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Ding Dong Bell Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – February, 2000

 "Ding, dong, bell,
Pussy's in the well!
Who put her in?
Little Tommy Green,
Who pulled her out?
Little Johnny Stout;
What a naughty boy was that,
To try and drown poor Pussy-cat!
Who never did him any harm,
And killed the mice
in his father's barn.
          —Anonymous, 16th Century

    

     The above version of a well-known nursery rhyme has been passed on from generation to generation since at least the latter part of the sixteenth century. Its trivial verse, spoken in sing-song manner, elucidates the evil committed by one, and the good of another. The theme of this rhyme has been reiterated many times since, and in various forms. One of these is a mechanical bank created during the latter portion of the nineteenth century to teach children the virtues of morality, kindness, and thrift. The "Ding Dong Bell" Bank (Figure 1), when activated, performs on behalf of morality while encouraging saving.
     Initially, the key at the back of the bank is wound several turns, counter-clockwise (as indicated by the arrow). A penny is inserted into the coin slot in the left side of the stage. Little Tommy Green, sitting atop the fence, begins waving his hat while, simultaneously, another lad rings his bell, supposedly to call attention to Tommy's wicked deed. At this instant, our hero, Little Johnny Stout, stands erect, lifting the cat from its intended watery grave. The moral...if you commit an act of cruelty, the bell of righteousness will alert the world to your wickedness! Deposits are removed by opening the key lock tin trap door at the rear of the bank.
     The "Ding Dong Bell" Bank was conceived by William N. Weeden of New Bedford, Mass. Weeden was considered one of the most acclaimed mechanical inventors of his day. He was granted Patent numbers 387,469, 387,470, and 387,472 on August 7, 1888 (Figure 2).
     The "Ding Dong Bell" Bank was ultimately manufactured by the Weeden Manufacturing Company of New Bedford, Mass.
     Figure 3 represents an early nineteenth century advertisement which appeared in Youth's Companion Magazine, a then-popular children's periodical. In it, Weeden offered the mechanical as the "Johnny Green Bank, Price, $1.00 Each". All subsequent flyers and packing labels referred to this bank as "Ding Dong Bell", perhaps considered a more relevant and appropriate name for the subject.
     Interestingly, several of the early Weeden Company promotional items indicated the production of seven different clockwork mechanical banks. To date, only three examples of this series have surfaced, i.e. "Plantation Darkey" Bank (refer to Antique Toy World article, December, 1999), the rare (only one known example) "Japanese Ball Tosser" Bank, and the "Ding Dong Bell". Yet to be discovered are "School Master" Bank, "Grasshopper" Bank, "Little Jack Homer" Bank, and "Old Mill" Bank.
     The "Old Mill" Bank was offered for sale in an advertisement that ran in the July 1, 1886 issue of Youth's Companion Magazine (Figure I). Its price was $1.00 a piece, or given free as an incentive to any child selling subscriptions to the publication. Similarly, the Weeden "Plantation Darkey" Bank was offered for sale, or as a premium incentive. It is curious that, to date, not a single example of the "Old Mill" Bank has been discovered. However, sufficient specimens of the "Plantation Darkey" Bank exist in collections to consider it fairly common.
     The "Ding Dong Bell" Bank is composed primarily of embossed, painted tinplate. The exception is the back wall and bottom, which are constructed of thin sheets of wood.
     Not evident in the photo seen in Figure 1 are several words embossed into both sides and back of the bank. On the left side are the words "SAVE YOUR (PENNIES) AND THE (DOLLARS) WILL TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES", "DEPOSIT HERE". (Note: an embossed likeness of a one-cent piece is in the place of the word "pennies", while an embossed one-dollar coin facsimile replaces the word "dollar".) On the right side are the words, "A (PENNY) SAVED IS A (PENNY) EARNED", "SAVINGS BANK". Here, again, coin images replace the monetary verbiage. Finally, on the back tin trap door are the embossed words, "COIN SAFE".
     The "Ding Dong Bell" is considered extremely rare, with only a handful of examples known to exist in collections. This, combined with its intriguing action and colorful appearance, make it one of the most desirable, highly sought after mechanicals.
     There are neither design nor color variations of the "Ding Dong Bell" Bank. To date, all examples appear as seen in Figure 1.
     I am not aware of the existence of reproductions. Nevertheless, the following dimensions are provided to aid the collector in determining size and scale: Height: 5-1/2 inches; Width: 3-11/16 inches; Depth: 3-1/8 inches.
     On a cautionary note: If contemplating the purchase of a "Ding Dong Bell" Bank, be aware the Tommy Green's hat-waving arm, Johnny Stout's upper torso, and the little boy's bell-ringing arm are very fragile and subject to breakage and loss. In the event an example is discovered missing any of the aforementioned parts, the bank's value would be sorely compromised.
     ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The almost mint, all original example of "Ding Dong Bell"Bank Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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