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The Presto Bank
(Penny Changes to a Quarter)

by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – May, 1993

      The thrill of  easily-acquired wealth, as well as man's fascination with magic and illusion were, perhaps, the sparks that ignited the idea for the ingenious "PRESTO" Mechanical Bank, Penny Changes to a Quarter, as shown in Figure I. Of all the so-called illusory banks, i.e., "Multiplying," "Smyth X-Ray," and the subject of this article, "Presto," none adheres to the vernacular "presto, chango" as doggedly as the latter.
     An advertisement from an 1884-1886 toy jobbers catalog (Figure II) expresses this con­cept simplistically: "You drop a penny in the PRESTO BANK and it appears to be transformed into a twenty-five cent piece." The primary difference between the aforementioned "Multiplying" and "Smyth X-Ray" Banks and the "Presto" Bank is that the former utilize mirrors in order to achieve their illusory effect while "Presto" employs a series of clear and ground glass plates, combined with a facsimile coin to attain its result.
     Henry C. Hart and James W. Cross, of Detroit, Michigan, were the inventors of "Presto." They were assigned Patent number 296,689 on April 8, 1884 (Figure III). The bank, illustrated in Figure I, was subsequently manufactured by the Henry C. Hart Manufacturing Company of Detroit, Michigan.
     The patent drawings indicate the intricacy of "Presto" Bank with its twenty-six separate and exacting components. This complexity, combined with its fragile, thinly cast, iron walls and glass plates most assuredly accounts, in part, for its extreme rarity. It is puzzling that even a single example of so frail a bank could survive at the hands of youngsters, and the ravages of time. To date, only three "Presto" mechanicals are known to exist in collections. The bank represented in Figure I has the distinction of being one of two totally original and complete examples known. This outstanding specimen resides in the superb collection of Mr. and Mrs. Steve Steckbeck.
     In contrast to other highly imaginative, gloriously colorful mechanical banks produced during the same era, "Presto" conveys a colorless, lackluster, boxey appearance. This may have also contributed to its present-day scarcity, as weak consumer demand might have dictated a limited number of banks manufactured. If drastic price reduction attests to weak or faltering sales, the toy jobbers advertisement (Figure 11) illustrates that concept quite clearly: "PRICE, $2.00 PER DOZEN. FORMER PRICE, $3.00 PER DOZEN."
     Operation of the bank is initiated by placing a penny into the coin slot located above the word "PRESTO!!'' A light source must then be reflected upon the slanted, frosted glass plate. The depositor then peers into the round viewing hole. As the lever is pushed downward, the penny drops into the bank and in its place there appears a twenty-five cent piece. Deposits are removed by unscrewing a rectangular coin retainer underneath the base. The words "PATENT APL'D FOR" are also inscribed upon the base plate.
     There are no casting or color variants of the "Presto." The colors of the example shown in Figure I are as follows: the bank is painted bright red overall; one side has figures climbing a ladder, at the top of which there is a man with a telescope sitting in front of an American flag. At the base, children with musical instruments are seen marching in what appears to be a parade. The other side shows a boy with a sled, a man peering through a telescope and people climbing upwards on a ladder, with the individual at the highest point reaching as if for the sun. Embossed upon the back of the bank are the words "We offer aid to all who strive to make one penny twenty-five." The front end is emblazoned with the word "PRESTO!!' All aforementioned figures and words are highlighted in gold. Finally, the lever, base plate, coin slot border, and the interior of the viewing section are painted black.
     To date, there seems to have been no attempt to reproduce the "Presto" Bank. Nevertheless, Figure IV represents a base diagram of an original example. If a reproduction were manufactured, it would appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter along the base than indicated.

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