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The Organ Grinder And
Performing Bear

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine August, 1986

     Of the several mechanical bank manufacturers existent in 19th-century America, few honored the street-strolling organ grinder as often as the Kyser and Rex Company of Frankford, Pennsylvania. Over a period of less than ten years, this now-extinct street entertainer was the subject for five of their banks. Of the five, four incorporated the figure of a monkey the more common companion of the organ grinder, while the fifth bank represented an uncommon sight the organ grinder accompanied by a performing bear. This bank, aptly named, the "Organ Grinder and Performing Bear" is shown in Figure 1.
     The entertainment and action which took place during one of the organ grinder's performances is captured by this most intriguing mechanical. In order to activate the Organ and Bear, the clockwork mechanism must first be wound. This is accomplished by turning the key on the right side of the building. A coin is then placed into the appropriate slot atop the organ. As the small lever in front of the organ grinder is moved to one side, the action commences. The organ grinder's arm starts to crank the organ; the sounds of clacking and ringing bells begin to emanate from within the building. These sounds represent the music of the organ and the growling of the bear. The bear then slowly revolves on its pedestal as the coin drops through the organ, into the bank. These coins are retrieved by way of the square key-lock coin trap underneath the base. Also beneath the base are the debossed letters "PAT JUNE 13 82." This date facilitated location of pertinent patent papers (Figure 2). These papers bear little resemblance to the actual production bank (Figure 1), and, if it were not for the similarities between the small internal worm gear mechanism, the connection between the patent papers and the Organ and Bear bank might have gone unrecognized.
     A brief paragraph within this patent demonstrates the generalities used by Kyser and Rex in an attempt to protect their idea for subsequent use in other mechanical banks: " . .. To combine with said moving figures two or more bells or their idea for subsequent use in other mechanical banks "... To combine with said moving figures two or more bells or their equivalent, which are rung by means of the same mechanism which activates the figures." In addition, and more noticeably, Patent number 259,403 protects three other Monkey and Organ banks: the Organ Bank (Miniature); the Organ, Monkey, Cat and Dog bank; and, the Organ, Monkey, Boy and Girl bank. All were manufactured by the Kyser and Rex Company.
     Louis Kyser and Alfred C. Rex are well-known for the impeccable care and attention they gave to casting, assembly and paint decoration, and the Organ and Bear bank is no exception.
     To my knowledge, there are no casting or color deviations of this bank, although there has been mentioned the possibility of the existence of a variant where the left arm of the organ grinder is also mobile.
     The colors of the bank pictured in Figure 1 are as follows: the base is painted dark green with red and yellow highlights. The bear is brown japan, highlighted with copper; the bar which he holds upon his shoulders is gold. His eyes are black and he has a red mouth. The organ grinder has pink flesh-colored hands and face with black eyes, eyebrows and goatee. His mouth is red. He sports a yellow cap, red shirt and gray pants. The organ is a brown japan finish, outlined in gold. The fence is white and the two figures peering over it have pink flesh-colored hands and faces with black eyes and red mouths. The figure on the left has a blue hat and jacket, and the boy on the right is wearing a blue cap with a yellow shirt. The building is tan with a red roof, and has a red door trimmed in gold. The trim on all windows is also gold.
     The Organ Grinder and Performing Bear bank is extremely fragile. When one is acquired, generally either the fence, the bear, and/or the arm of the organ grinder is damaged or missing. In addition, there may be possible damage to any one of the delicate components comprising the internal clockwork mechanism. The combination of rarity, bright coloration, exciting clockwork action, and multi-sounds have stimulated a great deal of collector interest, resulting in very high purchase prices at two recent antique toy auctions. In contrast, as shown in Figure 3, an advertisement from an 1895 Selchow and Righter toy catalog offers the Organ and Bear bank at $8.50 per dozen!!!
     Although a popular bank, the difficulty in casting and duplicating its clockwork has impeded attempts to reproduce the Organ Grinder and Performing Bear. Nevertheless, I am including a base diagram (Figure 4) to indicate size and scale.
     In addition to this bank, other mechanicals which are activated by a clockwork are: the Freedmans bank (manufactured by Secor); Professor Pug Frog's Great Bicycle Feat (J. and E. Stevens); the Girl Skipping Rope (J. and E. Stevens); and the Motor Trolley bank (Kyser and Rex). Few collectors can boast of having all of these in their collection, but I, for one, will never cease to dream.

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