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American Bank
(Sewing Machine)

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine November, 2001

     One of the most ingenious labor saving devices of modern times has been the sewing machine. This month's featured bank (Figure 1) owes its origin to this truly remarkable invention.
     Created in the United States by Walter Hunt, circa 1834, the first of these contraptions was referred to as a "lock stitch" sewing machine. Approximately twelve years later Elias Howe of Spencer, Massachusetts elaborated upon Hunt's design. Howe's refinement produced a more functional, utilitarian machine for which he received a patent in 1846. The essentials of Howe's brainchild still remain the prototype for today's home-use sewing machine.
     As is true of any new, important invention, the sewing machine elicited the public's curiosity and excitement. Favorable reaction inspired other inventors to create a plethora of stitching contrivances, each with its own virtues. By 1860, more than seventy-four companies in this country alone were producing sewing devices. By 1880, almost every homemaker in the nation had some access to a sewing machine (Figure 2).
     "The American Bank" seen in Figure 1 is believed to have been a promotional or advertising item exemplifying a sewing machine produced by one of the manufacturers of that era. Common practice during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries was for home appliance manufacturers and retail outlets to supply prospective consumers with toy penny banks fashioned in the form of their wares. Examples were radios, refrigerators, stoves, etc. It was hoped that these representational coin containers would be utilized as budgeting aids for the purpose of saving money to purchase the actual product.
     Several years ago noted historian, Mr. F. H. Griffith, attempted to research the "American Bank". Unfortunately, his dilemma was, and is to date, the absence of any catalog, patent, or manufacturing information pertaining to the subject. He then investigated the American Sewing Machine Company of Massachusetts. After encountering numerous setbacks, Griffith concluded: "There was not much to be learned. However, the company was chartered in April 18, 1854 and dissolved March 31, 1931. No other statistics were available due to the fact that the corporation has been out of existence so long".
     Operation of the "American Bank" classifies it as a semi-mechanical. Its action is independent of coin insertion; rather, the deposited monies descend, innocuously, into the bank. Activation of the "American Bank" is initiated by turning the crank handle located at the left side of the base. This causes the pulley to revolve, thus raising and lowering the faux needle in a realistic manner. Deposits are recovered by unscrewing the cast iron, rectangular coin retainer underneath the bank.
     There are several casting variations of "American Bank" and all pertain solely to its name imprinted upon the facade. The letters comprising the words "AMERICAN BANK" may either be raised, or the word "AMERICAN" alone may be raised and the word "BANK" stenciled in gold. In yet another version, the word "BANK" has been omitted, having been replaced by a decorative design.
     The "American Bank" is an extremely rare, attractive and desirable item. Although it is not regarded as a true mechanical since deposition of coins evokes no action, mechanical bank collectors have welcomed it into their collections. Its appeal and worthiness has been acknowledged.
     I am not aware of the existence of any reproductions of the "American Bank". Figure 3 represents a base diagram of an original example. If a duplicate were manufactured, it would, in comparison, be approximately one-eighth inch shorter along the base, O.D. than indicated.
     Acknowledgement: The "American Bank" (Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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