The Watch Dog Safe Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – July, 1993
What could be more appropriate for the design
of a mechanical bank than a receptacle in the form of a money safe? With
well over five-hundred known subjects, it is surprising that only a
handful of different examples exist which depict this currency-storing
object. These include: tin, "Electric Safe;" "Fortune Teller Savings
Bank;" tin "Magic Safe;" white metal "Magic Safe;" "United States Bank;"
and the subject of this article, "Watch Dog Safe" (Figure I).
To date, neither patent nor design information pertaining to "Watch
Dog Safe" has been located. However, a multicolored, lithographed,
advertising trade card, circa 1880-1890, picturing the bank, attributes
its manufacture to the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut
(Figure II). Unfortunately, no illustration or description of the "Watch
Dog Safe" is to be found in any of the J. & E. Stevens' numerous toy
catalogs or trade marketing literature. The trade card appears to have
been the sole means of advertising of this mechanical bank.
Operation of the "Watch Dog Safe" is amusing and incomplex. A coin
is placed within the slot atop the bank. The lever on the left side is
then pressed upward. Simultaneously, the coin drops within the safe and
the jaw of the Dalmatian guarding the bank opens, emitting a low, barking
sound (accomplished through an ingenious bellows and brass reed device,
secured within the bank's front door). As the lever drops back into
position, the pup's jaw closes and the bank is once again poised for
action. Deposited coins are retrieved by setting the combination wheels to
2-1-7, twisting the door knob clockwise, and then pulling the safe door
"Watch Dog Safe" is typical J. & E. Stevens fare: well-designed,
sharply defined castings, and attractively painted.
There are no casting or color variations of "Watch Dog Safe." The
colors of the example shown in Figure I are as follows: The safe is
painted an overall glossy black with gold highlights. The Dalmatian,
typical of its breed, is white with small black spots. It has black eyes,
eyebrows, a red mouth, and a red collar. The dog sits upon a silver,
fringed shelf. The relief busts of the Roman soldier adorning each of the
safe's sides are painted gold. The crest of his helmet is in the form of a
bird with reddish-brown plumage. The top panel of the bank depicts a
small, brown bird sitting in a cream-colored nest which rests upon a brown
branch with green foliage.
For all the bank's simplicity of form and action,
modest coloration and lack of rare status, a superb, all-original example
of "Watch Dog Safe" with an original, working bellows will command a lofty
price. Few truly superb examples are to be found, even in the more
sophisticated and complete collections of mechanical banks.
Interestingly, the "Watch Dog Safe" trade card (Figure II) is far
more scarce than even the bank itself. A fine example will command a price
equal, or superior, to the bank.
Because of the historical importance of the trade card, I would
appreciate reader(s) in possession of same to contact me, and send a
photocopy for discussion in future articles. Please address all
correspondence to: Post Office Box 104, East Rockaway, New York, 11518.
Lack of scarcity and the complexity of design are factors which seem
to have discouraged reproduction of "Watch Dog Safe." Nevertheless,
Figure III is a diagram of the back panel of the bank. If one was to be
recast, it would appear approximately one-eighth of an inch shorter across
the width than indicated.
Acknowledgement: The rare "Watch Dog Safe" trade card (Figure II) is
from the superb collection of Karen and Larry Feld.
September, 1993) Re.: "Watch Dog Safe" article, Antique Toy World,
1993. Mr. Frank Kidd, of Portland, Oregon, has kindly brought the
following information to my attention: In addition to the fully painted
example of the bank described in the article, a totally nickel-plated
version has surfaced. However, since I have not personally examined the
bank, I cannot attest to its authenticity.