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The Horse Race Bank
(The Race Course Bank)
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine April, 1987

     On August 15, 1871, John Hall of Watertown, Massachusetts, commemorated the illustrious "Sport of Kings" with his creation of an outstanding mechanical bank. On that date he was granted Patent number 118,011 (Figure 1) for his "Race Course Toy Bank" (Figure 2).
     Horse racing had its humble beginnings in England circa 1174 A.D. The first mention of a formal horse race which involved money occurred during the reign of Richard I (1189-1199) when, at Whitsuntide, a purse of forty pounds in "ready gold" was run over a three-mile course. In 1665, Richard Nicolls, the British Governor of New York, introduced horse racing to the Colonies. It was received with great enthusiasm and enjoyed immediate success. By the late nineteenth century horse racing had firmly entrenched itself as a major pastime in the States.
     It was precisely that sense of chance and excitement indicative of horse racing which John Hall so aptly captured in his "Race Course" mechanical bank. He had created a toy, a game of chance, but most importantly, a savings device. Although one was unable to predict the outcome of a race, no money could be lost!
     The operation of the Horse Race bank was elucidated by printed instructions on a label which was glued to the top of each purchased bank, and positioned in front of the coin slot. The label read: "Pull the cord to set the spring. Place the horses' heads opposite the star; deposit the coin in the opening and the race will begin." A unique feature of all mechanicals invented by John Hall was that a coin was necessary to initiate the action. These include the "Hall's Excelsior," "Hall's Liliput," and "Tammany" banks.
     The Horse Race Bank was manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. Figure 3 is a copy of a page from one of their wholesale toy catalogs. It is interesting to note that the bank illustrated on that page depicts two jockeys riding sulkies. To date, no example of the Horse Race Bank has surfaced incorporating such figures.
     There are two distinct variations of the Horse Race Bank. One is commonly referred to as the "straight base" version, and the other, as the "flanged base." The Patent drawings in Figure 1 illustrate the straight base, while the photo in Figure 2 portrays the flanged base. (The designation "straight" and "flanged" refer to the circular base plate at the bottom of the bank.) Other dissimilarities between the two are the archways and triangular peaks, with each variant utilizing differently-designed castings. In addition, the flanged base bank incorporates a screw-secured, sliding coin trap, while the straight base has no coin trap at all.
     Aside from these casting variations, there are several color combinations. The bases and tops of the banks could be any combination of red, blue, yellow, white, or green. The Negro figure is always painted black with white eyes and a red mouth. The jockeys are always Caucasian and their mounts are reddish-brown and white, respectively.
     The Horse Race Bank is constructed, with the exception of the jockeys and their horses, of cast iron, the aforementioned being composed of painted tin-plate.
     The colors of the bank pictured in Figure 2 are as follows: the round filigree  top plate is painted white with red decorations. The star and words, "PATENTED AUG 15, 1871," are also painted red. The figure standing beside the coin slot is black and has white eyes and a red mouth. His shorts are white with red decorations. The coin slot is green with white and red designs. The archways are white, red, and green. The top side wall of the bank is painted red and green with a thin, curved white stripe. The base is white with red door trim, and the word "BANK" is green. The bottom flange is green and red. One horse is reddish-brown, and other is white. They both have black bridles, manes, tails, hoofs, and eyes. One jockey wears a tan cap and trousers with a green shirt, while the other sports a red shirt with yellow-ochre cap and trousers.
     The Horse Race Bank is quite scarce, especially in superb all-original, unbroken condition. Its fragile castings, delicate tin figures, and intricate construction all pay tribute to its rarity. It is a bank which requires extremely careful examination when contemplating purchase.
     This bank has been crudely reproduced and, therefore, presents no real challenge to detection. Nevertheless, I am including two base diagrams "straight base" (Figure 4), and "flanged base" (Figure 5) to help determine size and scale.

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