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Baby Elephant — Unlocks at X O'Clock
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – March, 1999

          Many consider the Golden Age of mechanical bank production to be the years spanning 1880-1920. During this era several outstanding bank designers executed their most notable works. One such prominent individual was Charles A. Bailey, best known for his importance as inventor, chief bank designer, and pattern maker to the J. and E. Stevens Foundry located in Cromwell, Connecticut.
     Although Bailey's career with J. and E. Stevens was a distinguished one, his greatest mechanical bank accomplishments, however, are thought to have been achieved during the years 1880-1882, prior to his employ with that company. Working in his modest factory in Cobalt, Connecticut, Bailey produced classics that included "Chinaman in the Boat", "Darkey Fisherman", "Springing Cat", "Old Aunt Dinah and the Fairy", "Wishbone Bank", and the subject of this article, "Baby Elephant Bank — Unlocks At X O'Clock" (Figure 1). These banks, as well as all other items manufactured at Cobalt, were fabricated of pot-metal, a soft, lead-zinc alloy. Bailey preferred this medium to cast iron due to its extremely low melting point, affording sharpness of detail.
     On November 16, 1880, Charles A. Bailey was issued Patent number 234,518 (Figure 2) for his "Baby Elephant Bank — Unlocks At X O'Clock", possibly his earliest mechanical. Bailey's experience in the design and manufacture of coffin hardware which incorporated finely detailed, free-flowing floral motif was to be reflected in almost all mechanical banks he designed throughout his esteemed career. The intricately carved relief illustrations adorning both sides of "Baby Elephant Bank — Unlocks At X O'Clock" epitomize his craft.
     Other sections of the bank similarly reflect Bailey's talent. The top plate incorporates a well-proportioned clock face with Roman numerals and bold hands, as well as a finely detailed figure of the baby elephant itself. On one side of the elephant's blanket had been cast the word "BABY", while on the other side "BOUT 1". Also on this top section is its name, i.e. "BABY ELEPHANT BANK" and "UNLOCKS AT X O'CLOCK". A small, flat representation of a human baby attached to the elephant's front legs similarly flaunts a most remarkable casting.
     Not only has Charles Bailey's artistry been revealed with his "Baby Elephant Bank", but perhaps in addition, a somewhat bizarre sense of humor. Attempting to motivate children to practice the virtue of thrift, his mechanical depicts a baby elephant dangling a human baby over the gaping jaws of a vicious crocodile. The helpless child is viewed to lament: "Oh, if I had only put my money in the bank". It is only through the deposition of a coin that the child's salvation is realized.
     I am not aware of casting variations of "Baby Elephant Bank — Unlocks At X O'Clock". However, there are several color modifications. All examples have the entire base painted an overall transparent blue japan, with its rectangular wooden closure stained bright yellow. The color dissimilarities pertain to the relief figures of the elephant, baby, and crocodile on both sides of the base. In several examples, these are highlighted in gold. Lastly, the figure of the elephant atop the bank may be painted either light gray, red, or dark gray.
     Operation of "Baby Elephant Bank" is fairly complicated. Initially, the clock hands are set at the X O'Clock position. This permits the elephant to be pushed downward onto the base. The flat hinged figure of the baby fits into its own contoured recess, hooking under a small brass prong, The square protrusion at the top of the baby's head fits into a slot underneath the numeral "X" on the clock face. The clock's hands are then turned off the X O'Clock position, thus locking the baby and elephant securely into place, When the hands are turned once again to X O'Clock, the elephant is released, rearing up on its hind legs and carrying the hinged figure of the baby in its front legs. This action's sole purpose is to expose a slot concealed beneath the baby, thus enabling the deposit of coins into the bank. Monies are removed by unscrewing the wooden base plate.
     Composition and construction of "Baby Elephant Bank" dictate that care be exercised during operation and coin removal. Doubtless, its complexity and fragility have played significant roles in its status as an extremely rare item.
     I am not aware of the existence of any reproductions of "Baby Elephant Bank — Unlocks At X O'Clock", However, high monetary value and ease of casting with soft alloys prompt a word of caution when contemplating purchase of this mechanical. Consultation with a knowledgeable authority on the subject, as well as documented provenance are prudent measures.
     ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The fine example of "Baby Elephant Bank—Unlocks At X O'Clock" is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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