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National Antiques Review, October, 1971

by Hubert B. Whiting

71-10 Whiting photoSoon after I wrote the article on William Tell, I received another entirely different William Tell Mechanical Bank from Australia. I've included a picture, and it shows, as you can see, William with a bow instead of a gun. The bank is 4 inches longer than the American-made version, the tower is tin, the base is sheet steel, and the figures are cast aluminum. From the size of the slot in the tower and the width of the arrow that the coin rests on, I would assume that the bank was made for the English or some other large coin. The coloring is not vivid, the tower originally a bronze, the base a dark green, and the figures a golden bronze color. Although this bank appears to be one that was a production item, I have know of no other specimen, and I do not know of anyone else who has. Perhaps a "new find" from Down Under.

Humpty Dumpty, of course, was a well-known character in a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, and if you have forgotten, it goes like this:

        Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
        Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
        Not all the King's horses,
        Not all the King's men
        Could put Humpty Dumpty
                 together again.

This is probably the most widely known of the Mother Goose jingles and could very easily have referred to Richard III, King of England. Richard succeeded Edward IV, who died in 1483. Richard was slain upon Boswerth Field, and the lines "Not all the King's horses. Not all the King's men" could very well have been directed to this incident, for had not Richard cried out just before his death, "A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"?

The three banks pictured are all called Humpty Dumpty, and two of them portray him in the traditional way, an egg-man sitting on a wall. The other is a Mechanical Bank and is the bust of a clown. I have no idea why Humpty Dumpty should be portrayed this way, for if indeed Humpty Dumpty was Richard III, than a clown portrayal would be a far cry from the cruel, calculating, scheming, murdering soul that Richard was. Nor was it easy to associate the egg with Humpty Dumpty and Richard III. Nevertheless, Mother Goose had her own inspiration, and no one will know for sure what it was. No one knows for sure who Mother Goose was, but a gravestone in a Boston cemetery marks the grave of a woman named Goose, and it is popularly accepted that this woman was Mother Goose ( Ask any one of the tour guides).

It's rather surprising to me that more of the Mother Goose characters were not portrayed as banks. What great banks such people as Jack Sprat, Little Bo-Peep, Little Jack Horner, and Old King Cole would have made, just to mention a few.

Some years ago, I came across what appeared to be a bank, and I guess it was, in the shape of a Black Face. It was made of clay, decorated, and of course the mouth was the coin slot. The face was fascinating, the sculpture excellent, and the eyes seemed to have a message as they looked up at you. Anyway, I bought it, and when I got home, I discovered there was something inside, not a coin, but a piece of paper. Perhaps an old one-hundred dollar bill, or a ten dollar bill. (I could dream, couldn't I?) Well, after a long time trying to "fish" the paper out, I got ahold of one corner, and the struggle was over. The paper was retrieved slowly, and sure enough, it was a treasure. Not a hundred dollar bill, not a ten, but a piece of paper on which was typed a message:

"Head Piece. Presented by King Cetawayo of Zululand to Chief Engineer Duncan Campbell of Transport Ship which brought him to England. Given by him to William Magee, of Boston, June 1881. Given to his son, John Magee, and given to me by John Magee February 8, 1899."

I have no idea who "me" was, nor do I know anything about John Magee or his father William of Boston, although I've made a halfhearted attempt to identify them. But I know who King Cetawayo was. He was a powerful Zulu Chief who had trained and developed a great army of Zulus. The British in 1879 fought and conquered King Cetawayo and his trained army of 40,000, who charged in the face of the White Man's rifles with all the discipline and drill of European troops. The conflict shook the foundations of the British rule in South Africa and makes one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of that region. King Cetawayo was captured by the British, and after an extended stay in Capetown, he did sail for England and arrived on July 12, 1882. There seems to be some discrepancy in the dates, but then, who knows, perhaps King Catawayo did actually have this little bank in his hands. I like to think that the great King Cetawayo did indeed give this "Head Piece" to the Chief Engineer.


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