The Elephant and Three
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – May, 1983
The Elephant and Three Clowns is a tiny gem of a
bank encompassing all of the charm and excitement of the circus. Although
it is one of the smallest of the mechanicals, its size does not detract
from its desirability.
The bank is one of a large family, portraying that most amusing and
entertaining denizen of the Big Top: the beloved clown. Other mechanicals
in this group are: Acrobats; Bill-E-Grin; Circus; Clown and Dog; Clown
Bust; Clown on Bar; Clown on Globe; Hoopla; Humpty Dumpty; Jolly Joe;
Clown and Harlequin; Professor Pug Frog; Punch and Judy; Trick Dog; and
the Zig-Zag Bank.
The Elephant and Three Clowns was patented on July 28,
1882, by James H. Bowen of Philadelphia PA, and was assigned U.S. Pat.
262,361. It was manufactured by the Stephens Foundry of Cromwell,
Connecticut. Of interest is the fact that the same patent papers that
protect the Two Frogs Bank, the reclining Chinaman, and Paddy and the Pig,
also protect the Elephant and Three Clowns. And, further, these patent
papers illustrate only the Two Frogs Bank and its internal mechanism (see
Fig. 1). It is these patented levers, pivots, and springs which are
responsible for the fascinating actions of both the Two Frogs Bank and the
Elephant and Three Clowns.
The operation of the Elephant and Three Clowns is most interesting
and worthy of special mention. First, a coin is placed between the two
gold rings under the elephant's head, and then the legs of the clown who
is balancing the ball are pulled back. The top clown pivots at the waist;
simultaneously, the elephant's trunk sways to the right, depositing the
coin into the bank.
The Elephant and Three Clowns bank is extremely delicate and quite
intricate in design. It is for these reasons that, when one does show up,
many times parts are either broken or missing. One cannot truly appreciate
the full charm or beauty of this bank until it is seen with most, or all,
of its original paint. Thus, when one is found in perfect condition with
superb paint, it commands a premium price.
The Elephant and Three Clowns does not have any design variations that I
am aware of, but it was decorated in several COLOR variations. These
variations pertain only to the tub on which the elephant stands and the
blanket; the remainder of the bank, including its figures, remain constant
in its color scheme.
The elephant is gray; he has a red mouth, white tusks, white eyes
with black pupils and the tip of his trunk is red. The clown riding on his
back has a red, yellow, and blue cap, red shorts a red shirt which
displays a blue star, and he sports black shoes. His face is pink with
brown decorative markings and he has black eyes with a red mouth.
The figure holding the gold rings has a blue tunic with a red sash.
He has black hair, eyes, and moustache. The figure balancing the gold ball
also has a blue tunic with a red belt; his eyes and hair are black and he
has a red mouth.
The tub was painted either in tan with gold trim and a red top, or,
blue with gold trim and a red top. The elephant's blanket is painted
either red, or blue, with yellow fringe.
The base plate is embossed with the words: "U.S. Pat, Aug. 8,1882,
Eng. Pat July 28, 1882", and is made to accept the round Stephens' type
I have not seen or heard of any reproductions of the Elephant and
Three Clowns bank; nevertheless, since the possibility may exist I am
including a base diagram (Fig. 2).
Just a final word about paint variations: sometimes a bank that is
authentic and all original will show up deviating from its traditional
color scheme. This might reflect either the foundry artist's mood,
expressions of individuality, or a special presentations bank (i.e.,
specific banks designed and hand-painted by the great mechanical bank
designer, Charles A. Bailey). One can distinguish authentic old paint
either by age crazing, patina, or general appearance. If there is any
doubt as to paint or authenticity, an authority should be consulted before
making a costly error.