The Stump Speaker Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – May, 1985
The Civil War had ended and there were a few
educated slaves who had achieved some degree of self-independence. Many of
these men, dressed in their finest and touting a carpet bag with their
worldly belongings, set out for Washington to champion the black cause.
They traveled the back roads and country sides, collecting money and
preaching political reform for their newly-freed brothers. Many times,
their orations were delivered to the townsfolk by standing on a box,
stool, or a flattened tree stump; hence the name, "Stump Speaker." These
traveling politicians served as inspiration for a mechanical bank, which
is the subject of this article. On November 16, 1886, Charles G. Shepard
and Peter Adams, of Buffalo, New York, were granted Patent number
for their invention of the Stump Speaker Mechanical Bank (Figure 2).
Unfortunately, this bank, as it was ultimately produced (Figure 1),
ridiculed rather than glorified these brave proclaimers of civil rights.
It portrayed them as comical, dwarf-like caricatures, reflecting the
racial prejudice of that era.
Comparison of the patent drawings (Figure 2) and the final production
bank (Figure 1) show several design changes. One example is that the
figure of the man was changed from Caucasian to Negro. A cocked top hat
was incorporated into the final design, and the umbrella at his feet in
the patent drawings was deleted.
It is interesting to note that Design Patent number
June 8, 1886 to Shepard and Adams for their Uncle Sam Mechanical Bank
(Figure 3), also covers the Stump Speaker Mechanical Bank. That date ("Pat'd.
June 8, 1886") is so incised into its base plate. It is not coincidental
that both banks have great similarities between their designs and internal
To operate the Stump Speaker Bank, a coin is first placed into the
subject's right hand. The lever behind his left foot is then depressed,
whereupon the carpet bag opens; the Stump Speaker's right hand lowers,
dropping the coin into the open bag; and his jaw wiggles in a gesture of
gratitude. The deposited bounty is removed by way of a square locking coin
trap built into the backside of the base.
The Stump Speaker was manufactured by the Shepard Hardware Company of
Buffalo, New York, one of the most prolific 19th-century mechanical bank
designers and producers. All Shepard banks exhibited extremely fine and
meticulous paint detail. Unfortunately, because they neglected to
undercoat the banks prior to painting, age, heat cold, and moisture have
caused severe paint deterioration and flaking in all of the banks Shepard
manufactured (Stump Speaker included). For this reason, it is almost
Figure 2 impossible to find a Shepard bank in fine condition. When one
does, it is usually accompanied by an appropriately high price tag.
There are no casting variations of the Stump Speaker Bank, but there
are two color variations. These pertain solely to the face, hands, and
lips of the man. The bank pictured in this article has chocolate brown
hands and a brown face with pink lips. The other variant has black hands
and a black face with red lips. All other colors are constant and remain
basically the same. They are as follows: his hat is light gray with a
black band. He has black hair and black eyebrows. The cornea of each eye
is white with brown iris and black pupil; he has white teeth, each
separated by a thin red line. Our hero sports a bright green suit, trimmed
in red with a red collar. His vest is yellow with black buttons, and he
wears a white shirt with a black bow tie, highlighted in gold. His shoes
are black. The carpet bag at his side is brown and tan with a black clasp
and handle. The platform upon which he stands is dark gray, with thin
white lines delineating each board. The four sides of the base are painted
red with gold lettering. Each corner and the bottom edge of the bank are
painted black with a yellow stripe.
The popularity of this bank may be attributed to several factors: an
attractive and bright color scheme, imposing size, and subject matter that
makes this bank appreciated not only by mechanical bank collectors but
also collectors of political and black memorabilia. This popularity has
led the Stump Speaker Bank to be reproduced. I am, therefore, including a
base diagram (Figure 4), to assist in determining an original from a
recast. The recast will appear approximately one-eighth inch smaller along
the base than an original.