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Octagonal Fort Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine February, 1999

          No single category of items manufactured within the United States has portrayed this country's history as completely and vividly as the mechanical bank. Subject matter has been quite diverse, with manufacturers utilizing timely, provoking issues such as politics, race, immigration, architecture, etc.
     A topic that proved to be very lucrative was combat, as evidenced by the production of an abundant amount of war-associated examples intended for the youthful segment of the market. Clever entrepreneurs combined the theme of armed conflict with the then popular philosophy of "a penny saved is a penny earned." The result was the production of such notables as "Artillery Bank" (Antique Toy World, February 1988), "Hold the Fort" Bank (Antique Toy World, February 1993), "U.S. and Spain" Bank (Antique Toy World, February 1994), the "Target Bank," and "Octagonal Fort Bank" (Figure 1), subject of this month's article.
     This, as well as most other war-related mechanicals, was produced to commemorate particular historical events. It is assumed that "Octagonal Fort Bank" was a depiction of the battle between Confederate and Union forces which took place at Fort Sumpter. This conflict marked the outset of the Civil War. Seen in Figure 2 is a photograph dated April 14, 1861, and is entitled "Confederate Flag Flying Over Fort Sumpter, South Carolina."
     Unfortunately, there is a total lack of factual information pertaining to the "Octagonal Fort Bank." Sometime around 1954, noted mechanical bank historian, Mr. F. H. Griffith offered his speculations relating to its significance and date of manufacture: "During the 1880s toy salesman, Major Edward Brueninghausen, sold banks and toys he had especially manufactured for his trade. He was a Civil War veteran and had entered the toy business around 1875. It's very possible that the Octagonal Fort was manufactured for and sold by him. And in any event, until such time that refutable evidence might turn up it's logical that the bank represents Fort Sumpter, was made in the period of 1880, and sold by Brueninghausen." Interestingly, to date, no other meaningful information has surfaced relating to "Octagonal Fort Bank." Ergo, Mr. Griffith's illuminating speculations some 44 years ago continue to be accepted as entirely plausible.
     The "Octagonal Fort Bank" is considered a rarity, and particularly so in unbroken, fine paint condition. The poor surface appearance seen on almost all examples is due to faulty paint application at the time of manufacture. The bank was initially prime coated with a hard, glossy, black lacquer. Succeeding colors used for decoration were not able to adhere to the impervious black undercoat, resulting in excessive peeling and flaking.
     Operation of the bank is effective and relevant to the subject. A coin is placed within the muzzle of the cannon. The lever underneath the barrel atop the rear of the cannon is pushed downward, releasing the lever which propels the coin into the fort. Deposits are retrieved by unscrewing the base plate beneath the bank.
     I am not aware of any existent reproduction of the "Octagonal Fort Bank." Nonetheless, Figure 3 represents a base diagram of an original example. If a recast were produced, it would appear one- quarter inch shorter O.D. along the base than indicated.
     ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: The fine "Octagonal Fort Bank" shown in Figure 1 is in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     CORRECTION: Refer to Antique Toy World, December 1998 The correct title of the article should have been: "DARKEY WITH WATERMELON BANK" (and not "Darkey with the Watermelon Bank").

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