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English "Football" Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine September, 2001

     Football, or soccer, in one form or another, has been in existence for centuries as indicated by ancient historical records. The Chinese played the game of "tsu-shu" more than 2,000 years ago ("tsu" meaning kicking with the foot, and "shu" referring to stuffed leather ball).
     Soccer was introduced to England, or Briton as it was then known, sometime around 10 A.D. via invasion by the Romans. The game was disorderly and excessively violent, with its participants battering and maiming one another. Although the Romans departed Briton in 409 A.D. this unruly, haphazard version of soccer continued in the same manner for approximately twelve centuries (Figure 1).
     Sometime about the year 1800, the game evolved into the more familiar nonviolent form wherein only the ball is propelled solely with one's foot. This civil modification alone resulted in a soaring of the sport's popularity.
     In 1848 the major Prep schools agreed upon the "Cambridge Rules", a basic set of edicts that became the definitive regulations of soccer. In 1863 soccer clubs in London created the "Football Association", the world's first organized soccer league. Further modifications over the years elevated this sport to its position as England's national pastime. Premium salaries were paid to talented players; children had visions of becoming soccer heroes; fans crowded local stands to root for their favorite team.
     British toy and mechanical bank manufacturers, as their American counterparts, were eager to capitalize upon popular trends. On January 7, 1895, inventor-manufacturer, John Harper of Willenhall, England was awarded Registry Number 247,326 (Figure 2) for his design of a mechanical bank featuring an English football player.
     The "Football Bank" (Figure 3) was subsequently produced by England's foremost mechanical bank manufacturer, John Harper and Company, Ltd., of Willenhall, Staffordshire, England, at its Albion Works Foundry. Figure 4 represents an advertisement from the company's 1895 wholesale toy catalog. In it, the "Football Bank" is offered "48 Shillings per dozen. Boxed singly."
     Operation of the "Football Bank" is noncomplex; its action is swift and effective. A large English penny is placed upon the sloped platform in front of the player's right foot. His right leg is then pulled backward, thereby locking it into kicking position. Upon pressing the lever his leg snaps forward and kicks the penny through the slot between the goal posts. Deposits are retrieved by unscrewing the goal building from the base of the bank.
     All examples of this mechanical display the words "Football Bank" which had been cast into the top of the base. In addition, the numbers "247326" were cast into the back of the goal building, and RdNo 247326 PATENT APPLIED FOR" is seen cast into the underside of the base. There are several casting variations of "Football Bank". The coin slot can be one of three different sizes; the player can be composed of either brass or iron; in some the Registry number was cast into the leg and, in others, no number is shown.
     There are numerous color variations. As indicated in the Harper and Company toy catalog advertisement (Figure 4), the soccer player was "supplied in club colours, for orders of three-dozen or more". Also, I have seen goal posts and front latticework painted in several different combinations.
     In addition to the aforementioned, there are variations in the style of shirt worn by the soccer player. It may be V-neck, turtleneck, or crew neck. In examples of early manufacture, the player sports a cap upon his head; in a later version, he is hatless.
     The English "Football Bank" is quite scarce, especially when found in superb condition. Unfortunately, Harper Company neglected to undercoat its banks prior to application of paint. Thus, moisture, heat, cold, or any degree of rough handling over time resulted in most examples experiencing profuse flaking of their painted surfaces.
     English "Football" is an attractive addition to a mechanical bank collection. Its desirability is enhanced when displayed alongside other sports-related examples such as "Darktown Battery", "Calamity", "Leap Frog", "Horse Race", "I Always Did `Spise a Mule", etc.
     I am not, at this writing, aware of the existence of any reproductions of "Football Bank". Nonetheless, Figure 5 represents a base diagram of an original example. If a recast were attempted, the base would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter in length O.D. than indicated.
     Acknowledgements: The superb example "Football Bank" is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     My thanks to John and Adrian Haley for contributing copies of the English Registry papers seen in Figure 2.

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