The Grenadier Bank
(a unique color variant)
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – October, 1993
Boyhood fascination with implements of war has
long been recognized by toy manufacturers both in this country and abroad.
Notable examples of toy mechanical penny banks employing the theme of
battle and men-at-arms which were created during the 19th and early 20th
centuries include: "Creedmoor Bank," "Volunteer," "U.S. And Spain," "Tank
and Cannon," "Artillery," "Tommy," "Octagonal Fort," "Wimbledon," "Hold
the Fort," and the rare "King Aqua" bank.
One of the more attractive and appealing mechanicals on this subject
is the "Grenadier Bank," pictured in Figure I. It was created by the
leading British mechanical bank manufacturer, John Harper and Company,
Ltd., of Willenhold, Staffordshire, England. Founded in 1790, the company
manufactured hardware items, doorstops, toys and both mechanical and still
banks. Examples of mechanical banks in the Harper line included: "Jolly
Nigger - Hi-Hat," "I Always Did 'Spice a Mule," "Speaking Dog," "Tommy,"
"Volunteer," "Hoop-La," "Football Bank," "Dinah," "Kiltie" and "Giant in
Tower." Their cast-iron toy and bank production took place from the 1880s
until World War II, when the shortage of ferrous war materials caused the
company to cease production. After the war, and until 1953, Harper
manufactured only a limited selection of still banks.
Unlike its counterparts in the United States, the John Harper and
Company, Ltd. mechanicals never attained the level of achievement of
meticulously fine castings and delicate paintwork of either the Shepard
Company, of Buffalo, New York, or the J. and E. Stevens Company, of
Worthy of discussion is the historical significance of the
"Grenadier." During the 17th century, the military employment of grenades
necessitated the recruitment of soldiers possessing exceptional physique
and strength. These "special" battalions were known as "Grenadiers." They
wore either fur or brimless cloth hats, thereby removing obstacles which
might interfere with the action of throwing a grenade. In later years the
Grenadier units were phased out, since nearly all ground combat troops
were trained to use grenades.
Operation of the "Grenadier Bank" is quite simple: the notched slide
atop the rifle barrel is pushed back and clicked into place. This causes
the soldier's head to tilt forward, as if taking aim. A coin is then
balanced atop the rifle directly in front of the slide. The Grenadier's
right shoe is then pressed downward, thus releasing the slide which shoots
the coin into the tree trunk, striking an internal bell. Simultaneously,
the man's head snaps backward, as if reacting to the rifle recoil. Coin
removal is accomplished by opening the round, Stevens-type coin retainer
underneath the base.
Although there are no casting variations of which I am aware, there
are several color variants. These pertain solely to the figure of the
Grenadier; the colors of base and tree trunk remain consistent. The base,
with its grassy representation, is painted dark green. The rock-like
objects on the base, as well as the tree trunk, are dark brown. The top of
the tree trunk is yellow, and the round coin slot target area is white.
The Grenadier's face and hands are a pink-flesh color. His eyes,
eyebrows, moustache, hair, rifle and shoes are black. He wears a red hat
with a yellow emblem. His tunic is red with a yellow belt, and his cape
and pants are painted navy blue. (Examples exist in which his pants are
painted gray.) The unique color variant in Figure I has the Grenadier's
pants, tunic, cape and hat painted khaki, with the hat's emblem
highlighted in gold.
Figure' II is a copy of a 19th-century John Harper and Company, Ltd.
catalog. In it, the "Grenadier" is offered at "47/6 per dozen, finished
in fancy colors and packed one in a box."
The "Grenadier Bank" is not considered rare, but is quite scarce,
particularly in complete, all-original, superb paint condition. Just as
the Shepard Hardware Company, in the United States, did not undercoat
their mechanical banks prior to painting, neither did John Harper and
Company, Ltd. This resulted in both manufacturers' products experiencing
excessive paint loss due to normal handling and/or unfavorable
As a note of caution, "rare" examples of "Grenadier" exist where the
figure sports a short "Creedmore"- type cap with a long peak. It is
believed that this head and cap were not of original Harper Company
manufacture, but rather as a later addition by an unscrupulous dealer for
the purpose of deceiving collectors.
Figure III is a base diagram of an original "Grenadier Bank." If one
were recast, it would appear approximately one-quarter of an inch shorter
along the base than indicated.