Ding Dong Bell Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – February,
"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
387,472 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
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
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The almost mint, all original example of "Ding Dong
Bell"Bank Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.