The Motor Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – August, 1995
Historical events, social issues and the
celebration of new and exciting inventions are among the topics depicted
in antique toys and mechanical banks. The collector and historian are
often provided with an abundance of information relating to various eras.
The subject of this article, shown in Figure I, pays homage to an
invention which revolutionized the transportation industry.
With the advent of the steam locomotive during the early mid-19th
century and its rapid expansion in the United States, other cleaner and
less-noisy means of travel were sought — especially within urban and
highly populated areas. It was not until the latter half of the 19th
century that a successful, operational "electric traction" car was
developed by Mr. Leo Daft of New Jersey. His invention involved the use of
a small carriage, or troller," which rode above overhead electrified
wires, thus gathering power for the vehicle's motor. From this little "troller"
of the Daft system evolved the word "trolley."
Street cars and trolleys suddenly acquired a particular appeal and
fascination. They were glorified and romanticized in story and song.
Manufacturers utilized the image of the trolley to sell various
merchandise, from toys to foodstuff.
On April 30, 1889, Alfred C. Rex, of Philadelphia, Pa., was granted
402,351 for his toy "Motor Bank" (Figure II). The bank was
ultimately manufactured by the Kyser and Rex Company, of Frankford, Pa.,
who strictly adhered to the patent design, as evidenced by the drawings in
Figure II. It is alleged that the J. and E. Stevens Company, of Cromwell,
Conn., later obtained patent rights to the "Motor Bank." However, their
production of the bank has never been verified.
Of interest in the fact that, in the patent papers, Mr. Alfred Rex
described his invention as a coin-operated toy, while in the patent
illustration he indicated its name as a bank.
Action of the "Motor Bank" is quite entertaining. Instructions are
printed upon a small label affixed to its underside: "Directions — To
connect mechanism push catch in rear platform into left-hand slot of
shaft: To disconnect, push into the right-hand slot. To wind hold bottom
of car toward you, bottom side up and key in right hand. To start push
coin or other object in money slot, thus releasing spring and the car will
run. When mechanism is disconnected the car can be drawn along with a
string without injury to it, otherwise it cannot." As the car is set in
motion, a bell chimes from within. Deposits are removed by unlocking the
raised, cupola-like section of the roof.
Figure III is an offering for the "Motor Bank," priced 90 cents each!
It appeared in the Montgomery Ward and Company catalog, circa 1889.
There are two casting and two color variants of the "Motor Bank." the
undercarriage may be either perfectly smooth, or have reinforcement ribs
cast into it. The panel under the windows that contains the number "125"
may be either light green or ultramarine blue. Neither casting nor color
variation has any bearing upon the bank's desirability or value.
The colors of the bank (Figure I) are as follows: the roof and front
and rear doors are painted red, as are the motorman's platforms, which are
outlined in gold. The sides of the bank are bright ultramarine blue and
light yellow, with the words, "MOTOR BANK" highlighted in red, and the
number "125" accented in gold. The wheels are black.
The words, "PAT. APL. 30. 89" are cast into the undercarriage.
The "Motor Bank" is extremely rare, with only a handful of fine,
all-original, working examples existing in collections. Most often, when a
fresh example is discovered it is either broken, missing parts or lacking
a considerable amount of its paint.
To date, the "Motor Bank" has not been reproduced. Nevertheless, I am
including a base diagram (Figure IV), demonstrating size and scale. A
reproduction, if it were to be created, might appear approximately
one-eighth inch shorter in length than indicated.
Acknowledgement: The superb example of the "Motor Bank" shown in
Figure I is from the Steckbeck collection of mechanical banks.