The Tommy Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – October, 1996
Raging Battles, courageous soldiers, artillery,
all symbolic of war, have fascinated most young boys throughout the ages.
Entrepreneurs, eager to capitalize upon the imagination of youth, had
brought to the marketplace objects and playthings which focused upon armed
Among those opportunists were 19th and 20th-century mechanical bank
manufacturers, both in the United States and abroad. Enterprising
individuals creatively combined the theme of warfare with the maxim, "A
penny saved is a penny earned." Notable examples of such mechanicals
include: "Creedmoor Bank," "Volunteer," "Grenadier," "U.S. and Spain,"
"Tank and Cannon," "Hold the Fort," "King Aqua," "Artillery," "Wimbledon,"
and the subject of this article, the "TOMMY!" bank (Figure I).
The "TOMMY!" bank was produced by Great Britain's foremost mechanical
bank manufacturer, John Harper and Company, Ltd., of Willenhall,
Staffordshire, England. The company received British Registration Number
642,816 on October 14, 1914, for its design. That number and the word
"BEATRICE" are cast into the underside of the base. "BEATRICE" was a term
utilized by Harper to designate a specific series of its mechanical banks.
Figure II represents an illustration of the "TOMMY!" bank as it
appeared in an early John Harper and Company catalog. Figure III is a page
from another of its catalogs, wherein several other mechanicals were
offered for sale.
The Harper Company was quite prolific, and some examples of its
products include: "Jolly Nigger—Hi Hat," "I Always Did 'Spise a Mule,"
"Speaking Dog," "Volunteer," "Grenadier," "Hoop-La," "English Football,"
"Dinah," "Kiltie," "Giant in the Tower" and "Wimbledon." The company's
manufacture of cast-iron toys and banks began in the 1880s and continued
until the shortage of ferrous war materials experienced during World War
II necessitated cessation of operations.
The "TOMMY!" bank was manufactured and sold circa World War I. Its
rarity is attributed to limited production dictated by the British
government's usage of iron as a war material. In addition, of those few
manufactured, many may have subsequently been consumed by World War II
Of interest is the name of the bank itself, specifically the origin
of the word "Tommy." It is the shortened version of the fictitious name
"Thomas Atkins," which was utilized by the British military as the
standard, or model, when filling out printed forms, analogous to our "John
Doe." Figure IV is a vintage photograph of a Tommy outfitted in the
traditional khaki service uniform of the British army. Comparison to the
"TOMMY!" bank (Figure I) reveals an accurate and dignified representation
of these World War I servicemen, complete to the color and type of attire.
Action of "TOMMY!" is uncomplicated and appropriate to the subject.
The brass coin launcher atop the rifle is pulled back and set into place.
Simultaneously, the marksman's head tilts forward as if taking aim. The
coin is then placed atop the gun barrel. The lever at Tommy's side is
pressed downward, causing the arm and hand to be raised. This releases the
coin launcher, propelling the coin into the tree stump. Tommy's head snaps
backward, as if reacting to the rifle's recoil. Deposits are retrieved by
unscrewing the base plate underneath the bank.
To my knowledge, there are no color variations of the "TOMMY!" bank,
and only one minor casting variant. The coin shooter atop the rifle is
composed of either brass or iron, cast smooth or ribbed.
The colors of the bank shown in Figure I are as follows: Tommy's face
and hands are a pink flesh color. His hair, eyebrows, eyes, mustache and
shoes are painted black. His uniform, hat and puttees are painted a
military khaki. The tree stump is dark brown with a yellow top. The rifle
is a silver color and rests upon a light brown mound. The grass and entire
lower sections of the base are painted dark green. The word "TOMMY!" which
is cast onto the top of the base is highlighted in gold.
To date, I am not aware of any attempt to reproduce "TOMMY!".
Nonetheless, Figure V is a base diagram of an original example. If the
bank were to be reproduced, it would appear approximately one-quarter inch
shorter along the base than indicated.