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STAMFORD ADVOCATE, Wednesday, October 21, 1970

City's Piggy Bank Buff Michael Sheridan


  
COLLECTOR'S ITEMS - Michael Sheridan is shown with a few of the cast iron mechanical banks in
his collection. At right is his Uncle Sam Bank and in foreground, his Jonah and the Whale Bank.
When a penny is put in his hand Uncle Sam drops it on the carpetbag on his right;
when a penny is put in Jonah's hand he chucks it into the whale's mouth.
(Advocate Photo by Ryan)

By Don Ross
     A young Stamford businessman named Michael Sheridan has a growing reputation in the most important piggy-bank collecting circles in the country.
     A couple of weeks ago the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America held a national convention at the Summit Lodge in Killington, Vt., and Mr. Sheridan took a prominent role in the bull sessions on piggy banks. Mechanical banks are simply elaborate toy piggy banks that do things when they ingest a penny.
     For example, Mr. Sheridan has an Uncle Sam bank which has a top-hatted and goateed figure on top. When the mechanism is cocked by pressing a lever, Uncle Sam will take a penny placed in his hand, move it over to a carpetbag marked U.S. and drop it in. He will wiggle his goatee at the same time.
     Mr. Sheridan, who was interviewed in his office at 1200 Summer St., is an amateur piggy-bank collector; his real business is being an executive of a firm called Western Girl that supplies temporary help to employers.
     Usually he is a cool man as befits a business executive, but when he shows off his collection he undergoes a distinct personality change.
     He gets a kindly light in his eyes and warms up. He rubs the banks, most of them made of cast iron and manufactured between 1885 and 1910, and says, "Look at the fine workmanship. They can't duplicate that anymore. We've lost the art of casting ornamental, intricate figures in iron." He is in love with his banks.
     "Notice the paint," he says, "It's the original paint, A repainted bank is valueless."
     He takes pleasure in seeing them perform their tricks and will feed them pennies endlessly. (Put a penny in Jonah's hand, cock him, and he'll toss it into the whale's maw. Put a penny in the pitcher's hand and he'll toss it to the batter who will lift up his bat and the penny, will land in  a convenient hole that opens up in the catcher's stomach.)
     In short, Mr. Sheridan is a piggy bank enthusiast. And he isn't the only one around.
     "There's an elderly man in town," he said, "I'm not going to tell you his name. He has a collection. I haven't seen it yet and I don't know whether it's for sale, but I'm working on the problem. His office is not more than two blocks from here. I heard about him the other day."
     When Mr. Sheridan has lunch he will talk about the things that interest business executives but sooner or later he will ask, "Have you ever seen a cast iron mechanical bank? Do you know anyone who has one?"
     That is the way he gets some of his good leads. One day an acquaintance told him about a man in Amish country in Pennsylvania who was reputed to have some fine specimens. Mr. Sheridan tracked the man down and bought the collection. That is the way he found out about a Stamford dentist with a collection. Mr. Sheridan got on the trail but he found that the dentist had died. The dentist's son told him that an antique dealer had bought his father's banks.
     "That dealer paid so little for them it was practically theft," Mr. Sheridan said, making a barely audible noise that might have been the gnashing of teeth. A man with a keen eye for bargains, Mr. Sheridan would have liked to have had first crack at the dentist's banks.  
     "I'm desperate to get my I hands on a General Sheridan bank," said Mr. Sheridan. "It shows the general on a horse. I've got a dozen people looking for one for me. Oh, I'll find one, never fear!"
     The General Sheridan bank which has special sentimental value because Mr. Sheridan's father often said that General Sheridan was a cousin, is a "still" bank. That is, it doesn't do anything when a penny is dropped into it.
     Mr. Sheridan hopes that the publication of this article about him will bring him to the notice of other piggy bank collectors and people who have banks in their attics they would like to sell.
     "I have three Uncle Sams and would be glad to trade or sell them for banks I don't have," Mr. Sheridan said.
     Some collectors, whether of Matisses, maps or piggy banks, like to boast about the value of their collections. Not Mr. Sheridan. All he will say about his collection is that it is a "significant one" but he will not disclose its value. He has, he said, about 50 old mechanical banks.
     The only statistic he would permit the use of was this: he once bought a bank for $10 that he says is now worth $600, which is one way of fighting inflation.
     This bank is called the Afghanistan Bank. When a penny is put in the slot a lion and a bear move a bit. The bank acquired its name from the decoration on it which is supposed to resemble that on the gate of an ancient walled city in Afghanistan.
     Mr. Sheridan, who is 34, will go almost anywhere to get a good mechanical bank. He and his wife (she likes piggy banks too) haunt the antique shops on Route 7 and often drive into the back country and ask if anybody knows about piggy banks. He has gone farther afield: he has found that the Portobello and Caledonia flea markets in London are choice places to look.
     "The chase is half the fun," he said.
     The other half is chatting about banks, buying them and selling them. At the Vermont convention of the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America, which has a membership of 150, Mr. Sheridan and his wife attended a piggy bank auction. The top price paid was $1500 for a little something called a Football Bank.
     Made in England and a rarity, it shows a soccer player (the English call soccer, football). When the mechanism is cocked the player will kick a penny into an aperture which opens in the goal net.
     Connecticut, by the way, was the origin of many of the cast iron mechanical banks. They were produced at the J. and E. Stevens Foundry in Cromwell, which is no longer in business. Such banks, which were sold for about $2 as children's toys, were discontinued in the middle 1920s because of the rise in the cost of materials and labor.
     Some cast iron mechanical banks are manufactured today. One company produces one in which a golfer putts the penny toward the hole. The caddy takes the flag out of the hole and the penny falls in. It sells for about $35, and Mr. Sheridan doesn't think much of the workmanship.
     Mr. Sheridan's wife is responsible for getting him interested in piggy banks. She used to haul him around to antique shops.
     "At first, I couldn't have been less interested," he said. But soon he began to notice children's antique toys in the shops and it struck him it would be pleasant to acquire a collection of these so he could show his children (he has three) the sort of things that their ancestors played with. Then he narrowed his focus to the toy mechanical banks and began to specialize in them.
     Whenever Mr. Sheridan sees a mechanical bank something deep within him says, "Buy, buy." Not long ago he noticed the collection of 47 mechanical banks exhibited in the lobby of the Union Trust at 300 Main St., and he had the usual reaction. The collection is owned by the bank. But Harold Rider, chairman of the bank's trust committee, said nothing doing.
     Mr. Sheridan, was disappointed but he didn't let it get him down. He had the last word by telling Mr. Rider that some of the banks were mislabeled.


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