Little Jocko Musical
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – August, 1983
The colorful figure of the organ
grinder accompanied by his monkey was commonplace on the streets of New
York City during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Providing
entertainment to the people was his objective — and so he did —
particularly to the youngsters. His lilting ethnic melodies, so
reminiscent of his native land, beckoned to the children to gather pennies
from their mothers to feed the tiny paw of Jocko, the organ grinder's
The popularity of this comical duo became, not by mere coincidence
alone, the subject matter of many a toy savings bank. During the 1880's,
the Ives, Blakeslee and Williams Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut,
produced various organ banks. Some portrayed monkeys; others, cats and
dogs; and still others, children.
In 1882, the Kyser and Rex Company of Frankford, Pennsylvania, also
manufactured an organ bank, but this one featured an organ grinder and
In the early 1900's, the Hubley Mfg. Company of Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, produced still another organ grinder and monkey bank.
And then some time around the year 1912, the Strauss Company of New
York City produced the "Little Jocko Musical Bank" a mechanical bank that
is regarded by many collectors to be the most desirable organ bank ever
manufactured (and the subject of this article).
This bank and the "Thrifty Tom" were the only two mechanical banks
known to be produced by the Strauss Mfg. Company. Unfortunately, to this
date, no patent papers have been located for the Little Jocko, thus
depriving the collector of valuable background information regarding this
The Strauss Company not only manufactured mechanical and tin
registering banks, but many sheet metal toys of the period, as well as
various other metal products.
Much of the charm of the Jocko Musical lies not only in its subject
matter, colorful appearance, and fascinating action, but also in the
primitive plink plank, plunk of its musical mechanism.
Printed on each side of the bank is the ditty:
"Drop a penny in the cup
Then turn the crank around
You will see the monkey dance
And hear the music sound."
which fully describes the Little Jocko's action.
First a coin is inserted into the coin slot within the monkey's cup
(Fig. 1). The crank is then turned, causing the monkey to rotate
clockwise, as a nondescript plink plank, plunk tune emanates from within
the bank Only one tune is played for a single coin. Otherwise, the crank
rotates freely, causing no further action or music to take place.
The Little Jocko is considered quite a rare bank and, upon close
examination, one will gain insight into just why this is so. The crank is
extremely delicate and prone to breakage, as is the small tin cup atop the
bank The little monkey, made from soft lead, is removable and easily lost
or dropped and broken.
Also, a key is required to open the bank for removal of its coins. If
the key was lost, one can just imagine a child feverishly applying a
screwdriver or sharp object trying to break open the lock in order to gain
access to the pennies stored within.
Lastly, Jocko's one-dollar price tag (Fig. 2), quite high for those
years, might have proven quite prohibitive and may have limited sales to a
fortunate few. All of these factors contribute to the bank's scarcity
The colors and design of the Little Jocko are most attractive. The
organ is red-orange. The name, "Little Jocko Musical Bank," is gold, as is
the frame around the scene of Venice on the front of the bank. The two
harp designs and the scrollwork decorations on the front, top, sides, and
back of the bank are also gold.
The scene of Venice is executed in delicate pastel shades of white, blue,
pink and brown. The tin cup is gold with a white stripe circumscribing its
The monkey's face, hands, feet and tail are cocoa brown. His cap and
pants are painted bright transparent blue, and he sports a bright
transparent red shirt.
I am not alone in my feelings that much of the charm of this bank
lies in the graphics depicted on its backside (Fig. 3). Here we see a
caricature of a pipe organ, with the pipes depicting comical human faces.
Their colors are bright yellow with red tones. All of the facial features
are drawn in dark blue. The entire organ is outlined in gold.
Because of the Jocko Musical's complicated mechanism and the fact
that it is manufactured largely from lithographed tin, the chances of its
being reproduced are extremely remote. But that does not preclude the
possibility of a recast lead monkey or a recreated tin cup or crank.
Therefore, these parts should be closely scrutinized before contemplating
purchase of this bank. Fig. 4 is a base diagram to better help you
determine the bank's size and scale.
In conclusion, the rarity of the "Little Jocko Musical Bank" not only
lies in the scarcity of its examples, but in the fact that most of those
that do exist have either replaced monkeys, cups, or inoperable musical
mechanisms. And, finding a fine one, complete and in perfect working
condition, offers a monumental challenge to the collector.
CORRECTION: (from October, 1984) In the
August, 1983 issue of Antique Toy World, the "Little Jocko
Musical Bank" article erroneously stated that: "the Ives Blakeslee and
Williams Company manufactured the Organ Bank with Monkey, Cat and Dog and
the Organ Bank with Monkey, Boy and Girl."
The manufacturer should have correctly been listed as the Kyser and
Rex Company of Frankford, Pennsylvania. My sincerest apologies to both
Louis and Alfred C.