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
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
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
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
Acknowledgment: The superb example of "Tank and Cannon" Bank (Figure
1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.