The Mamma Katzenjammer
(a unique paint variation)
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – January,
Mama, the Captain, Hans, Fritz, and the Inspector
were the cast of characters of a popular turn-of-the-century comic strip
called "The Katzenjammer Kids." "Katzenjammer," a word in German slang
meaning "hangover," was exactly what the mischievous Hans and Fritz gave
to their doting mama.
The Katzenjammer Kids cartoon strip was created by Rudolph Dirks*
(Figure 2) and appeared under his pen and authorship from 1897 until 1912,
in a newspaper entitled the New York Journal. Then, when Dirks tried to
take a year's vacation during the time the strip was enjoying its heyday,
the Journal terminated the artist's employment Dirks still retained the
rights to draw his characters, which he did, under the title, "The Captain
and the Kids," for another newspaper, the World. Meanwhile, the
Journal retained the name, "Katzenjammer Kids" and commissioned another artist,
Harold Knerr, to recreate Dirks' comic strip for them. These two comic
strips ran simultaneously for more than thirty years.
Mama, one of the strip's leading characters, was the inspiration for
the creation of a mechanical banks which is the subject of this month's
article. The Mama Katzenjammer bank depicts this perplexed character
desperately trying to separate her bickering sons, Hans and Fritz (Figure
1) — and the action of the bank punctuates her frustration. A coin is
deposited into a slot in her back. This causes her large eyes to roll
upwards in despair. As the coin falls into the bank, her eyes return to
their normal position. The coins are removed by way of a large round
Stevens'-type coin trap.
The Kenton Hardware Company of Kenton, Ohio, manufactured this
nostalgic piece of whimsy some time between 1890 and 1920. Although it was
the only mechanical bank that they ever produced, Kenton was one of the
most prolific iron toy manufacturers of the period. They, and other toy
companies, created several other toys and banks utilizing the Katzenjammer
characters. There is a bell toy that depicts a spread-eagle Captain with
Hans and Fritz riding upon his back. Another bell toy shows Hans and Fritz
on a see-saw. And still another has Mama spanking both Hans and Fritz.
Finally, there are two small roly-poly-type tin still banks of European
manufacture, one of Mama, the other of the Captain.
The Mama Katzenjammer mechanical bank is one of limited action, but
its subject matter and colorful appearance more than make up for that
The bank pictured in this article is unique by not being painted in
the conventional manner, and because of this, has the distinction of being
considered a rarity. One should take note that antique cast iron
mechanical banks were hand painted by workers, who, for the most part,
maintained a high degree of creativity and artistry. This creativity
occasionally resulted in banks which expressed individuality by deviating
from the normal color scheme, and, thus, many have become coveted prizes
for the collector.
The coloration of a Mama Katzenjammer bank usually has Mama wearing a
high necked ultramarine blue dress with black shoes. She has black hair.
Her teeth are large and white. Fritz, the fellow on her right, has a
yellow shirt with a white collar, red trousers, white socks, and black
shoes. He has blonde hair. Hans, to Mama's left, sports a red shirt, with
a white collar and a large black bow tie with white polka dots. He has
yellow trousers, white socks, and black shoes. His hair is black. All
three figures have pink skin, dark pink mouths, and blue eyes (portraying
a strong family resemblance).
The Mama Katzenjammer bank pictured in this article is painted in
almost the same colors as the one previously described, except for the
omission and change of several articles of clothing. Fritz is naked,
except for his brown shoes; and Hans is not wearing pants. Mama's gown is
low-cut and trimmed in white lace.
The two halves of Mama are secured by a large single rivet passing
through the front and back of her waist.
An original Katzenjammer bank is quite rare, and its scarcity becomes
even more evident when one discovers how few original examples exist. For
fear of being redundant, I must once again caution the collector of
mechanical banks, and especially this particular one, to be extremely wary
when contemplating a purchase. One of the keys in discerning an original
from a fake is paint quality and vividness. An original Mama
Katzenjammer's colors are extremely bright and pure. The recasts were
painted in dull hues, to have the banks appear old and dirty.
I am also including a base diagram of an original bank (Figure 3). A
recast will be approximately 3/32 of an inch smaller than the size
Knowledge, awareness, and detection of reproductions are the
collector's greatest assets in ultimately avoiding frustrating and costly
*Figure 2 shows a caricature of the Captain, Mama, the Inspector, Hans,
Fritz, and Rudolph Dirks, drawn by Dirks himself.
March, 1984) It has been brought to my attention that the article concerning
the "Mamma Katzenjammer" mechanical bank (Jan. 1984 issue of Antique Toy
World) incorrectly stated that the Kenton Hardware Company manufactured
only this particular mechanical bank. The fact is that Kenton also
produced the "Standing Bear" (slot in chest) mechanical bank.