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The Owl Bank, Turns Head
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – August, 1994

      An unlikely, or perhaps inconceivable subject for a child's plaything is the image of a bird of prey. And yet, the "Owl Bank," turns head is just such a creation. Represented in Figure I, this ornithological beauty is cloaked in a soft, plush feathery coat. It peers at the world with two large limpid and transparent eyes.
     To date, there are three different cast iron mechanical banks which portray this nocturnal dinizen. In addition to the subject of this article, there is "Owl Bank," slot in head (refer to Antique Toy World, April, 1989), and "Owl Bank," slot in book (Antique Toy World, January, 1990). Of these, "Owl Bank," turns head is the one which most closely mimics the creature it represents. Its inventor and designer, James H. Bowen, of Philadelphia, Pa., was able to capture characteristics endowed by nature such as the owl's large yellow, transparent eyes and a head that is able to swivel a full 90 degrees.
     Inscriptions underneath the base plate of "Owl Bank," turns head which read "PAT'D SEPT 21 & 28th 1880" and "PAT NO 232,628" facilitated location of the patent drawings (Figures II and III). The "Design Patent" (Figure II) was utilized to protect the external features of the invention from pilferage, while the patent shown in Figure III protects the inventor from infringement of the internal mechanical workings of his design.
     The bank shown in Figures II and III was ulti­mately manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Com­pany of Cromwell, Conn. As evidenced by the patent papers (Figures II and III), the final production bank (Figure I) adheres faithfully to these drawings.
     Figure IV represents a page from a J. and E. Stevens' catalog, circa 1906, wherein the "Owl Bank," turns head is offered for sale at the price of both 50 cents and 75 cents each. (The reason for the price differential remains a mystery to this day.) The action of "Owl Bank," turns head is best explained by the following quote from the advertisement (Figure IV): "Place a coin on top of the branch and press the thumb piece at the back, when the head of the Owl turns and the coin is deposited, after which the head moves back to its former position." Deposits are recovered through a round Stevens'-type coin retainer underneath the base.
     Interestingly, there are several painted variations of the "Owl Bank," turns head. Each depicts a dif­ferent specie of owl. The example shown in Figure I is representational of a Snowy Owl and is painted primarily with white plumage. Other colorations are medium-grey plumage for the Barn Owl, brown feathers with yellow highlights for a Barred Owl, and greyish-brown, mottled with light grey coloration for the Great Horned Owl.
     There are no casting variants of "Owl Bank," turns head other than the two different patent desig­nations inscribed underneath the base plates.
     The colors of the bank pictured in Figure I are as follows: the owl is painted an overall white with light grey highlights. It has yellow talons and yellow translucent glass eyes with black pupils. The foliage to the left of its head and the back of the base is dark green with gold embellishment. The bird is perched upon a brown tree stump, the ends of which are painted light tan with brown age rings. The operating lever located at the rear of the base is bright red.
     The "Owl Bank," turns head is considered a fairly common mechanical. However a superb, almost-mint example, or one decorated in one of the scarcer color schemes (i.e. white with light grey highlights) will command a premium price.
     Several reproductions of "Owl Bank," turns head do exist. Figure V is a base diagram of an original example. A recast will appear approximately one-eighth of an inch shorter along the base than indi­cated. Note: the arrows indicate the outside dimensions of the base.

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