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Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank"
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, March, 2001), and Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank" (Figure 1), the subject of this article.
     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) Cabinet.
     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 door"; etc.
     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.
     Addendum: (from 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.

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