Magazine — September, 1991, Volume 21 Number 9
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Magazine — September, 1991, Volume 21 Number 9
Norman Mechanical Bank Collection
— AT AUCTION —
By Jane Turano
at age 10
— not mechanical banks but stamps and coins. It wasn't until 1979, when
he was thirty-eight, that he bought his first bank, "Dinah," from an
antique dealer. The Burbank, CA, collector's interest in antique
mechanical banks had been inspired by a visit to a friend's office where
he noticed a group of mechanical banks and became completely fascinated.
He then began to read everything he could get his hands on, pertaining
to antique mechanical banks, and went so far as to form a database, to
which he added constantly.
When he bought his "Dinah," he didn't realize that it had been
repainted and had a replaced lever, but it didn't take long for the
entrepreneur to learn from his mistakes and he quickly embarked on a
plan to constantly improve his collection. As he explains it, "The first
100 banks I bought I re-sold to upgrade. Fortunately, I didn't make many
mistakes that hurt me financially."
In just twelve years, he managed to build up a collection that is
ranked as among the finest in the world, according to Bob Brady,
president of the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America.
On September 14, at the Philadelphia Airport Hilton, Bill Bertoia
and Bob Brady will present at auction Norman's extraordinary mechanical
bank collection. According to Brady, only those of Steve Steckbeck of
Fort Wayne, IN, and Frank Kidd of Portland, OR, are more extensive.
Approximately 365 banks and many related items including trade
cards, original factory correspondence, photographs of factory
interiors, patterns, etc., will be auctioned in the multi-million dollar
sale. According to Bill Bertoia, prices for the banks are expected to
range from $1,000 to $60,000 for the highly sought-after "Jonah
Pedestal" by Charles Bailey.
For mechanical bank dealers and collectors everywhere, this auction
will determine the market for many years to come. Bertoia and Brady
fully expect to set an American and world record for a mechanical bank
at auction. Privately, there have been banks that have changed hands for
$250,000 or more, but this will be the first time that a major
collection has gone to auction.
Bill Norman is known in collecting circles, especially the
Mechanical Bank Collectors of America, as a dedicated and hard-working
collector who has put in countless hours learning everything he could
about the subject. Much of that knowledge was refined into
The Bank Book: The
Encyclopedia of Mechanical Bank Collecting, published in
His decision to sell his collection came as a surprise to many
people, including his own family. The reasons are complex, but include,
as Bill Norman explained, "recently turning fifty." While he admits
that's "not old," it has caused him to rethink his priorities to his
wife, Faye, and his Christian service work for his local church. His
unusually intense approach to collecting and the many long hours it
requires were in danger of taking up nearly every available moment of
his time. "During my twelve years of collecting, I received numerous
calls and letters, and I wanted to help each person, but all that took
its toll." Norman adds that when he began his bank collecting, it was
supposed to be a hobby, a source of relaxation, "but now it's an
This really hit home to him when he was compiling the 1991 price guide
for the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America.
There's no doubt, though, that selling his collection is an
emotional wrench for Norman. "Oh, I'll miss it, of course," he admitted.
When asked what he'll do when his collection is gone come September,
Norman commented, "Different bank collectors have encouraged me to
collect banks again, but the sticker shock will be hard. It would be
hard to start over, and I doubt I would. Still, I wouldn't mind having a
few banks for display at the house."
Every collector has his favorite, and Bill Norman is no exception.
Among the banks that he is going to miss the most are his "signature"
bank, "Punch and Judy" by Shepard. In terms of condition, "Girl Skipping
Rope" is his pride and joy. "It is one of the few all-original ones —
nothing replaced or repaired." But the bank he regrets parting with the
most is "The Picture Gallery" by Shepard. He explained that it was used
to teach children how to read and count, as well as thrift. "It displays
so well and has a big, bold face — it reminds me of a carnival theme."
Market watchers expect that "Picture Gallery may fetch as much as
$35,000 or more.
According to Bob Brady, who succeeded Bill Norman as president of
the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America, the auctioning of the Norman
collection is the "best thing since Ed Mosler's collection (the late Ed
Mosler was president of the Mosler Safe Company, of New York City) was
sold in 1982. The banks in the Perelman collection didn't hold a candle
to this one, in terms of condition. Norman's collection starts with
pristine examples and works its way up from there . . . Bill Norman has
been a role model for me. He collected for condition as well as
variation. He always tried to acquire the best examples, in the best
condition possible, and he had the wherewithal, financially, to do that.
He made a major commitment to the field through his book and through his
dedication to acquire and pass on knowledge to less advanced collectors.
He's always been an advocate of passing on that knowledge and he's
always been willing to share his time with anyone who had an interest in
bank collecting. That's why the sale of Bill Norman's collection is such
As Bill Norman remarked of his collecting passion for the last
dozen years, "I can't think of anything that can upstage mechanical
banks. I can't think of anything that has the intrigue and nostalgia
value that banks have."
Bill Bertoia and Bob Brady present "The Bill Norman Mechanical Bank
Collection at Auction." Philadelphia Airport Hilton. Auctioneer, Richard
Opfer. Preview, Friday, September 13, 10 A.M. to 8 P.M.; sale, Saturday,
September 14, 11 A.M. Admission by catalog, $25, includes post-sale
price key. For information: (609) 692-4092; (717) 569-7408.