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The British Lion Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine September, 1998

     Images of Various members of the animal kingdom provided a rich source of material for American and European mechanical bank manufacturers. Notable examples of such mechanicals include Kyser and Rex's "Lion and Monkeys" Bank (refer to Antique Toy World, March, 1987), Shepard Hardware's "Jonah and the Whale" Bank (Antique Toy World, July, 1986), Enterprise Manufacturing Company's "Elephant with Man in Howdah" Bank (Antique Toy World, May, 1991), J. and E. Stevens' "Monkey and Coconut" Bank (Antique Toy World, April, 1990), and the subject of this article, Saalheimer and Strauss Company's "The British Lion" Bank (Figure 1).
     It is fortunate that several examples of early twentieth century Saalheimer and Strauss catalog pages (Figures 2 and 3) had been located. These irrefutably identified the bank in Figure 1 to be a product of that esteemed Nurnberg, Germany toy manufacturer. Until the discovery of these illustrated documents, it was virtually impossible to identify either the designer or manufacturer of any mechanical banks produced in Germany prior to 1935. A government mandate that all patents on objects contributing little, or nothing, to industry or society were designated "insignificant patents". These were kept on file for a period of fifteen years and then routinely discarded, thus depriving those patented objects of "a heritage".
     Saalheimer and Strauss was the foremost designer and manufacturer of tin mechanical banks in Europe during the early twentieth century. The intricate die-cut, embossed tin and elaborate full-color lithography of its wares have never been equaled. The quantity and quality of company products can only be likened to those of the premier nineteenth century American cast iron mechanical bank producer, J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut.
     Interestingly, the catalog page (Figure 3) identifies the "British Lion" as 'one of a series of six different subjects, produced with and without movement'. In contradiction, however, eight different subjects from this family have been identified in various collections. These are "British Lion", "Tiger", "Bulldog", "Bear", "Clown", "Harold Lloyd", "African Native" and "Black Golliwog".
     Several of the aforementioned banks were not marketed solely as mechanicals, but were also intended to be candy containers. These were originally supplied with their coin boxes filled with Lyon's Toffees. The following is indicated on their obverses "LYON'S TOFFEES, LONDON, ENGLAND. Do not attempt to work before removing toffees".
     Activation of the "British Lion" is simple and effective.... The looped wire lever on the left side of the lion's head is depressed; simultaneously, its jaw lowers and the tongue protrudes. A coin is then placed upon the tongue, whereupon the lever is released. The tongue, with its monitary bounty, snaps back into the bank and the jaw returns to the position seen in Figure 1. Deposits are retrieved by opening the key lock coin retainer at the top of the coin box, located behind the figure of the lion. Note that those specific examples of "British Lion" banks which exhibit the "Lyon's Toffees" advertising utilize non-locking coin retainers, also located at the top of their coin boxes.
     The "British Lion" mechanical bank is considered quite scarce. Delicacy and intricacy are two attributes characterizing not only the bank shown in Figure 1, but the entire line of Saalheimer and Strauss tin mechanicals. Unfortunately, such qualities did not lend themselves well to longevity, particularly when placed in the awkward hands of young children.
     To my knowledge, none of the Saalheimer and Strauss banks have been reproduced. That does not, however, deny the possibility of a broken or missing piece having been replaced or repaired with a reproduced part. Needless to say, in such an instance the value of banks would be greatly compromised.
     Despite its material (i.e. tin plate) and diminutive size (i.e. 5-7/8 inches, height and 3 inches, width), the "British Lion" is a delightful, colorful, desirable addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The superb example of the "British Lion" Bank (Figure 1) is in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     The Saalheimer and Strauss catalog cover (Figure 2) was supplied by fellow bank collector, Harald Merklein, Nurnberg, Germany.

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