The Santa Claus Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – January, 1995
Twas the night before Christmas ..." begins
Thomas Clement Moore's poem "The Account of a Visit of St. Nicholas."
This, as well as Thomas Nast's popular illustration of "Father Christmas"
(Figure I), provided the inspiration for a plethora of holiday items,
objects and ornaments during the latter part of the 19th century. Nast's
impression of Santa Claus appeared on a multitude of items, including
Christmas cards, decorations, candy molds, cookie cutters, costumes,
advertisements, games and children's toys.
Charles G. Shepard and Peter Adams, of Buffalo, N.Y., designed a toy
savings bank employing the image of this yuletide legend. They were
granted Patent Number
19,356 on October 15, 1889. Ultimately, their "Santa
Claus" bank was manufactured by the Shepard Hardware Company of Buffalo,
N.Y. As evidenced by the patent drawing in Figure II, the Shepard
Company's final production bank (Figure III) adhered closely to Messrs.
Shepard and Adams' concept.
A mail-order catalog distributed by Montgomery and Ward, circa 1889,
advertised the "Santa Claus" bank (Figure IV), with a selling price of 40c
each. Quite an investment when compared to the recent selling price of a
"Santa" bank in excellent condition, for more than 14,000 times the
original 1889 catalog price!! The "Santa Claus" bank is not considered
rare. However, as with all Shepard banks, finding one in exceptionally
fine paint condition is an almost unattainable challenge. This was due to
the fact that Shepard Hardware never applied a protective undercoat to its
product prior to painting, inevitably resulting in profuse crazing and
badly flaked surfaces. However, despite this flaw in production, to date,
the Shepard Hardware Company remains unsurpassed amongst mechanical bank
manufacturers in having achieved the ideal combination of meticulously
fine castings and highly detailed, delicately painted surfaces.
There are two minor casting, and two color, variants of the "Santa
Claus" bank. These pertain solely to a patent designation cast underneath
the base, and the color of St. Nick's coat. The latter may be either brown
or light grey with white snowflakes and trimmed in reddish-brown fur (see
In both variants, Santa's face and hands are a pink flesh color. He
has blue eyes, white eyebrows, moustache and beard. His mouth is painted
red. St. Nicholas' face is outlined by the bright red inner lining of his
cap. On his back he carries a yellow basket of red toys which are
highlighted in gold. His boots are shiny black, and he stands upon a
rectangular medium-gray platform which bears the words "SANTA CLAUS"
accented in gold. Finally, the chimney is painted bright red with white
In reference to the aforementioned casting variations, some examples
of the "Santa Claus" bank have the words, "PAT. APP'D FOR" appearing on
the underside of the base. This indicates that the production of these
mechanicals took place prior to issuance of the patent (Figure II). Later
examples display the words, "PAT OCT 15 1889."
Operation of the "Santa Claus" bank is uncomplex. A coin is placed
into Santa's right hand. The lever behind his right foot is then
depressed. Simultaneously, his hand lowers, releasing the coin into the
chimney. Deposits are recovered by unscrewing the small, rectangular coin
retainer underneath the base.
Over the years, several reproductions of the "Santa Claus" bank have
been created. Figure V is a base diagram of an original example. A recast
will appear approximately one eighth of an inch shorter along the base,
O.D., than indicated.