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Bill E. Grin Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine January, 1999

          Diminutive in size, almost completely devoid of color, and minimal action appropriately describe the subject of this article (Figure 1). Surprising, therefore, is the enthusiasm as well as affirmative response from many avid collectors when queried about their desire to obtain a fine "Bill E. Grin" Mechanical Bank. It is these very same individuals who generally prize and seek the more attractive, lively, and colorful mechanicals. Perhaps "Bill E, Grin", despite its lackluster appearance, possesses less obvious, but nonetheless appealing qualities.
     "Bill E. Grin" was conceived by John W. Schmitt of New York City. Other than being granted Patent Number 1,147,978 (Figure 2) on July 27, 1915 for this, his sole bank design and invention, Schmitt remains a virtual unknown. "Bill E. Grin" was subsequently manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. Figure 1 reveals close adherence to Schmitt's patent (Figure 2), with only slight changes in design.
     The name "Bill E. Grin" is believed to have been derived from two still banks manufactured during the early 1900s, namely "Billiken" and "Billy Can". Both were effigies of a Chinese God of good fortune. It was purported that those who deposited coins into the Billiken could expect to receive great wealth and prosperity. During the turn of the century, the Billiken "craze" resulted in the production of countess Billiken toys, figurines, dolls, and related items such as "Bill E. Grin" (Figure 1).
     Helpful information in tracing and documenting a bank's heritage emanates from various sources. One of these may be ephemera, such as a manufacturer's catalog. Figure 3 represents a J. and E. Stevens' catalog page, circa 1915, wherein the "Bill E. Grin" Mechanical Bank was offered to wholesalers and distributors. Other advertisements of the era offered the mechanical to the general public for the price of twenty-five cents, each in its own wooden box.
     Activation and action of the "Bill E. Grin" Bank is described within William Schmitt's patent, "If a one-cent piece is inserted in the slot the eyeballs will be elevated, exposing a blank section thus giving the appearance of merely closing the eyes The tongue will also extend slightly. If a dime is inserted the eyes will roll up and the tongue will project slightly. If a five-cent piece is inserted both sets of eyes will pass through the sockets and the tongue will project to a greater extent. When a quarter is deposited the eyes will raise up, giving the effect of surprise, and the tongue will be extended to its full length". Coins are retrieved by removing the round, patented Stevens' coin retainer underneath the base.
     To my knowledge, there are no color or casting variations of "Bill E. Grin". All known original examples were manufactured of cast iron and painted identical to the one illustrated in Figure I. The "Bill E. Grin" has been reproduced, utilizing original, old factory patterns. Unfortunately, these recasts will match the base diagram dimensions of an original "Bill E. Grin" Bank (Figure 4). However, detection of a spurious example is not an impossible task. Two significant factors prevail: the "imposter" exhibits slightly cruder castings than the original, and its color is an antique tan, rather than the stark white finish indicated in Figure I.
     ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The superb "Bill E. Grind" Bank (Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     Addendum: Refer to Antique Toy World, October, 1998, "Lighthouse Bank". My thanks to fellow collector, Mr. Robert Seebold for providing the following information: Only Liberty head type "V" nickels will register the precise sum of deposits in the bank's tower. These coins were first minted in 1883 and were discontinued in 1912. Subsequent mintings of the Buffalo and Jefferson nickels proved much too thick to stack correctly in the Lighthouse tower. This resulted in faulty operation, and an inaccurate total coin count.

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