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December 16, 1997
PENNY BANKS by Carole G. Rodgers — a book review by Heidi Berry



    "Penny Banks: A History And A Handbook" by Carole a. Rogers, with photographs by Terry Clough, 102 pp. with index and bibliography. Available in paperback from Dutton for $8.95.
     Americana continues to increase in popularity, and with it, interest in such aspects of it as penny banks. Mechanical banks are perhaps the most delightful of all children's savings banks. Most often of cast Iron, with some later tin examples, they all invite the deposit of a coin for some entertainment in return. The inevitable smile that accompanies the disappearance of the coin into a mechanical hank as well as the general interest in Americana has produced a growing field of collectors of old penny banks. "Penny Banks: A History and a Handbook" does an excellent job of detailing the history of mechanical banks. The author, a writer and collector herself, has researched the history of these banks back to the 'Han Dynasty in China. She briefly sketches the history of banks up to Colonial America, and notes the American qualities of inventiveness and thrift as basic to the Nineteenth Century development of mechanicals.
     After a brief discussion of various early American pottery, glass and tin banks, the author devotes the larger part of the book to mechanicals. These were first made after the Civil War. Various companies that produced the banks and individuals who designed them are discussed with clarity. The procedure of patenting both design and interior workings and the production procedure is carefully explained.
     This book covers the variety to be found in mechanicals. Political and historical events and personages (Tammany, Uncle Sam ) fain' tales (Little Red Riding Hood): animals (Eagle and Eaglets): sporting events) Darktown Battery); the circus (Circus, Trick Pony); military battles (U.S. and Spain): social forces (Bread Winner) are some of the catagories to which the banks directed their subject matter. The prejudices of the country are graphically portrayed in such banks as Paddy and the Pig (anti Irish). the Reclining Chinaman (anti Oriental), and a variety of banks depicting Blacks (Dentist, Always Did Spise A Mule).
     Collecting mechanical banks is a tricky business for the novice, and Rogers' book can serve as a useful guide. She explains the evaluation system most collectors use, notes the variety of banks to be found, and issues a warning on recasts and fakes. She also makes some interesting suggestions as to how to limit a collection of mechanicals to a specialized theme. A chapter on modern mechanicals brings the book to the present and gives an appropriately broad view of the mechanical collecting field.
     The section on still cast iron banks although smaller than that on mechanicals is comprehensive and offers much useful information.
The book contains 74 illustrations and 20 color plates. They should serve as an excellent source for collectors to familiarize themselves with the details that frequently distinguish originals from fakes.
                                        —Heidi Berry



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