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The Dinah Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – September, 1991

      History books reveal the anti-black sentiment and racist attitudes which prevailed here in the United States and Europe. In both this country and abroad, hatred and bigotry were the catalysts for the creation of demeaning artwork, literature, and objects, including children's toys. One such example is the "Dinah" mechanical bank represented in Figure I.
     On March 29, 1911, John Harper and Company, Ltd., of Willenhall, England, was granted British Registry Numbers 581,284 and 581,285 for its design of the "Dinah" mechanical bank. This registry protection was extended for five additional years on March 11, 1916, and subsequently for an additional five years on October 5, 1920.
     As evidenced by the Harper catalog page (Figure II) the company engaged in the production of several toy banks reflecting bigotry and racism. These attitudes were expressed, as well, in the United States by Harper's counterparts, namely the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut, and the Shepard Hardware Company of Buffalo, New York. Interestingly, of the many manufactured mechanicals, only one other utilizes the image of a female, namely the "Mammy and Baby" bank (refer to Antique Toy World article dated January 1987) manufactured by the Kyser and Rex Company of Frankford, Pennsylvania.
     "Dinah" is quite graphic and colorful. It is considered by several collectors to be one of the more attractive bust-type mechanical banks. Aside from three color variations of her dress, all Harper "Dinah" banks were painted exactly alike. A yellow, brown, or blue dress would be correct in determining the originality of Dinah's painted surface. The colors of the bank illus­trated in Figure I are as follows: Dinah's face, hair, forearm, and hand are painted black. Her lips, tongue and thin lines between her teeth are bright red. Her teeth are white, as are the corneas of her eyes which have yellow irises outlined in black. Her pupils are black. Dinah sports a bright yellow dress, and her brooch, necklace and earrings are silver.
     Any casting variations apply primarily to Dinah's right arm. It may be manufactured from pressed sheet steel, recognized by its long sleeve which extends to her wrist, or from cast iron (refer to Figure 1) with its short, flared sleeve, terminating at Dinah's elbow. On both variations, the name "DINAH" is cast into her back in large gothic letters and the words "MADE IN ENGLAND" are cast into the base plate underneath the bank.
     Worthy of discussion is the fact that original Dinah "style" banks exist. These banks are made of alumi­num and neither the castings nor the painted surface is as finely executed as the Harper iron "Dinah" banks. To date, there is no information pertaining to their manufacture or circa, but they exhibit the words "MADE IN CANADA" which are cast into their backs.
     Operation of the "Dinah" bank (Figure I) is quite simple and amusing. A coin is placed into her right hand; the lever in her back is pressed downward. Simultaneously, her eyes roll upward, her tongue recedes, and her right arm raised the coin which is flipped into her gaping mouth and deposited within the bank. Coin removal is achieved by unscrewing the base plate from the bank.
     Based upon the amount of banks manufactured and the length of time they were sold, it is reasonable to assume that a substantial quantity of "Dinah" banks still exist. This places it into the "fairly common" category. Nevertheless, as with any mechanical bank, a fine or pristine example will certainly command a significantly higher price than a merely average example.
     Figure III is a base diagram indicating the size of an original "Dinah" bank. I am not aware of reproductions. However, a recast utilizing an original "Dinah" bank for a pattern will appear approximately one-eighth inch smaller than the original bank (refer to Fig­ure III). In all cases, originality can be determined by quality of the painted surface, smoothness of the castings, and overall patina.

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