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The Mule Entering Barn
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – June, 1987

     The subject of this article is a mechanical bank featuring an obstinate mule, whose actions of refusal to enter a barn evoke doubts as to the appropriateness of its name. Surely, the "Mule Entering Barn" is a misnomer, since the objects which finally gain entry are coins and not mules. Figure I is an advertisement from Ehrichs' Fashion Quar­terly, a nineteenth-century mail-order catalog. In it, this bank is referred to as the "Malicious Don­key Bank," perhaps a more suit­able title. However, to add to the confusion of identifying the bank by its correct name, Figure II represents a page from a catalog of its manufacturer, the J. and E. Stevens Company, who advertised the bank by yet another name — the "Donkey Bank." The origin of the name "Mule Entering Barn" remains a mystery.
     The "Donkey Bank," or the "Malicious Donkey Bank," or the "Mule Entering Barn," was invented by Edward L. Morris, of Boston, Massachusetts, who was granted Patent numbers 223,293 on January 6, 1880, and 230,713 on August 3, 1880 (Figures III and IV). The logic in having two separate patents becomes evident upon close examination of Figures III and IV. The earliest of the patents (indicated in Figure III) utilizes a mule which pivots at the front shoulder. This allows its body to flip hooves over head in order to deposit the coins into the bank. An improvement, as shown in Figure IV, incorporates a one-piece mule, which pivots at the point where its front hooves meet the base of the bank. This amendment to the earlier patent probably allowed for simplicity and greater efficiency in the manufacturing process and was the design reflected in the final production bank pictured in Figure V. The words, "PATD AUG 3D 1880" are incised underneath the base, which assisted in locating the patent papers illustrated in this article.
     It is interesting to note that neither of the patents made reference to the small dog which exits the barn during the height of the bank's action. Perhaps, if one may speculate, its addition was an attempt on the part of the J. and E. Stevens Company to increase the attractiveness and/or appeal of their product. In addition, note Figures I and II. The dog is shown exiting at the opposite side of the barn than the side from which it departs in the final production bank (Figure V).
     The action of the Mule Entering Barn is extremely rapid and quite jarring, and is so described in Figure II: (Place a coin between the donkey's hind legs.) "Touch the knob at the feet of the donkey, and the coin is thrown through the window in the gable of the barn; at the same time the dog springs from his kennel." The deposited coins are removed by way of the round Stevens coin trap underneath the base.
    Edward L. Morris patented two other mechanical banks, both of which incorporate a similar "spring up and over" action. They are the "Darkey Cabin Bank" and the "Acrobats" Bank." These also were manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut.
     There are no casting variations of the Mule Entering Barn, but there are two color variations. These pertain solely to the barn itself, which can be painted with light gray sides and a dark gray roof, or light green sides with a brown roof. The bank pictured in Figure V is painted the following color scheme: the mule is dark brown with a black mouth, mane, tail, and hooves. Its eyes are white with black pupils. The sides of the barn are painted light gray, and the roof is dark gray. All of the windows and archways are outlined in bright red. The peak and edges of the roof, as well as the top perimeter of the base are striped with thin red lines. The interior of the barn has yellow-ochre walls and a green grass floor. The base is reddish-brown, and the little dog is white with tiny black spots.
     The Mule Entering Barn is extremely difficult to locate in unbroken condition. Most often, the mule's tail is either missing or has been replaced.
     This bank has been reproduced. I am, therefore, including a base diagram showing the exact dimensions of an original (Figure VI). A reproduction will appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter in length than indicated.

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