The Elephant with Tusks on Wheels Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – February, 1992
During the mid-to-late nineteenth century,
rivalry between entrepreneurs such as P.T. Barnum and Adam Forepaugh led
to shenanigans which are believed responsible for elevating the American
circus to unparalleled heights. It was this rivalry which also led to the
creation of a legend in the form of "Jumbo," the infamous circus
phenomenon. This largest of all living creatures on earth exerted a
tremendous impact upon the population during that time. As "Jumbo-mania"
swept the nation, the elephant's likeness was utilized in conjunction with
products such as packaged foods, clothing and toys.
One of these toys was the "Jumbo" mechanical bank (Figure I)
produced by J. and E. Stevens Co. of Cromwell, CT. The success of "Jumbo"
is believed to have given the impetus to the manufacture of another bank,
and the subject of this article, namely "Elephant with Tusks on Wheels."
Figure II represents "Elephant with Tusks," which was produced by the Kyser and Rex Co. of Frankford, PA.
For several decades, information pertaining to patents,
advertisements and catalogs for this mechanical appeared to be quite
elusive. For this reason, as well as the remarkable similarities between
"Jumbo" and "Elephant with Tusks," antique toy historians conjectured that
both banks had been manufactured by J. and E. Stevens. Recently, however,
Mr. Anthony Annese, a friend and a collector of antique toy catalogs,
brought to my attention an 1882 copy of a Kyser and Rex jobbers catalog
illustrating the "Elephant with Tusks on Wheels" as one of their products
(Figure III). The following description was contained within the
advertisement: "No. 115, Size 3 inches high 4 inches long and 2 wide. The
animal moves its head when a coin is deposited. It is a toy as well as a
bank. Painted natural color, and packed one-half dozen in a box and two
gross in a case."
The "Elephant with Tusks on Wheels" is handsomely designed and
executed. This is typical and consistent with the entire line of toys and
banks manufactured by Kyser and Rex. Their finely detailed castings and
artistic finishes have placed them alongside J. and E. Stevens and the
Shepard Hardware Co. as the three leading nineteenth-century mechanical
The action of "Elephant with Tusks on Wheels" is incomplex (and
reminiscent of the "Jumbo" bank in Figure I). A coin is placed into the
slot in the elephant's back which causes its head to nod up and down.
Deposits are removed by opening the screw which fastens both halves of the
There are no casting or color variation of "Elephant with Tusks." The
colors of the bank shown in Figure II (as well as the "Jumbo" bank in
Figure I) are as follows: the entire body and head are painted dark brown.
It has white eyes with black pupils and a red mouth. Its blanket is bright
red, fringed in yellow. The platform and wheels are bright green.
Repeated references throughout this article have been to the
similarities between "Jumbo" and "Elephant with Tusks." However, they
differ significantly in the matter of scarcity. "Elephant with Tusks on
Wheels" is considered extremely rare in view of the fact that merely four
or five examples are known to exist. Possibly, Kyser and Rex may have
infringed upon a design or mechanical patent relating to the J. and E.
Steven's "Jumbo" bank. Or, perhaps, their "Elephant with Tusks" bank was
too similar in action and appearance to "Jumbo." In either case, Kyser and
Rex may have ceased production and sales of their bank voluntarily, or
through court order, resulting in the current situation wherein few
examples are known to exist.
Figure IV is an ad from an 1886 Selchow and Richter toy jobbers
catalog, offering the Kyser and Rex "Elephant Bank" for the modest sum of
$1.75 per dozen!
I am not aware of any reproductions of "Elephant with Tusks on
Wheels." Nevertheless, Figure V is a base diagram which should help
determine the bank's size and scale. A recast would appear approximately
one-eighth inch smaller than indicated.
Note: The "Elephant with Tusks on Wheels" bank shown in Figure II is
a superb, all-original example from the Steckbeck Collection.