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The Detection of
Mechanical Bank Reproductions

(Part I)
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – November, 1993

      A problem which may occasionally confront both the novice and the experienced collector is the detection of reproduced mechanical banks. Unfortunately, this situation has become increasingly more frequent over the past few years due to prices of mechanical banks which have risen to unprecedented heights. It is, therefore, advantageous to be able to recognize recasts since knowledge acquired through education and experience may minimize the possibility of unknowingly acquiring a reproduced example.
     Recognition of a reproduction is dependent upon awareness of the unique, inherent characteristics of a genuine antique mechanical bank and the standards practiced at the iron foundries during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. These include the molding and casting process, and the application of paint to the assembled mechanical bank surface. Scrutinization of an old, original mechanical bank would reveal glass-smooth, highly detailed castings and tight seams that had been fitted precisely. Figure I is such an example: i.e., "Teddy and the Bear" bank, circa 1907, manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Conn. In contrast, a reproduced mechanical bank manufactured by a modern iron foundry will display poorly fitted parts; gaping seams; soft, indistinguishable detail; and a coarse, pebbly textured surface (eg, Figure II: A reproduction "Teddy and the Bear" bank, circa 1957, distributed by the "Book of Knowledge Collection").
     One of the primary reasons for the radical differences in surface texture and appearance between a recently produced bank and an antique mechanical is the quality of molding sand each of the iron foundries utilized in its casting process. Nineteenth and early-20th­century foundries used an extremely fine-textured, high-grade casting sand in their molds. The result was a much smoother finish than those cast from molds utilizing a cheap, coarse grade of sand which is commonly used by modern-day foundries. However, it is not solely the quality of the sand which guarantees the sharp, crisp castings inherent to all antique mechanical banks.
     All antique cast-iron mechanical banks commence as highly detailed master patterns. These were handmade and carefully finished working models of the mechanical bank that would ultimately be manufactured. They were usually comprised of a soft, easily workable metal, such as bronze or lead. The individuals responsible for their creation were exceptionally skilled and trained master craftsmen. The master pattern parts were then pressed into the sand molds, forming an exact hollow replica of the pattern's surface. Subsequently, molten iron, poured into these molds, when cooled emerged as precise, smooth, beautifully detailed parts for a mechanical bank.
     On the other hand, procedures of the contemporary iron foundries differ from the archaic casting process previously discussed. Not only do they utilize actual antique mechanical banks as their master patterns rather than the actual highly detailed master patterns themselves, but they press the banks into coarse sand in order the create their molds. The results are reproductions which lack the detail and smooth characteristics of the old, original bank.
     Probably the most significant factor in determining a reproduction, aside from appearance, is the fact that mol­ten cast iron shrinks approximately one-quarter of an inch per foot as it cools. The reproduction "Teddy and the Bear" bank, shown in Figure II, measures approximately one-quarter of an inch shorter along its base than the original "Teddy and the Bear" bank in Figure I.
     Next month: The detection of reproduced mechanical banks through their painted surface, and a list of significant antique mechanical banks that have been reproduced.

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