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John Bull's Money Box
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine January, 2002

     Our subject of discussion this issue is a cast iron mechanical bank whose image embodies the spirit of the British nation. Just as Uncle Sam (Figure 1) reflects the tenacity and solidity of the American people, John Bull (Figure 2) depicts the stout and straightforwardness of the Englishman.
     Mr. Bull's persona originated more than 300 years ago in Great Britain. A fictitious personality by the name of John Bull first began to appear in a series of politically motivated pamphlets entitled "Law Is a Bottomless Pit." The creator of these satirical works was Dr. John Arbuthnot (1667-1735).
     Bull's guise and garb evolved gradually over the next few centuries. His eventual characterization, i.e. the familiar and beloved portly gentleman, resplendent in top hat, top boots, swallow-tailed coat, sporting the British flag upon his waistcoat, was the brainchild of artist-illustrator, Sir John Curruthers Gould. Gould's work was featured in the Westminster Gazette, a popular British periodical published during the latter portion of the nineteenth century. Often, John Bull was portrayed in the company of an English bulldog. This courageous animal had also become a popular symbol of Great Britain (Figure 3).
     Nineteenth and twentieth century British toy manufacturers recognized and capitalized upon the popularity of one of its national heroes. John Bull's image was incorporated into a plethora of children's playthings. On May 21, 1909 the firm of Sydenham and McOustra of Walsall, Staffordshire, was awarded English Registry Number "542,573" for its design of a "toy mechanical money box." The toy featured likenesses of both John Bull and his English bulldog (Figure 4). During the process of production, the number "RD 542573" was cast onto the underside of the base of the bank.
     Sydenham and McOustra manufactured the "John Bull's Money Box" at its Beacon Iron Foundry, in Staffordshire, England. It is believed that the bank seen in Figure 4 was the sole noteworthy mechanical produced by the company. In addition, Sydenham and McOustra may have manufactured several of the Jolly Nigger, bust-type banks that deluged the English toy market during this period.
     Action of the "John Bull's Money Box" is identical to the "Hoop-La-Bank", Figure 5, a product of another English toy manufacturer, i.e. John Harper and Company Ltd., and the "Trick Dog Bank" (Figure 6), manufactured by the Shepard Hardware Company of Buffalo, New York. All operate in a similar manner: "The coin is placed in the dog's mouth, and by touching the lever the dog jumps through the hoop and deposits the coin in the barrel." Deposits are retrieved from "John Bull's Money Box" by unscrewing the rectangular, iron base plate underneath the bank.
     "John Bull's Money Box" is extremely scarce, especially when located in superb paint condition. Unfortunately, Sydenham and McOustra undercoated its mechanicals with a hard, glossy black, japan finish which, when dry, became impervious to efficient bonding of the bank's final color application. It is because of this factor that any degree of rough handling will cause flaking of the bank's colorful surface, leaving a glossy black void.
     Several mechanical banks manufactured in the United States also suffer from the identical malady. Examples include "Peg Leg Beggar" (refer to Antique Toy World, June 1983), "Circus Ticket Collector" (July, 1983), and "Octagonal Fort" (February, 1999).
     I am not aware of casting or color variations of "John Bull's Money Box", nor am I aware of the existence of reproductions. Nevertheless, if a recast was attempted its base would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter O.D. than indicated in Figure 7, the base diagram of an original example.
     Acknowledgement: "The John Bull's Money Box" (Figure 4) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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