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Chinaman in the Boat
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine June, 1999

          Gold! Its discovery in California in 1848 sparked massive migration by treasure seekers from all points of the globe. Expectations soared for the multitudes who arrived to seek their fortunes and escape from impoverishment.
     The hills of California attracted persons from as distant a land as China, with an estimated 25,000 Chinese immigrants in 1851, and escalating to a staggering 250,000 by the year 1880. They were regarded as "cheap labor" employed primarily as mine workers, carpenters, track layers, cooks and domestic help.
     However, the growth and strengthening of labor unions began to turn the tide against this group of "foreigners". Support from influential politicians resulted in the passage of a law in 1882 which restricted Chinese laborers from entering the United States for a period of ten years. The outcry for deportation of all Chinese soon emanated from the disgruntled American working class. The Democratic Party as well as the Workingman's Party proclaimed their sentiments with banners declaring "The Chinese Must Go!". Oriental residents of this country were now victims of increasing hostility, prejudice, and ruthless acts of cruelty.
     Sometime during the period of 1879-1882, a lead-zinc alloy mechanical bank entitled "Chinaman in the Boat" (Figure 1) was created. Intended as a child's toy to encourage thrift, it capitalized upon the dehumanization of unwanted Asians through a caricature. The appeal of "Chinaman in the Boat" relied upon gross and erroneous perceptions of Chinese culture.
     As seen in Figure 1, this mechanical portrays a Chinese man garbed in native attire. He is seated in a junk. A black cat is perched upon the bow of the craft, and a square imprinted flip-type lid lies directly in front of the seafarer. There are numerous inscriptions strategically placed upon the boat which serve to further dishonor and humiliate these Oriental outcasts. On the deck behind the Chinaman are the words "Hotel Yacht, Free Excursion, Music By The Band Forward When It Is Not Seasick". On one side of the cat is the phrase "I Am Seasick Oh Morrow". It appears obvious that the attempt is to equate, in a satirical manner, the screeching of a wretching, seasick cat with the high-pitched notes of a Chinese orchestra. In addition, the words "Cash, Cheap Labor, Hotel Dinner One Cent In Advance" are printed on one side of the square flip-type lid in front of the Chinaman. When this piece is flipped, an oval tray appears; on it are a dead rat, a place setting of a knife and fork, and the words "Dinner Is Ready". The widespread, derogatory untruth was that the Chinese national delicacy was boiled rat.
     The attempt at racial disparagement is further demonstrated by operation of the "Chinaman in the Boat" Bank. Initially, a coin is placed upon the space marked "Cash" which is positioned directly in front of the Oriental. The Chinaman's queue is then pressed. Simultaneously, his left arm rises, flipping over the lid-type cover, thus exposing a dish containing the dead rat and the words "Dinner Is Ready". During this action the coin is deposited within the boat's hull. When the queue is released the Chinaman's arm descends and the square cover slips back to its original position. Monies are removed by unscrewing the deck from the hull of the boat. (Worthy of mention is the fact that, during this shameful era, the deplorable practice of pulling a Chinaman's queue was an acceptable and oft- repeated act by common rabble malcontents.)
     Unfortunately, to date, there has been no factual evidence to reveal the identity of the inventor and/or manufacturer of the "Chinaman in the Boat" mechanical bank. However, consensus of opinion amongst bank collectors and historians is that master bank designer, Mr. Charles A. Bailey, was its creator and its site of production was Cobalt, Connecticut. Assumptions are based upon several similarities between "Chinaman in the Boat" and mechanicals conclusively attributed to Bailey at his Cobalt factory. These include a comparable style of lettering used on his "Baby Elephant Bank, Opens At X O'Clock" (refer to Antique Toy World, March, 1999) and "Darkey Fisherman Bank" (Antique Toy World, May, 1999). In addition, all banks produced in Cobalt, including "Chinaman in the Boat", have highly-defined, beautifully-detailed castings. Also reflected in all of these early banks is Bailey's uniquely wry, sardonic, unorthodox sense of humor. Most importantly, "Chinaman in the Boat" is constructed of precisely the same lead-zinc alloy utilized in all of the other banks manufactured by Bailey at his Cobalt facility.
     I am not aware of any casting variations of "Chinaman in the Boat", but there is a color variant. The bank may be painted in the colors seen in Figure 1, or partially finished in semi-transparent japan colors (i.e. the Chinaman wears a red jacket with yellow trousers; the bottom of the boat retains the natural silver-grey color of the lead-zinc alloy from which it was produced, while the top half of the hull is japanned a glossy purple color). All other parts of the banks are decorated in similar colors to the example in Figure 1.
     The mechanicals produced by Bailey at his Cobalt plant are considered quite rare. I am assuming that very limited production, combined with fragile materials and construction, account for their present status.
     To date, no reproductions of the "Chinaman in the Boat" mechanical bank have surfaced, and none are believed to exist. Nonetheless, the side elevation diagram seen in Figure 2 is intended to aid collectors in determining size and scale.
     ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The "Chinaman in the Boat" Bank (Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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