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                      Collectors' SHOWCASE, July/August 1982,Volume 1, Number 6 Pages 20 through 23
                                           
 Shepard Banks, by Bill Norman  (first article in this series)
                                                               
See bottom of this page for OCR text.

 

 

 

 

Collectors' SHOWCASE, July/August 1982,
Volume 1, Number 6
Pages 20 through 23


Old Mechanical Banks
by Bill Norman
     This is the second in a series of articles on old mechanical banks. The full-color format of COLLECTORS' SHOWCASE enables us to illustrate paint variations and other related colorful memorabilia. All objects are from my own collection unless otherwise noted.
     Your questions and suggestions are always appreciated as we strive to learn and document as much as possible about these nostalgic collectables from America's past.
I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE A MULE
     Here we have a very unusual and unique situation. Two different mechanical banks have the exact same name bossed on their base plates; "I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE A MULE' To further confuse matters, both banks were originally marketed under a different name; "KICKING MULE BANK."
     However, labeling one of these mechanicals as either a 'SPIZE A MULE or a KICKING MULE still does not identify which item you are referring to. Therefore, collectors have further identified them by calling one the "Jockey" or "Jockey Over" type, and labeling the other bank either "Mule Turns" or "Boy on Bench." In this article, we will use the "Jockey Over" and "Boy on Bench" terms to differentiate between the two.
The Manufacturer
     Both items were the product of the J.&E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut; however, they were not produced simultaneously. This is probably one reason Stevens may not have had the problem of making a distinction between the two types.
     The Jockey Over bank was the first, being made sometime after 1879 and remaining in the Stevens product line until about 1904. It was a popular item and many were sold.
     The Boy on Bench type was introduced in the Stevens 1904 catalog as a "New Pattern." It's interesting to note that the 1906 Stevens literature also referred to the KICKING MULE BANK as a new pattern. One could speculate that either Stevens simply did not delete the print callout or they wanted to continue to call attention to the fact that this KICKING MULE BANK was not the same one that had previously been listed over the many years of I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE A MULE bank sales. In any event, The Boy on Bench KICKING MULE BANK was also a very popular item and was produced until 1932, when Stevens discontinued their line of mechanical banks due to adverse market conditions and to the rising cost of iron. So, both "I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE A MULE" banks enjoyed many years of sales which is the reason they are among the more common of the old mechanicals to be found today.
The Inventor
     Mr. James H. Bowen of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the creator of both 'SPIZE A MULE items. The ingenious Mr. Bowen was a free-lance designer who submitted his designs to the .I.& E. Stevens Company for production. His remuneration came in the form of royalty payments that were negotiated for each item submitted. Most royalties seemed to be in the neighborhood of $1.00 for each dozen banks sold. An exception to this can be seen in the over $2.00 paid on Mr. Bowen's JUMPING ROPE BANK (GIRL. SKIPPING ROPE BANK). However, that item carried a retail price tag of about $2.50 each at a time when other banks, 'SPIZE A MULE's included, sold for $1.00 to the retail trade.
     Mr. Bowen apparently designed 17 mechanical banks of record, sixteen of which were produced by J.&E.Stevens. One is not known to have ever been produced. Wherever possible, the bank names are the ones Stevens used in their toy catalogs. The more common names, that are used today. are included in brackets:

# Name      
1  CREEDMOOR
2  KICKING MULE
    (I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE
    A MULE, Jockey Over)  
3  BULLDOG BANK
4  OWL BANK
    (OWL TURNS HEAD)  
5  BIRD ON BOX
6  BULLFROG BANK
    (TWO FROGS)  
7  SHAMROCK BANK
    (Used BULLFROG BANK
    patent, PADDY & THE PIG)  
8  RECLINING CHINAMAN BANK)
    (Used BULLFROG BANK patent) 
9  ELEPHANT& THREE
     CLOWNS BANK)  
10  MONKEY BANK
      (MONKEY & COCOANUT)  
11  BASEBALL BANK
      (DARKTOWN BATTERY)  
12  JUMPING ROPE BANK
      (GIRL SKIPPING ROPE)  
13  CAT & MOUSE BANK
14  FUNNY CLOWN BANK
      (Used JUMPING ROPE BANK
      patent, CLOWN ON GLOBE)  
15  TYROLESE BANK 
      (Used CREEDMOOR
      patent, NEW CREEDMOOR)  
16  KICKING MULE BANK
      (ALWAYS DID SPIZE A MULE,
      Boy on Bench)  
17  FOOTBALL BANK
      (A CALAMITY)  

Patent date
November 6, 1877
April 22, 1879 
 
 

April 27, 1880
September 28, 1880  
 
May 3, 1881
August 8, 1882  
 
(Used BULLFROG BANK patent)
 
  
 
(Used BULLFROG BANK patent) 
  
August 23, 1883
  
March 2, 1886
 
January 17, 1888
 
May 20, 1890
 
April 21. 1891
(Used JUMPING ROPE BANK patent) 
 
 

(Used CREEDMOOR patent)
 
 
April 27, 1897
 
 

July 30, 1904  
 

Patent #
196,870
214,615
 
 
226,831
232,628
 
240,955
262,361





 
14,238
 
337,125
 
376,628
 
428,450
 
450,833
 
 
 
 
 

