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The Cupola Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine August, 1996

     The massive influx Europeans and Asians during the 19th century influenced various aspects of American culture. Architectural styles, for example, responded to the changes inspired by foreign concepts, as evidenced by the edifices in many towns and cities. One form was the domed building, which originally developed in Italy during the Renaissance and baroque periods, and also became an important architectural design element within many of the Asian religious sects.
     The eagerness of toy manufacturers of the period to capitalize on popular styles resulted in some of the most interesting and graceful architectural-type toys ever produced. In addition to the abundance of still banks which incorporated the cupola, or dome, into their designs, several mechanicals were created utilizing this unique element. These included "Hall's Liliput" (refer to Antique Toy World, May 1987), "Hall's Excelsior" (Antique Toy World, February 1984), "New Bank" (Antique Toy World, March 1996), "Chimpanzee Bank" (Antique Toy World, September, 1983); "Mosque" (Antique Toy World, September 1995), and the subject of this article, "Cupola Bank," Figure I.
     On January 27, 1874, Diedrich Dieckmann, of New York City, received Patent Number 146,755 for his most uniquely styled architectural mechanical bank, namely the "Cupola Bank" (Figure II). It was subsequently manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Conn. The final production bank, shown in Figure I, indicates that Mr. Dieckmann's original design (Figure II) was closely followed. Of particular interest is the fact that the patent makes no written reference to the bank's unique floral-style cupola or design, but rather to its action. To paraphrase the patent papers: "a cover, which can move upward or downward for the purpose of exposing the vibrating figure and opening, and thus allowing the introduction of money into the box."
     Action of the "Cupola" is incomplex, albeit surprising. Initially, the cupola is depressed, locking it into position. The lever emanating from the front door is then pushed inward, causing the cupola to "pop" upward (Figure I), thus exposing the coin slot and the "vibrating" man.
     Deposits are removed by disassembling the bank. This is accomplished by undoing the square nut which is located underneath the base plate. Once the bank is disassembled, it is an extremely difficult task for an adult to reassemble, and virtually impossible for a young child to accomplish. Perhaps this critical design flaw is the major factor responsible for the rarity of the "Cupola Bank." We can only speculate about the number of banks that may have been broken during attempted reassembly, or merely left unassembled and parts misplaced due to frustrating and failed attempts.
     To my knowledge, there are no casting variations of the "Cupola Bank." However, there are several color combinations. I have seen examples with red, blue, pink or green roofs with contrasting red, blue, pink or green cupolas, and red, blue, pink or green sides. It is very likely that examples utilizing other color combinations do exist.
     The colors of the bank pictured in Figure I are as follows: the top of the cupola is red, with its flared section painted dark green. The lower, large flared roof is also painted dark green. The sides of the circular building are light blue, with the windows and front door outlined in red. The vertical columns and archway over the door are painted yellow-ochre. The bell-shaped design and the word "BANK" above the door are painted gold, and the base and stairs are dark green. The man in the cupola has a pink flesh-colored face with black eyes, eyebrows, mustache and goatee. He sports a blue jacket, white shirt and black top hat. The raised letters "PAT. JANUARY 27, 1874" on the front section of the lower flared roof are highlighted in gold.
     The rarity of the "Cupola Bank," its impressive size and attractive, colorful appearance, as well as the recent popularity of architectural banks, elucidate the astronomical price recently realized at an auction for a superb example.
     Fortunately, to date, the complicated castings and design of "Cupola Bank" have discouraged attempts at reproduction. Nevertheless, Figure III is a base diagram of an original example. If a recast were produced, it would appear approximately one quarter of an inch shorter along the base, O.D., than indicated.

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