The William Tell Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – November,
The legend of William Tell symbolizes man's
quest for individual and political freedom. Tell supposedly existed
between the latter part of the 13th century and the early part of the 14th
century. As the legend relates, he and his son traveled to the city of
Albdorf, Switzerland, which was then occupied by the Austrians under
Gessler, a cruel and power-hungry man, demanded acknowledgment of his
sovereignty by proclaiming that each passerby curtsy to his hat, which had
been placed upon a stake in the Main Square. William Tell refused to pay
homage and was subsequently punished. He was ordered to test his
marksmanship by using a crossbow to shoot an apple from his son's head. To
Gessler's amazement, Tell succeeded, whereupon he commented that his "next
arrow was destined for Gessler's heart," Gessler's response was to have
Tell imprisoned. However, William Tell was to escape and eventually, to
carry out his threat by slaying Gessler in an ambush. Tell's heroic deeds
reached their culmination in Switzerland's liberation from Austria on New
Year's Day in 1308.
Approximately 583 years hence, on June23, 1896, Russle Frisbie, of
Cromwell, Connecticut, honored William Tell by designing a mechanical bank
in this legendary hero's image. On that date, Frisbie was granted design
25,662 (Figure 1). He assigned the rights to the patent to
J. and. E. Stevens, also of Cromwell, Connecticut, who eventually
manufactured and marketed the bank. The final production bank (Figure2)
follows this patent quite faithfully. Yet it only protects the external
configuration and subject matter, and not the internal mechanism. Most
likely, the mechanism was covered under a previous bank, possibly one
either similar to, or the same as, the Creedmoor Bank. The Creedmoor was
patented by James H. Bowen, of Philadelphia, on November 6, 1877 (Figure
3), and was manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company.
The design of the William Tell bank is true to the popular legend except
for one distinct difference: Tell brandishes a rifle rather than a
crossbow. The action of the bank is aptly described in a 1906 J. and E.
Stevens Company catalog (Figure 4): "Place the coin in proper position on
the barrel of the rifle Press the right foot and the rifle shoots the
apple from the boy's head. As the coin enters the castle, it strikes a
gong bell. It is so arranged that a paper cap may be fired at the same
time." (Figure 2 shows the bank with the apple shot off the head of Tell's
son. The apple is reset by lowering the boy's right arm.)
There are no major casting or color variations of the William Tell
mechanical, other than some banks having the patent date cast underneath
the base or some minor color changes pertaining to the boy's costume or
The colors of the bank pictured in Figure 2 are as follows: William
Tell's hands and face area pink flesh color; the corneas of his eyes are
white with black pupils, and he has black hair and eyebrows; his lips are
red. Tell's hat is gray with a red plume, and his jacket is black with red
trim and a red belt. His sleeves have yellow puffs at the shoulders. The
cape is black with a brown collar and red lining. His pantaloons are
yellow, and his stockings area pink flesh color. He wears brown boots. The
rifle is black with a gold coin pusher. Tell's son has pink flesh-colored
arms, legs, and face He has black hair, eyes, and eyebrows. His shirt is
red and his kilt and boots are orange. The apple atop his head is yellow.
The castle is tan with gold decorations, and the entire base is painted
light green, splotched with gold. The underside of the bank is, as are all
Stevens' banks, painted with a creamy white protective coat, which was
probably used as a rust preventative (another example of the pride and
care these early toy manufacturers incorporated into their product).
There is a rare version of a William Tell bank which was made in
Australia and has Tell sporting a crossbow. It is considerably larger than
the Stevens' William Tell bank.
Also, unlike the cast iron bank designed by Frisbie, the Australian
version is made of aluminum and pressed steel.
The William Tell bank pictured in Figure2 is not considered rare.
However, its extremely attractive coloration, combined with its glamorous
subject matter, has made it quite popular with today's collector.
This mechanical has been reproduced from the Book of Knowledge
collection. I am, therefore, including a base diagram (Figure 5) to aid
the collector in determining an original from the recast. The reproduction
will appear approximately one-eighth inch smaller in length than an
Correction: Referring to the
September 1985 issue of Antique Toy
World magazine, the photograph of the Organ Tiny bank was erroneously
represented as actual size. The actual bank is smaller than the
photograph. Please refer to the base diagram pictured in that article for
the correct dimension.