The Darktown Battery
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – January,
The subject of this month's article
represents the blend of two incongruous ideas – those of racial prejudice
and baseball. The former was the sentiment expressed by slavery, first
introduced into Jamestown, Virginia, in 1691; the latter was the
brainchild of Abner Doubleday – who, in the summer of 1839, in
Cooperstown, N.Y., allegedly conducted the first game of baseball ever
On January 17, 1888, James H. Bowen, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
incorporated anti-black sentiment and baseball into the "Darktown Battery"
mechanical bank, for which he was granted patent number
376,628 on that
date. Production of the Darktown Battery bank was handled by the J. and E.
Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. As evidenced by the photograph
in Figure 1, it may be said that Bowen's patent drawings (Figure 2) were
adhered to stringently.
The action, coloration, and design of the Darktown Battery have
rarely, if ever, been equaled in the world of mechanical banks. The basic
color scheme is standardized, except for particular instances where the
ball players' uniforms have some slight color variations.
There is only one casting variation of which I am aware, and that
pertains to a thicker baseball bat than the one pictured in this article.
Neither the paint variation, nor the casting variation has any bearing on
the bank's ultimate value.
The color scheme of the Darktown Battery in Figure 1 is as follows:
the pitcher has a red shirt, blue pants, red socks, and tan and khaki
shoes. He wears a bright yellow scarf with black polka dots; his hat is
red and white and has a yellow peak. The batter wears a blue and white
striped shirt with the word, "POSSUMS" in red. His pants are yellow with a
black belt, and his socks are blue with white stripes. He also has tan and
khaki shoes, and his hat is black and white with a yellow peak. His bat is
yellow with a red tip. The catcher has a red shirt, blue pants, tan and
khaki shoes, and his hat is red and white with a yellow peak. All three
ball players have black faces, arms, and hands; red lips; and white eyes
with black pupils. The batter sports a pearly white smile. The ground is
green, olive, khaki, and brown. The front and back of the bank's base is
brown with a dusty pink background, and the words, "DARKTOWN BATTERY" are
painted red. The baseballs are gold, the bats are white with red tips, and
the bottom edge of the bank is painted black.
The action of the Darktown Battery is an outstanding combination of
realism, imagination, and coordination. A coin is placed between the
spring-tensioned thumb and palm of the pitcher's right hand. His arm is
then pulled back and cocked into position. The lever (Figure 3) is then
pushed down; simultaneously, the pitcher releases the coin as his head
snaps back; the batter lifts his bat as his head turns towards the
catcher; the catcher's head moves forward as his hand moves aside to allow
the penny to be deposited into an opened trap door in his chest. The
deposited coins fall through the catcher's body into the base of the bank.
These coins are removed by way of a round Stevens' coin trap underneath
Figure 4 is a copy of a page from the manufacturer's catalog which
describes the Darktown Battery bank, and prices it at a modest $1.00
apiece. This proved to be quite an investment when one considers that,
recently, a Darktown Battery was auctioned off at a price that exceeds the
original J. and E. Stevens catalog price by more than 1,500 percent.
The Darktown Battery bank was quite prone to breakage, and locating
one in superb, all-original, unbroken condition can prove to be quite a
challenge to the collector. The pitcher's arm, the batter's arms and bat,
the catcher's hand, and the open decorations on both sides and the bottom
of the bank are often cracked or broken.
Close examination of this bank provokes wonderment at how something
with such delicate castings could have as many survivors as it does.
Unfortunately, the great appeal and popularity of the Darktown
Battery have inspired many a reproduction and recast. Thus, caution should
be exercised when contemplating a purchase. Aside from rough casting and
crude paint, a recast can be detected by comparing it to the base diagram
(Figure 5) which is included in this article. A recast will appear
approximately 1/8 inch shorter in length.
Several years ago there were authorized reproductions
made of the Darktown Battery bank, but these are easy to detect. The name,
"Darktown Battery" on the front of the bank was changed to "Hometown
Battery," and the ball players are depicted as Caucasians, rather than as
blacks. These banks were made by the Book of Knowledge and are so incised
underneath the base plate.