The Spring Jaw Alligator
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – October, 1987
An interesting and
relatively undiscovered group of European antique banks is the "spring
jaw" mechanicals. Figure I represents the "Spring Jaw Alligator," one of
a series of seven known "spring jaw" banks. Each of the seven differs in
subject matter — i.e., the aforementioned alligator, Bonzo the dog, a
mule, a parrot, a gray kitten, a bulldog, and a chimpanzee. Although the
Alligator is one of the most common of the series, few collectors can
boast of owning one.
Rather than utilize the alligator as merely a motif, as does the
"Baby Elephant Opens At Ten O' Clock," the "Spring Jaw Alligator" is
unique since it is the only bank known to incorporate the figure of this
reptile into its action. I wish to express my thanks to the renowned
collector and expert on European coin-savings devices, Gerhard Riegraf of
West Germany, for his response to my inquiry regarding the "spring jaw"
series. The following are excerpts from his recent letter:
"Having gone through all of the toy patents registered in Germany
since 1871, I am sorry to report that none were ever issued for a bank
incorporating a "spring jaw" mechanism. My patent attorney advised me that
this type of device could never have been patented under German law, but
would most likely have been issued a "Reichsgebrachsmuster," which
translates to "a small patent" or registered design. Unfortunately, the
papers for this type of patent are usually destroyed after 15 years,
which explains why no patent papers for any of the "spring jaw" series
"Both my attorney and myself are also of the opinion that these banks
must have been manufactured at the turn of the century (1890-1930) since
they were made of a zinc-alloy. This was a popular material utilized in
most German still banks manufactured during that period. To further
strengthen this date contention, we discovered that all of the "spring
jaw" banks employ the same small brass, heart-shaped trick lock to secure
the deposited coins, as several zinc-alloy still banks which are
documented to date exactly within the 1917-18 period."
Operation of the "Spring Jaw Alligator" is incomplex and amusing:
coin insertion into the alligator's mouth (or slot) activates a thin
internal leaf spring attached to its lower jaw. This results in the jaw
"wiggling," giving the illusion that the deposited coins are being chewed.
The "digested" coins are retrieved by unfastening the "trick lock" and
opening the alligator's hinged head.
The "Spring Jaw Alligator" has neither casting nor color variations.
The colors of the bank pictured in Figure I are as follows: the alligator
is painted olive green with reddish-brown highlights. Its nose, cheeks,
stomach, and paws are splotched with white, and the inside of its mouth
and nostrils are pink. Its teeth are white, and its eyes are yellow with
black pupils. Attractive coloration, combined with finely cast details,
are indicative of the entire series of "spring jaw" banks.
Care should be exercised when handling this, as well as any
zinc-alloy bank, since they are extremely fragile and damage quite easily.
This inherent weakness probably accounts for the rarity of the entire
To my knowledge, none of the "spring jaw" banks has ever been
reproduced. However, Figure II is an outline drawing of the "Spring Jaw
Alligator" to aid in the determination of its size and scale.
Any information which would shed further light upon this particular
mechanical, and/or other "spring jaw" subjects, would be greatly
appreciated, and passed along to readers in future articles.