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Hold The Fort Bank
(Five Hole Variation)

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine February, 1993

      War games and weaponry have always fascinated youngsters. This becomes evident when children, and boys in particular, are observed at play. They delight in brandishing cap pistols, arranging toy soldiers in miniature army formations, and protecting their combatants within the confines of the impenetrable fort.
     Amongst those who recognized the opportunity to capitalize upon these youthful militaristic fantasies were nineteenth-century mechanical bank manufacturers. These entrepreneurs combined the theme of armed conflict with the then-popular thrift-save-a-penny philosophy which was sweeping the nation. Both the Shepard Hardware Company, of Buffalo, New York, and the J. and E. Stevens Company, of Cromwell, Connecticut, prominent bank manufacturers of the era, produced no fewer than five variants of the "Artillery" Bank (Figure I). In addition, Stevens manufactured the "Target" Bank and the "U.S. and Spain" Bank which also incorporate the fort and the cannon theme.
     Two other mechanical banks utilizing a fort and cannon are the "Fort Sumpter" Bank and the subject of this month's article, "Hold the Fort" Bank (Figure II). Unfortunately, there is little known information pertaining to the manufacturers of either of these mechanicals. The "Hold the Fort" Bank was designed and patented by Samuel Clark of Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Clark was granted Patent number 197,250 on November 20, 1877 (Figure III). As indicated by the patent drawings, the manufacturer adhered faithfully to Mr. Clark's original design.
     The action of "Hold the Fort" is appropriately described in an early trade flyer, Figure IV, as follows: "'HOLD THE FORT' AN AMUSING AND INSTRUCTIVE TOY BANK FOR BOYS. Pull back the ring until the rod is held in place by the lever. Tip the Bank, lay the Coin on the Target, and drop the Shot in the Cannon." "The shot generally follows the coin into the Bank and escapes out of the perforated bottom.
     "The coin placed in position forms the target. The ball projected by a spring strikes the coin with sufficient force to carry it into the bank.
     "A percussion wafer can be used to add to the amusement, and will encourage the saving of money." Deposits are removed by unscrewing the coin retainer, which represents an arched doorway at the end of the bank, directly behind the cannon.
     Interestingly, there are not only two casting variations of "Hold the Fort," but a "Hold the Fort" inkstand. The bank variations are referred to as "Hold the Fort" Bank, five holes (Figure II), and "Hold the Fort" Bank, seven holes. The holes refer to the round portholes cast into the sides of each bank. The aforementioned arched door coin retainer resides upon the five‑hole bank. The seven-hole "Hold the Fort" utilizes a screw-on, rectangular coin-retainer which is located underneath its base.
     An advertisement within the Winter 1877 issue of the American Athletic Journal read as follows: " 'Hold the Fort' Bank. Sent by mail, prepaid, $1.25. A few shot and caps and a flag, are packed with each bank." Also offered by the advertiser is the "Hold the Fort" inkstand. It varies somewhat in appearance from the bank in that its walls have a rougher, pebblier texture and is not as attractively painted. In addition, the name "HOLD THE FORT" is cast onto the lower portion of the front edge. Fortunate is the collector who owns both "Hold the Fort" variants and a "Hold the Fort" inkstand. All are extremely scarce, and all make an attractive display.
     The color schemes of both "Hold the Fort" Banks are similar. The top, bottom, and four sides may be either tan or gray. The crenellations and raised decorations on the walls are dark blue and red. The cannon can be either dark blue or black, and the target enclosure is painted bright red.
     Although the previously discussed advertisement had indicated the inclusion of a flag with the "Hold the Fort" Bank, to date, none has materialized. Nevertheless, if an authentic example were to surface, its colors would certainly be that of Old Glory, i.e., red, white, and blue.
     The "Hold the Fort" five and seven-hole Banks, are equally uncommon, and neither one commands a higher price than the other.
     I am not aware of any existent reproductions. Nonetheless, I am including a base diagram of an original example (Figure V). If a recast were produced, it would be approximately one-quarter of an inch shorter along the base than indicated.
     My thanks to Steve Steckbeck for allowing me to include a photograph in this article of his superb "Hold the Fort" (Figure II).

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