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The Tammany Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine May, 1984

     This month's topic of discussion is a mechanical bank that represents a most controversial and colorful episode in American history. Tammany Hall, the popular name of the Democratic Party's executive committee of New York County, was infamous during the nineteenth century for its widespread corruption.
     As early as 1807, Tammany officials were involved in scandals which resulted in their removal from office. Government mismanagement was rampant, especially when "Boss" William M. Tweed, in 1868, completely dominated the Hall. Tweed's corrupt behavior, which single-handedly cost New York City more than $200,000,000, landed him in prison, where he eventually died. His legacy was to link the words, "Tweed" and "Tammany" with graft and corruption.
     On December 23, 1873, John Hall, of Watertown, Massachusetts, was granted Patent number 145,734 for his design and invention of the "Little Fat Man Bank" (Fig. 1), which he later renamed the "Tammany Bank." The bank, as eventually manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Foundry, of Cromwell, Connecticut, bore little resemblance to John Hall's original patent drawings, other than the fact that the subject was a portly man seated in a chair.
     On June 8, 1875, Russel Frisbie, of Cromwell, Connecticut, assignor to the J. and E. Stevens Co. was granted patent number 164,083 for his invention and redesign of Hall's "Little Fat Man" bank (Fig. 2). Frisbie utilized springs and levers in his bank to perform the action, unlike the weights and counterbalances used by John Hall. (Incidentally, a most interesting fact about the Tammany bank, as well as all mechanical banks invented by John Hall, is that they only perform their action upon the utilization and weight of a single coin.)
     The Frisbie mechanical bank was never produced. Yet, it did bear an uncanny resemblance to Hall's already manufactured Tammany bank.
     On October 9,1877, John Hall was granted a RE-ISSUE for his patent, under number 7,904. These drawings most closely resemble the actual Tammany production bank (Fig. 3). Moreover, it is within these patent papers that Hall, for the first time, actually makes reference to the name, "The Tammany Bank." As to the reason why he did this, I can only offer speculation. Perhaps Boss Tweed's unsavory reputation would have provided an added spark of interest in his "Little Fat Man Bank."
     The Tammany bank has undergone several casting variations that seem to follow the same evolutionary pattern as the previously described sets of patent papers. One variation has only a "half scallop shell" design cast into the sides of the chair, while another has the "half scallop shell" design and the words, "Hall's Pat'd." And yet a third has the "half scallop shell" design and the words, "Tammany Bank" cast into it. There are also three distinctly different cast base plates. One utilizes the round Stevens'-type coin trap for its coin removal; the second utilizes a sliding coin trap; and the third has a rectangular perforated coin trap.
     Besides the above casting variations, there are several color differences. The Tammany Bank pictured in this article has pink, flesh-colored face and hands, black hair, eyebrows and moustache, a white shirt with a blue bow tie, a yellow vest with black buttons, and gray pants with black shoes. He also sports a brown jacket. His chair is light green with red trim. Cast into the back rim of the chair are the words, "Pat'd Dec. 28, 1873."
     In other color variations, the little man's jacket could be painted black and his pants, brown. The chair could be either white or tan with orange trim. Please take note that finding a Tammany bank in still another color combination should not preclude its authenticity.
     As to the action of the bank under discussion, an early J. and E. Stevens Co. advertising flyer (Fig. 4) described it quite succinctly: "Put a coin in his hand and see how promptly he pockets it and how politely he bows his thanks."
     Several years ago, a fellow bank collector offered an interesting interpretation of the "Tammany bank's action: 'Assuming the bank was, in fact, an effigy of the infamous Boss Tweed, the coin placed into his hand might be likened to a bribe and the polite nod of his head, a confirmation of a corrupt deed granted.' "
     The Tammany bank gained great popularity during the period of its manufacture, thus providing the impetus for almost unlimited production. The overabundance of supply in the marketplace resulted in it becoming one of the most common mechanicals. Nevertheless, this has not had any affect on its popularity or desirability with today's bank collectors.
     Because the Tammany bank has been reproduced, I am including a base diagram showing its exact dimensions (Fig. 5). A reproduction will be approximately one-eighth of an inch smaller than indicated.

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