William Tell, Teddy Guests in Plants Hobby Bank Exhibit
Hoot mon! What a thrifty hobby saving banks that save pennies! John H. W. Johannsen of 1512 S. Union St., chief inspector at the Harnischfeger Corp., has rounded up in the last seven years 335 old coin banks, 55 of which are of the mechanical type which reward the owner by putting on a show whenever a coin is dropped in. With a pocketful of pennies, Johannsen demonstrated Tuesday night to fellow members of the Foremens and Supervisors club at their hobby show in the plant basement.
Oldest of the mechanical banks is one called "Halls Excelsior," dated 1869. Simple in construction, it consists of a cast iron box representing a bank building, with a cupola on top which tips back to reveal a diamond-eyed man bearing a tray. When a coin is placed on the tray, the figure disappears, dropping the coin inside.
Most valuable of his banks, in Johannsens opinion, is a "mission bank" of paper mache, which was at one time in a church. It has the figure of an angel kneeling on a rock with a golden plate before her. When a coin is placed in the plate, it drops into the bank and the figurine nods her head gratefully. Since he got the mission bank as a gift, the collector does not know its exact value, but he estimates the total market value of his 55 mechanical banks at $1,500, and of the 280 "still" banks at another $1,500.
A "Tammany" bank has a portly politician seated with his hand outstretched; when a coin is placed on the palm, he flips it into his pocket and extends the hand again.
"The Reclining Chinese" is an indolent figure holding a hand of cards against his breast. As he takes a coin with one hand, he exhibits the royal flush (top hand in poker) which he holds in the other.
Some of the more elaborate banks use gunpowder caps for sound effects, as in the case of "Teddy and the Bear," which has a figure representing Theodore Roosevelt pointing a gun at a tree. The gun is loaded with a penny and a cap, and when the trigger is released, the penny is shot into a hole in the tree, causing a bear to appear suddenly at the top.
"William Tell," armed with a crossbow, shoots the apple off his sons head. "The Darktown Battery" has three Negro figures playing baseball. The pitcher throws a penny past the batter into the catchers mitt, whence it drops into the bank. "Eagle and Eaglets" contains a bellows in the base, which causes two young eaglets to chirp when fed a penny by the mother eagle.
Johannsen has the patent descriptions of nearly 100 mechanical banks, including those for the ones in his collection. He is constantly searching for banks corresponding with the patent records.