The Mikado Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – December, 1996
Nineteenth-Century America realized an influx of
immigrants from foreign lands. Oppressed, persecuted peoples, as well as
those seeking their fortunes and that "pot of gold" arrived on the shores
of the "land of opportunity." However, treacherous, lengthy journeys were
offtimes rewarded not with friendship and open arms, but with wariness and
These evils were reflected in many products of the era, including
children's playthings. Therein, newcomers were often depicted as buffoons,
subjected to cruel jokes and pitiless mockery. Several mechanical penny
banks expressed the stereotyped prejudice prevalent at that time. Examples
indicating the ill feelings directed towards persons of Oriental heritage
include: "Reclining Chinamen" (refer to Antique Toy World,
"Chinamen In the Boat," "Japanese Ball Tosser," "Coolie Bank," "Mandarin,"
as well as the subject of this article, the "Mikado Bank" (Figure I).
The year was 1885, and the highly successful and prolific British
team of Gilbert and Sullivan was enjoying enormous success in America and
abroad with its latest operetta The Mikado, a parody of Japanese life.
Eager to capitalize upon the success of this musical, another highly
successful team, the accomplished American toy manufacturers Louis Kyser
and Alfred C. Rex, of Frankford, PA., combined the popular theme of
Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta with America's anti-Oriental sentiment.
The result was the "Mikado Bank," as seen in Figure I. The Kyser and Rex
creation was a ludicrous, stereotypical representation of the exalted
emperor, or Mikado, of Japan. This embodiment of divine ancestry was
portrayed as a con artist engaged in the old Chinese shell game,
attempting to lure pennies from children.
To date, there is no known data indicating the designer and/or
manufacturer of the "Mikado Bank," and the words "PAT. APLD, FOR,"
impressed into the top of the desk, offer no clue. However, several
design, mechanical and color similarities strongly suggest the possibility
that Kyser and Rex produced this mechanical. This is further confirmed by
the interchangeability of the back's key-lock coin retainer with another
known mechanical manufactured by this company, namely the "Lion and
Monkeys Bank." Despite the fact that Kyser and Rex created many banks with
racially motivated themes, its line of production was extensive, with such
non inflammatory examples as "Bowling Alley Bank," "Chimpanzee," "Organ
Bank with Cat And Dog," "Confectionary Bank," et cetera.
Action of the "Mikado" is ingenious and intriguing. It is aptly
described in an 1886 Selchow and Richter toy jobbers catalog (Figure II).
To quote from that advertisement: "Place the coin in the recess in the top
of the cabinet, under the hat of the Mikado's right hand, and when the
lever is turned the coin will disappear and reappear under the hat in his
left hand, where it will remain until another coin is deposited, when the
first coin will drop into the bank. A sweet chime of bells will be heard
when the lever is turned. The bank is richly painted and decorated and
packaged each in a wooden box. 8.50 per dozen." It should be noted that
only large 19th-century pennies must be utilized for the bank to operate
properly. Deposits are removed by undoing the square key-lock coin
retainer underneath the base.
The "Mikado Bank" is categorized as a rare mechanical. Considering
its price, as indicated in the aforementioned 19th-century advertisement,
today's possession of one dozen banks, each in its own wooden box, would
be valued at upwards of one million dollars!
There are two casting variations of "Mikado." One operates with
internal bell chimes, and the other does not. There are also two color
variants, and these apply to the cabinet, with one version painted blue,
and the other, red. The figure behind the blue cabinet version is attired
in a red kimono and yellow hat, while the figures behind the red cabinet
sports a yellow kimono and blue hat.
The colors of the bank shown in Figure I are as follows: the
face and hands are painted a pale pinkish flesh color. He has white eyes,
black pupils, black eyebrows, a black que, red nostrils and a red mouth.
His kimono is red; the buttons, collar and stripes on his sleeves are all
painted a yellow color. He wears a yellow hat with a blue band. The bells
in his hands are brown with a red stripe. The cabinet is an ultramarine
blue with the oriental designs, etc,. highlighted in copper, gold and
silver. The words "MIKADO BANK" atop the desk are highlighted in gold. The
Mikado's chair is yellow with blue trim.
Fortunately, complicated design and mechanism have discouraged
attempts to reproduce the "Mikado Bank." Nonetheless, please note the base
diagram of an original example (Figure III). If a recast were attempted,
it would appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter along the base than
Acknowledgment: The superb, all-original "Mikado Bank" (Figure I) is
housed in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.