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The General Butler Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – July, 1992

      A most unique and impressive penny bank, and one that deviates from the type usually discussed in this column, is the "General Butler" still bank (Figure I). Its "dual personality" contributes to its desirability and appeal to collectors of both mechanical and still banks. Compared to others in the cast iron, figural, still bank category, it is the largest and most elaborately painted. It also bears an uncanny resemblance to the multifarious family of mechanical banks produced by the J. and E. Stevens Co of Cromwell, CT.
     Unfortunately, there is no mention of the manufacturer of "General Butler" in either catalogs or advertisement of the period, nor in the patent papers shown in Figure II. Furthermore, had it not been for the utilization of a round J. and E. Stevens' coin retainer, its heritage might have remained an enigma.
     The Butler bank was patented by Arnold Seligsberg of New York City on November 12, 1878, and assigned Design number 10,907. Although the patent papers make no mention of the name of its subject, there can be little doubt on the part of the viewer as to the individual's identity. It is a remarkably accurate, albeit cruel, caricature, of the great Civil War statesman, politi­cian, general, and lawyer, Benjamin Franklin Butler (Figure III). In addition, if we were to examine historical records of the period, the idea of his resemblance being merely coincidental would be quickly dispelled.
     The year was 1872 and the country was sliding into a deep depression. An economic phenomenon known as "Greenbackism" was rapidly emerging. Disenchanted farmers and failing businessmen demanded that the government place additional paper money, or "greenbacks," in circulation although they would not be backed by hard gold or silver currency. Benjamin Butler, serving in Congress as an Independent Greenbacker, demanded the government continue the issuance of paper money in lieu of hard currency. Ultimately, the result was uncontrollable inflation and a glut of worthless greenbacks. Mr. Seligsberg's design, Figure II, portrays and describes the character of his penny bank as a green-backed frog "grasping a piece of paper money."
     In 1873, Ben Butler purchased the yacht "America" at a bogus government auction for a mere $5,000. He was the sole bidder, thanks to arrangements by friends in the United States Navy Department.
     As mentioned previously, if there was any question as to who Arnold Seligberg's creature repre­sented, J. and E. Stevens eradicated all doubt. Not only did they refine the bank's facial features to more closely resemble those of Ben Butler (Figure III), they also added the words, "For the masses" on the bank's left arm, "This is $1,000,000" on the package of greenbacks carried in its left paw, and the words "Bonds and yachts for me" on its right arm.
     Created as a still bank, there is, of course, no action which follows the placement of a coin within the general's cavernous mouth. Alas, our green-backed frog remains perpetually unanimated. Deposits are removed by opening the round Stevens' coin retainer underneath the base.
     There are no casting or color variations of the Ben Butler bank. Colors of the bank in Figure I are as follows: the face is painted a pink-flesh tone and the eyes, eyebrows, hair, moustache and claws are black. The belly and back are painted dark green, and both arms and legs are yellow‑green. The paper money in the left paw is bright emerald-green and the base is reddish-brown. Finally, all lettering on both arms and the numbers on the greenback currency  are highlighted in the same pink-flesh tone as the face.
     The Butler bank is considered quite scarce and is sought after by both still and mechanical bank col­lectors alike. A truly superb example was recently purchased at an auction held in New York City. The selling price was that generally realized for a mechanical bank and, not surprisingly, purchased by a collector of mechanical banks.
     To the best of my knowledge, the "General Butler" bank has not, heretofore, been reproduced. Nevertheless, I am including a base diagram (Figure IV). In the even that it had been recast, it would appear approximately one-eighth of an inch shorter along the base than indicated.

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