron banks were being made. They varied from log-cabin houses to modern skyscraper banks. There was a castellated building marked Tower Bank, 1891, and one known as "Castle" bank. It was at this time that Hubley Manufacturing Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, made mailboxes and cash-register banks. Numerous patents between 1883 and 1895 indicate that safe banks were being made as well. Sizes ranged from small, 3-1/2-inch-high, 2-1/2-inch-wide, and 2-1/2-inch-deep banks to larger banks 8-1/2 inches high by 6 inches wide and 5 inches deep. The first safe banks made by J. & E. Stevens were decorated with simple stenciling. In the 1890’s the safes were made of embossed cast iron. Some had a door that opened onto an empty interior, others had drawers and separate coin slits for each drawer; some had a lock and key and others had combinations. Many were given names suggesting their purpose, such as State Safe, National Safe, Young America, Royal Safe Deposit, Uncle Sam Security, Columbus Safe Bank of Commerce, The Home Bank, The Globe (shaped like a globe), and Treasure Safe.

Other still banks can be found in the form of animals and men. The animal banks include a sitting and a standing pig, a cat with ball, a Saint Bernard dog with pack, a puppy on a cushion inscribed "Fido," and a veritable menagerie of lions, elephants, camels, bears, and buffaloes, as well as barnyard animals including donkeys and cows. Humorous banks include those with comic strip figures such as Mutt and Jeff, Little Orphan Annie, Campbell Kids, and Buster Brown and Tige. These were made by A. C. Williams Company of Ravenna, Ohio, one of the largest toy bank manufacturers, and by Wing Manufacturing Company. Although the large tin banks are scarce, especially the church, the large house with gingerbread trim, and the octagonal summer house, many are still to be found in shops and at reasonable prices.

The best-known manufacturer of mechanical banks was J. & E. Stevens who started making them in the 1870’s. From then until World War I, Stevens produced more than fifty different figures of mechanical banks. There were buildings of every kind, including banks, animals, well-known individuals, and news events. The animals usually performed an action as indicated by the names given the banks, such as the "Kicking Mule" or the "Eagle Feeding Her Young."

These banks have become so scarce and the prices so inflated that the beginning collector would do well to concentrate on the still banks.

 

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