581,533
 
 
337,125
 

Operation al the Banks
     Perhaps the most interesting way of describing their operation is to read the original instructions as written on the pages of these old Stevens toy bank catalogs:
     Notice the retail price of $1.00 in the 1906 literature; by 1928 the dealer's wholesale cost for the Boy on Bench KICKING MULE BANK was $1.40 each in quantity. (Inflation marches on)
Patent Information 
     On March 6. 1879, Mr. James H. Bowen filed his patent application for the item that is known today as the I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE A MULE, Jockey Over mechanical U.S. Patent #214,615 was issued the following month, on April 22, 1879.
     There are several interesting facts concerning this patent:
     In the first place, the design was not a bank. It was a "new and useful improvement in Toy Trick Animals." In other words it was a mechanical toy. There was no coin slot nor provision to hold coins (fig 8).
     Secondly, the design used three figures; (1) a jockey, (2) a mule, and (3) a dog. Notice the patent illustrates a dog. This toy was made by Stevens but, like the bank, it did not utilize the dog.
     The patent went on to explain how the toy could be protected from the impact created by the jockey's head crashing into the base:
"In order to prevent noise and fracture of the head of the figure and the base, a pad of rubber or other elastic material may be secured to the base in such a position as to break the force of the blow of the figure."
     This was an interesting idea, but the actual toy did not use this "pad" and no damage seemed to have resulted from its absence. The toy used a different jockey than the bank. His head was smaller and he wore no cap.
     The mechanical bank has an ingenious spring-loaded bill on the jockey's cap and, upon impact, the bill cushions the blow and simultaneously releases the coin from the jockey's mouth.
     The toy is more difficult to find than the bank, which I suppose is logical, since the bank was also a toy and would therefore appeal to a broader market, making the toy less popular. Thus, we can surmise that the mechanical toy was probably not produced very long.
     On July 10, 1886, about 17 years later, Mr. Bowen applied for another I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE A MULE patent. This item was designed as a "toy money box" (mechanical bank), and U.S. Patent #581,533 was granted on April 27,1897, for the mechanical that is known today as the I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE A MULE, bank.
     This design appears to be identical to the actual production bank, as shown in the patent illustrations (fig 9).
Historical information
     It's interesting to see how humor has changed over the years. Not long ago it could be considered funny to see a little character struck in the head by a mule, or fall head first onto a log. Another example of this type of humor could be seen in a typical "Punch & Judy Show" where Punch would generate laughter by whacking Judy in the head with a stick.
     However, today, people have a tendency to gasp when they view the action of either 'SPIZE A MULE bank for the first time. Their expression is generally one of shock as opposed to laughter.
     On the positive side, both banks are outstandingly animated which is a real credit to Mr. Bowen's creative handiwork.
Paint Variations
     You will notice that we have illustrated four paint variations, two types for each bank. The red or the brown based Jockey Over mechanical banks are about equally available. However, the majority of the Boy on Bench items contain the red base, while the yellow based Boy on Bench bank is difficult to find, especially in excellent paint condition. Some mechanical bank hobbyists would pay a higher price for a fine condition yellow based bank (myself included).
Reproductions
     The Jockey Over bank has apparently not been reproduced. However, the Boy on Bench type is found as a reproduction and the novice collector should be aware of several factors that make these recast banks easy to spot.
     One type has the wording, "REPRODUCED FROM ORIGINAL IN COLLECTION OF THE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE," on the bottom of its base plate. Some banks have this lettering ground off in an attempt to deceive a prospective buyer into thinking it's an original. However, a 1-9/16" diameter indentation, located on the bottom of the bank, gives it away as a BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE reproduction.
     The vast majority of reproduced banks are made using an original bank as a pattern and, since cast iron shrinks as it cools, these recast items will be smaller than the originals. An original Boy on Bench bank measures 10-1/8" between the longest points of its base plate. If a bank in question measures less than 10", across these points, you can identify it as a reproduction. Other recast banks have been made to be rusty with hardly any paint on them. However, original banks are almost never found in this rusted condition.
     I ALWAYS DID 'SPIZE A MULE banks are very much in demand, especially among collectors who have smaller budgets. Both banks are very charismatic in operation and in appearance, yet are available at lower prices. The main reason for the attractive price tag is that so many banks were produced their lack of rarity helps keep the selling prices down. This is not to infer that these banks are easy to find. None of the original old mechanicals are "easy to find." However, when compared to other old mechanical banks, these two are relatively easy to locate and are a great pair of banks to have in your collection.
     I would like to thank the following collectors for their invaluable contributions toward making this article possible: Mark Haber, Bob McCumber, Jim Potts, Steve Steckbeck and Greg Zemenick, M.D.
Books and Other Information
Mechanical Banks by F.H. Griffith Sea Girt, New Jersey, 1972
Old Penny Banks, by John D. Meyer Watkins, New York, Century House 1960
The Mechanical Bank Collectors of America (MBCA)
     (Please contact the author at the address listed below)
The Toy Collector, by Louis H. Hertz, Hawthorne Books, Inc., New York, 1976
Toy Bank Reproductions and Fakes, by Robert L. McCumber Glastonbury, Connecticut, 1970
Bill Norman (author of this article) 2601 Empire Avenue, Burbank. California 19504, (213) 843-6811


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