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The Tank and Cannon Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine May, 1997

     Weapons and armed conflict have long been subject matter for games, toys, and countless other merchandise. Such was the case in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when several entrepreneurs on both sides of the Atlantic produced a plethora of war-related mechanical banks. These served to fascinate and capture the imagination of young children and, at the same time, encouraged the practice of saving pennies.
     Notable examples of mechanicals in this category include: the "Tommy!" Bank, "Hold the Fort," "The Fort Sumter Bank," "Artillery," King Aqua," "Creedmoor," "Volunteer," "U.S. and Spain," "Wimbledon," "Grenadier," and the subject of this article, the "Tank and Cannon" Bank (Figure 1). Of interest is the fact that, of all the war-related mechanical banks ever produced, only "Tank and Cannon" commemorates the introduction of a then newly developed battle weapon, i.e., the tank.
     The year was 1917, and the catastrophic event was World War I. German machine guns were decimating and demoralizing the British soldiers. England desperately needed a counter-weapon, not only to penetrate the massive barbed wire barricades protecting the German trenches, but to boost the morale of its soldiers with an ominous-appearing, effective battlefield "killing machine." The answer to the British dilemma was provided by Col. Sir Ernest Swinton. He furnished the concept and design for an armor-plated, multi-terrain, tractor-treaded, heavily gunned war vehicle which he nicknamed "the tank" (Figure 2). The then Minister of Munitions, Sir Winston Churchill, advocated quick development and deployment of Swinton's invention, which ultimately resulted in providing yet another nail in the Axis powers' coffin. (Of interest is the derivation of the name "tank." Due to the highly secret nature of this armored vehicle during its developmental stage, the manufacturers designated to produce its armored body were informed by the British government that they were merely building steel water tanks.)
     On January 16, 1919, Robert Eastwood Starkie and his wife, Nellie Starkie, of Burnley, England, were granted British Patent Number 122,123 for their design and invention of the "Tank and Cannon" Bank. Subsequently, on May 4, 1920, the Starkies were also issued United States Patent Number 1,338,879 for the same invention (Figure 3). The words "STARKIES PATENT 122,123," in raised letters and numbers, are seen underneath the base plate, while the word "PATENT" had been impressed into the tank's side.
     It is unclear whether the Starkies actually produced any, or all, of their own mechanicals or subcontracted them to local foundries. Additional banks in Robert and Nellie Starkie's line include: the "Robot" (a depiction of an English letter carrier), the spiral "Aeroplane Bank," and several versions of "Jolly Nigger" bust-type banks. Most of the Starkies' mechanicals were manufactured in cast aluminum, with the occasional use of cast iron, tin, and pressed wood-pulp board.
     The "Tank and Cannon" is a fairly large, heavy, faithful representation of Swinton's World War I vehicle and was produced in both aluminum and cast iron. The example shown in Figure 1 is constructed wholly of cast iron.
     There are several color and casting variations of "Tank and Cannon." Numerous examples are painted a silver color, while the one shown in Figure 1 is an overall brown japan, with gold accents and a base that is highlighted in dark green. Most of the casting variations are insignificant, the most obvious of which are the wheels supporting the cannon. These may be plain (Figure 1) or spoked.
     Action of "Tank and Cannon" is uncomplicated and appropriate to the subject. Initially, the cannon's plunger is pulled back. A coin is placed into the small, square, flat platform at the cannon's muzzle. Upon release of the plunger, the coin is propelled forward through the coin slot into the side of the tank. Deposits are removed by unscrewing one side of the vehicle.
     Despite its fairly crude and heavy castings, the "Tank and Cannon" can be quite attractive when painted in the manner of the example shown in Figure 1. In addition, and for whatever reason, many of the English manufacturers failed to attain the smooth, detailed castings so evident in the cast-iron toys and banks manufactured in the United State.
     I am not aware of "Tank and Cannon" reproductions. Figure 4 is a base diagram of an original example. If a recast were attempted, it would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter O.D. than indicated by the arrows.
     Acknowledgment: The superb example of "Tank and Cannon" Bank (Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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