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The Spring Jaw Bonzo Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – October, 1988

     Another in the series of a relatively rare and interesting group of antique German mechanicals referred to as the Spring Jaw banks is the "Bonzo" bank (Figure I). The series is comprised of seven different subjects which, in addition to Bonzo, include a mule, a parrot, a gray kitten, a bulldog, a chimpanzee, and an alligator. Of these, Bonzo is the only one which represents a known comic character.
     The character, Bonzo, was created in the early 1920s by an aspiring British cartoonist, George E. Studdy. Recognized as the most popular cartoonist in the United Kingdom from 1920 to 1930, Studdy's weekly comic strip depicted the antics of several characters which were in the form of dogs (Figure II). One particular character, a pudgy, white bull terrier named Bonzo, continually appeared in Studdy's strip and gained great popularity with its readers. Realizing he had created an appealing and potentially valuable property, Studdy began to merchandise him. It wasn't long before Bonzo appeared on postal cards, cigarette cards, in children's books, as a stuffed doll, on lamps, toys, ashtrays, souvenirs, articles of clothing, and eventually, in the cinema. It was through this medium that Bonzo became the star of the only successful series of animated cartoon films made in England during the silent film era.
     During the 1920s, Bonzo achieved the same degree of popularity in Britain as did Mickey Mouse here in the United States. However, for reasons unknown, Bonzo never did capture the hearts of the American people, and the character and its creator are almost totally forgotten in this country.
     The Bonzo bank discussed in this article is not the sole mechanical to feature a likeness of this comical pooch. Another early German bank had been constructed out of tinplate. However, unlike the Spring Jaw action, the tinplate Bonzo bank is activated by a lever on its side which causes Bonzo to thrust out his large tin tongue in order to accept the monetary offerings.
     To date, the only documentation of the bank's manufacture is the word "Germany," which is stamped onto the underside of the base. It may perhaps be concluded that the lack of information is the result, in part, of the practices of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century Ger­man patent system. Since these banks and their likes were thought of as relatively insignificant, they were assigned the designation "small patents" which mandated destruction of the patent papers within fifteen years of issuance. This, combined with the lack of advertisements or trade catalogs, make accurate dating quite difficult. It is known, however, that several zinc-alloy still banks, which are similar in design to the Spring Jaw banks, have been pictured in several early twentieth-century German trade catalogs, thus placing the Spring Jaws in an approximate time frame.
     The Bonzo bank, as well as the entire Spring Jaw series, are made of a lead-zinc alloy. They are manufactured by a process called slush-mold casting, which entails filling a multi-section hollow mold with a molten solution of lead and zinc. This hot solution remains within the mold just long enough for partial solidification and adherence to the outside surface of the inner cavity of the mold. The remainder of the molten alloy is then poured out, leaving a hollow replica of the mold's interior design. After the various sections of the mold are removed and detached from this final replica, the various parts of the bank are ready to be assembled and decorated.
     All the Spring Jaw banks have hinged heads which are secured to their bodies by a small, brass, heart-shaped "trick lock" (refer to Figure I).
     Operation of the Spring Jaw Bonzo is uncomplicated and amusing: insertion of a coin into its mouth causes a thin internal leaf spring to vibrate. This activates Bonzo's lower jaw, resulting in the appearance of the pup chewing the coins. In order to retrieve the digested currency, the trick lock must first be removed, allowing the hinged head to be opened.
     The Bonzo bank does not vary in casting or color, and the colors of the bank pictured in Figure I are as follows: its entire body is pure white with black markings. Its eyes are yellow with black pupils, and its nose is also black. Finally, it has a wide, pink mouth with a bright red tongue. An attribute of the Spring Jaw banks, as well as all German zinc-alloy banks, is the extremely close attention paid to both casting and painted details.
     To the best of my knowledge the Spring Jaw Bonzo has not been reproduced. However, Figure III is an outline drawing to aid the collector in determining its size and scale.
     Any information which would shed further light upon the Bonzo bank and/or other Spring Jaw subjects would be greatly appreciated and passed along to readers in future articles. Please send replies to Sy Schreckinger, P.O. Box 104, East Rockaway, New York 11518.

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