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
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
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The superb "Bill E. Grind" Bank (Figure 1) is from
the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
Addendum: Refer to Antique Toy World,
"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.