Fortune Horse Race
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – April, 2001
The year was 1897. The latest craze to enthrall
the American public was horse racing. Racecourses were being erected more
speedily than jockeys were able to cross the finish line!
Enterprising merchants, ever eager to capitalize on the latest fad,
did not hesitate to react. A plethora of items reflecting racecourse
imagery was produced for the insatiable masses across the nation. Lawns,
patios, and driveways were adorned with "Negro Jockey" statuary. Paintings
and lithographs of popular thoroughbreds graced the walls of restaurants,
men's clubs, and offices. Clothing styles were influenced as well, with
the introduction and popularity of "riding habit" attire. Children's toys
and games were not unaffected by the nation's current obsession, and local
general stores were inundated with these items.
It was during this period in history that several toy mechanical
banks were designed that reflected the horse race theme. Amongst the
distinguished list were "The Race Course Bank" (refer to Antique Toy World
article, April, 1987), "Winner Savings Bank" (Antique Toy World,
2001), and Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank" (Figure 1), the subject of
On October 5, 1897, Mr. Arthur R. Clarke of Chicago, Illinois, was
granted Patent Number
591,110 (Figure 2) for his invention of the "Savings
Bank". He concurrently assigned "three-fourths of its proprietorship to
Emma Allardyce and Victor Dumont, also of Chicago". The "Savings Bank" was
subsequently manufactured by the company indicated along the bottom rim of
the bank, i.e. Norton Bros., Chicago, Illinois (not visible in Figure 1).
Mr. Clarke's intent in creating the "Savings Bank" was, assumedly, to
profit from his invention by its appeal to the public's fascination with
horseracing. To farther enhance its marketability, Clarke designed his
bank to include an additional feature: the captivating element of
revealing one's fortune. It was not until the 1980's, or some ninety years
after its invention, that collectors renamed the mechanical to reflect
both its "horse race" and "fortune-telling" abilities, thus the current
designation, Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank".
Interestingly, during the time in which Arthur Clarke patented his toy
"Savings Bank" he also applied for a patent for a Safety Milk Cabinet.
These patent papers indicate that Mr. Clarke was the proprietor of the
Clarke Safety Milk Cabinet Company of Chicago, Illinois. This information
suggests the possibility that the Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank" was
not an item intended for sale, but rather a free incentive premium offered
to entice purchase or rental of Mr. Clarke's Safety Milk (storage)
Operation of the bank is uncomplicated and effective. A coin is
inserted through the slot at the bottom end of the mechanical. This
activates an internal spring mechanism, which causes the red, white, and
blue horse race wheel displaying letters of the alphabet to spin
counter-clockwise. The wheel will eventually lose momentum and then become
motionless. When this occurs, one of its letters will have stopped at the
tiny pointer located above the "I" in the word "SAVINGS". The letter will
correspond with the alphabetized fortune printed upon the bank's obverse
(Figure 3). The following represents several examples: "C. A
strange experience awaits you"; "I. Your wishes are in vain at
present"; "P. Cast thy bread upon the waters"; "S. Heaven will
bestow blessing upon you"; "T. Your fortune already lies at your
Coin removal can only be executed by prying the bank apart.
Unfortunately, such attempts probably caused irreparable damage and
deformity due to the fragile nature of the bank's construction. This
particular characteristic was an integral aspect of Mr. Clarke's patent
design, as indicated by his written words: "The objects of my invention
are to provide a savings bank or box which should be compact in form,
attractive in appearance, strong and durable, yet inexpensive in
construction, and such a bank or box from which the coins cannot be
removed except by the destruction thereof."
To date, only one example of Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank"
(Figure 1) is known to exist. In addition to the likelihood that few were
produced, perhaps the planned, destructive method of coin removal may
account for its sole survivorship.
To my knowledge, Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank" has not been
reproduced. Nonetheless, Figure 4 is a contour drawing intended to aid the
collector in determining size and scale.
Acknowledgment: The Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank" (Figure 1) is
from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck. Previously, it resided
in the renowned collection of Edwin Mosler, Jr.
July, 2001) Please refer to my article Fortune-Horse Race
"Savings Bank" in the
April 2001 issue of Antique Toy World. In it, I
stated the bank featured and pictured represented the only one known to
exist. Since that writing, I have been made aware of two other examples of
Fortune-Horse Race "Savings Bank". A photograph of one of these is shown
in Figure 5.