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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 Figure III).
     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 mortar lines.
     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.

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