The Cross-Legged Minstrel Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – December,
Negro minstrelsy was a popular form of
entertainment in England as well as the United States during the
nineteenth century. Appearing in gaudy, swallow-tailed coats and striped
trousers, faces blackened with burnt cork, minstrel performers delighted
audiences with their music, songs and impersonations. The "Cross-Legged
Minstrel" bank, shown in Figure I, is a fine example of such a performer
and, if it were not for the overt racist verse printed upon its base, one
might describe this bank as charming and amusing. I quote from the phrase
printed at the base of the minstrel's feet: "Put in a coin, the lever
press down tight/Then you will see a Nigger most polite."
The "Cross-Legged Minstrel" bank was designed by the J. Levy Company,
of White Cross Street, London, England, and granted United Kingdom Patent
No. 543,231 on June 4, 1909. It is commonly assumed that the bank was
manufactured in Germany. This belief is based upon the similarity of
material, construction and lithography to several banks known to have been
manufactured in Germany during this time. These include: "Royal Trick
Elephant," "Monkey With Tray" and "Snake Frog in Pond." Most likely, Levy
acted only as the designer and wholesale distributor, jobbing out actual
production to foreign manufacturers.
It is interesting to note that, while most mechanical banks
manufactured in the United States during that era were produced from cast
iron, almost all of those produced in Germany were fabricated from tin
The rarity of German tin banks, in contrast to most of the cast-iron
banks produced in America, is easily explained. Prior to the First and
Second World Wars, German command ordered the voracious and fanatical
collection and reclamation of all metal objects for usage in war
machinery. This, in addition to the fragility of these tin banks, leads
one to wonder how any were able to survive.
The "Cross-Legged Minstrel" is an extremely attractive mechanical.
For the price of a single coin deposited into the minstrel's chest, the
nattily attired entertainer tips his top hat in a most genteel manner. He
acknowledges your generosity by exposing the words, "Thank You" on the top
of his head. Deposits are removed via a small trapdoor-type key-lock coin
retainer underneath the base.
Examples of the "Cross-Legged Minstrel" which contain the previously
mentioned racist phrase are extremely rare. Most of the banks located have
had the verse deleted. The logical explanation for its removal may
possibly be its exportation to countries which might have considered such
racial sentiments quite distasteful.
Examples of this tin mechanical, both with and
without verse, account for the only variants known. The colors of the
"Cross-Legged Minstrel" are as follows: the minstrel's face and hands are
black; his corneas are white, with black pupils; and his lips are red. His
jacket is bright red with a yellow flower in its lapel. The shirt is
white, and the bow tie is green. The minstrel sports a yellow vest with
gold buttons, and a gold watch fob and chain. His pants are blue and
white-striped, his shoes are orange and his hat is yellow with a black
band. He leans against a tan and green
tree stump. Green vines with red flowers creep up at the rear. The base he
stands upon simulates green grass with red flowers. A red band
circumscribes the entire lower portion of the bank. The prejudicial verse
is printed in black, as is the patent number on the reverse: "Rd No
The "Cross-Legged Minstrel" is quite scarce and extremely difficult
to find in all-original, unbroken condition. A superb example recently
sold for several thousand dollars. This is a sizable sum when we consider
their cost, as indicated in a 1909 Butler Brothers Toy Wholesalers
Catalog. The "Automatic Negro Bank," as it was originally designated, was
priced at $1.85 per dozen!
To date, there are no known reproductions of "Cross-Legged Minstrel."
Nevertheless, the base diagram (Figure II) will aid the collector in
determining size and scale.