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The Detection of
Mechanical Bank Reproductions
(Part II)

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

      Mechanical bank reproductions may be categorized into two specific areas: (1) those which are clearly identified as such in their castings, and offered for sale "as is"; and (2) those which were created to replicate authentic antique mechanical banks and serve solely to deceive the purchaser.
     Several "bogus" banks (i.e., those which did not identify themselves as replications) were supposedly produced during the late 1940s by two gentlemen residing in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, identification and realization of these forgeries are difficult since they possess many characteristics similar in nature to original mechanicals. Their castings are extremely smooth and detailed, and their seams are exacting enough to fool the unwary collector. However, knowledge and experience in the detection of frauds can avoid costly errors.
     These reproductions were created by usage of original mechanical banks as master patterns, rather than utilization of master patterns them­selves. Therefore, they lack the extremely fine details of the original banks. In addition, deep, muddy, muted tones of the originals colors were used to give the banks a look of age and authenticity. And, most importantly, each is one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch shorter along the base than the original.
     The following is a listing of several "high quality" reproductions which are believed to have been created by the aforementioned individuals: "Acrobats"; "Boy Robbing Birds' Nest"; "Boy on Trapeze"; "A Calamity"; "U.S. and Spain"; "Chimpanzee"; "Circus Ticket Collector"; "Milk­ing Cow"; "Goat, Frog and Old Man"; "Mama Katzenjammer"; "Peg Leg Beggar"; "Squirrel and Tree Stump"; and "Tabby."
     In addition to these, there were equally fine reproductions produced either by those previously mentioned gentlemen or unidentified others. This list includes: "Bill-E-Grin"; "Boys Stealing Wa­termelons"; "Bread Winners"; "Bull and Bear"; "Dog Charges Boy"; "Bucking Mule"; "Bear and Tree Stump"; "Girl in Victorian Chair"; "Billy Goat"; "Harlequin, Clown and Columbine"; "North Pole"; "Perfection Registering"; "Bismark Pig"; "Shoot-the-Hat"; "Shoot the Chute"; and "Uncle Sam Bust" bank.
     During the 1950s the "Book of Knowledge" issued thirty reproduction mechanical banks as an incentive to purchase its set of children's encyclo­pedias. Each bank displays the following words underneath its base: "Reproduced From Original in Collection of The Book of Knowledge," which is followed by a 1-9/16 inch impression of a circle (Figure I).
     Also during the 1950s, approximately 11 other mechanical banks had been reproduced from the "James D. Capron Collection," and were identified as such underneath their bases. Both sets of these 1950s reproductions are fairly easy to discern. Besides the designations cast into their bases, their surfaces and seams are rough and pebbly. Their paint quality is garish and crude, lacking the subtle color tones and details of an old original mechanical bank. And, as with the unmarked reproductions, each is one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch shorter along the base than the original example (Figure II).
     Most reproductions can be distinguished from original banks by noting either the quality of its casting or the virtues of its paint application. Nineteenth and early twentieth-century toy and mechanical bank manufacturers utilized high-quality, lead-bearing enamels to decorate their wares. The pigments used were of exceptional purity and intensity, never to be duplicated. For example, the yellow pigment (and those colors such as green and orange, which were dependent upon yellow) was derived from uranium oxide. Because of the obvious hazards involved in its us­age as well as those of lead-based pigments, government mandate has restricted sale of both these paint ingredients. Unfortunately, few, if any, substitutes accomplish the same purposes as successfully as uranium oxide for intensity of yellow, and lead, for a thick, smooth-flowing surface.
     Due to heavy applications of paints and the sparse amount of drying time required on the assembly line, particular dryers were used. This resulted in very smooth, glass-hard finishes. As with fine china, this fine old paint cracked and crazed as it struggled against the ravages of time. Close examination of most antique mechanical banks will reveal tiny craze lines throughout their painted surfaces. This is especially true in the deep, creviced areas, where paint might have pooled to an excessive thickness.
     The mechanical bank manufacturers of yesterday employed highly skilled artisans to decorate their mechanical banks. Their brush strokes were deft and knowledgeable. No detail was omitted, as seen in the Shepard Hardware "Uncle Sam Bank" — from the tiny hairs of an eyebrow or eyelash, to the minute buttons, piping and stars on its vest. Conversely, modern reproductions are not manufactured with the same objectives. There is a lack of sensitivity and pride in the fin­ished product. The only goal is to create a "reasonable" facsimile of the original old mechanical bank, with compromise as the standard and not the exception. Paint is applied thinly, using only the basic and primary colors. Mixing subtle tints and shades of colors only increases the cost of the banks, and is omitted from the process.
     Paint thickness, texture, brush strokes, crazing, detail, chipping, intensity, and purity of color are characteristics which can be helpful in determining the age and/or authenticity of a mechanical bank. If further proof of originality is required, ultraviolet, or "black" light, can be useful, although it is not foolproof. When illuminated in a darkened room by this particular light source, "old" paint appears as muted shades of the colors in question. In contrast, newer paints fluoresce, giving the semblance of bright "Day-Glo" hues.
     Undoubtedly, chemical tests and "black" light are valuable adjuncts to the detection of new and repainted banks. However, knowledge, intuition and the experienced eye peering through a high-power magnifying lens also play an important role.
     Correction: (from February, 1994) Refer to Antique Toy World, December, 1993, "Detection of Mechanical Bank Reproductions" Part II: Figures Number I and II, positioned above the photographs of "Teddy and the Bear" banks should be transposed.

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