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 The Spring-Jawed Mule
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – February, 1991

      The old adage, "as stubborn as a mule" most appropriately describes the sub­ject of this month's article. The "Spring-Jawed Mule" bank (Figure I) epitomizes the proverbial lazy mule who has flopped itself down on its haunches, appearing to defy anyone to attempt nudging it into movement.
     This stubborn animal is certainly not an uncommon subject for mechanical banks. Collectors are quite familiar with the Judd Manufacturing Company's "Bucking Mule" bank, as well as J. and E. Stevens' "I Always Did 'Spise a Mule" and their "Mule Entering Barn." However, unlike these cast-iron, American-manufactured mechanicals, the "Spring-Jawed Mule" is of European origin and composed of a lead-zinc alloy. Unfortunately, the bank's inventor and manufacturer are unknown, and had it not been for the word, "Germany" printed underneath its base, its country of origin would also have remained an enigma.
     The "Spring-Jawed Mule" is one of the rarest of an extremely scarce series of seven different spring-jawed animal banks. The set is comprised of a grey kitten, a chimpanzee, a parrot, an English bulldog, Bonzo, the dog, an alligator, and our mule. All members of the entire series are composed of the aforemen­tioned zinc-lead alloy. The low melting point of these metals enabled usage of the slush-mold casting process, an inexpensive and relatively easy method of duplication. The process entailed filling a multi-sectional, hollow mold with a molten solution of the alloy, which remained within the mold just long enough to partially cool and solidify to a thin exterior shell. The remainder of the liquid was poured out, leaving an exact hollow replica of the mold's interior design.
     Needless to say, extreme caution should be exercised when handling these banks as their eggshell-thin casting and the fragile nature of their composition render them susceptible to damage. This, undoubtedly, accounts for their extreme rarity today.
     It is assumed the lack of informative data pertaining to the "spring-jawed" series was the result of a practice common to the nineteenth-century German patent law. During this period, relatively insignificant products, including toys, were designated 'Reichsge­brachsmuster," or registered design, rather than true patent. These documents were routinely discarded after only fifteen years, leaving a void for future collectors who sought knowledge of the authors and manufacturers of these designs.
     Operation of the "Spring-Jawed Mule" is initiated by insertion of a coin through a slot in back of the mule's head. This activates a thin, internal leaf spring attached to the animal's lower jaw. Movement is created, in the form of a wiggling action, which gives the illusion of the beast either braying or chewing the coin. Deposits are retrieved by undoing the small, brass, heart-shaped "trick lock" beneath its jaw, and opening its hinged head.
     To my knowledge, there are no casting or color variations of the "Spring-Jawed Mule." The colors of the bank (Figure I) are as follows: the mule is light grey, highlighted with reddish-brown. Its eyes are orange with black pupils, and its nose and lips are light pink. The interior of its mouth and tongue are a dark shade of pink, and it has white teeth. Finally, it's hooves are black.
     The highly imaginative, artistic and skillfully applied coloration of this rare beauty, combined with its extremely well-detailed casting, make it a most attractive and desirable addition to any mechanical bank collection.
     To date, none of the banks in the "spring-jawed" series have been reproduced. However, I am including a contour drawing of the mule (Figure II) to aid the collector in determining size and scale.

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