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Clown on Bar, Tin Figure
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine February, 2002

     The advent of the 19th century realized many changes and brought new adventures to an enlightened America. Amongst these was the introduction of the innovative, grandiose "Three Ring Circus". Ingenious promoters and entrepreneurs, including the renowned P.T. Barnum, captured the attention of the nation, elevating the "Big Top" to unforeseen heights.
     Manufacturers, ever eager to exploit popular trends, inundated the marketplace with various items symbolizing the subject of the public's latest infatuation. Toy manufacturers alone introduced over forty different mechanical banks reflecting the circus theme.
     It was at this time that a small, rather obscure toy manufacturer, namely C.G. Bush and Company of Providence, Rhode Island, produced a mechanical bank employing the likeness of an acrobat dressed as a clown (Figure 1). It is unfortunate, however, that to date, no patent, advertising, or marketing data relating to this company's creation has emerged. Collectors, therefore, assigned it the designation "Clown on Bar, Tin Figure". The nomenclature was prompted by the need to differentiate it from a bank of similar configuration and action, but constructed entirely of cast iron, namely, "Boy on Trapeze", seen in Figure 2 (refer to my article in Antique Toy World, June 1989).
     Interestingly, had it not been for the inscription "C.G. Bush & Co. Prov., R.I." cast into its sides, the creator of this mechanical would also have remained unknown. Further research of the C.G. Bush Company indicates "Clown On Bar" (Figure 1) was its only attempt to produce mechanical banks. It appears likely that the firm's primary endeavor was the fabrication of fine kaleidoscopes for children and adults. C.G. Bush was unique in the production of kaleidoscopes in that it not only utilized small shards of multi-hued glass in its viewers, but also incorporated transparent cylinders filled with colored liquid to enhance the kaleidoscopic effect.
     Observation of the performance of "Clown on Bar, Tin Figure" reveals eloquence, grace, and simplicity. Operation is initiated by placing a coin between the two rings in the clown's hand. The weight of the coin causes the figure to gracefully rotate forward. As the money drops into the bank the clown performs several revolutions until finally ceasing in the up-right position (Figure 1). Deposits are recovered by unscrewing both halves of the base of the bank.
     "Clown On Bar, Tin Figure" had been crafted in a unique manner. The figure of the clown is constructed of painted tin plate, while the base is of cast iron. These features lend a "folk art" appearance and appeal offered by no other mechanical in the category.
     I am not aware of casting variations of the bank pictured in Figure 1. However, I have seen examples with, and without, the name of the manufacturer cast into its sides.
     "Clown On Bar" is considered extremely rare, with only a handful presently known to exist in collections. Due to the fragile nature of both the tin figure and its delicately cast base, most examples have undergone extensive restoration. The opportunity to acquire such a rarity should be accompanied by knowledge of provenance, examination with an ultra-violet lamp and, if deemed necessary, the advice of an expert. One should also be reminded that repairs and/or replacement parts reflect significantly upon price valuation.
     Figure 3 is a base diagram of an original "Clown On Bar" bank. A recast base may appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter O.D. than indicated. Unfortunately, a partially recast or repaired base may elude detection.
     "Clown On Bar" is quite desirable and a particularly attractive addition to a collection of circus-related mechanical banks.
     Addendum: The "Clown On Bar, Tin Figure" seen in Figure 1 has undergone professional restoration to both the figure of the clown and its base. In addition, on original examples all stripes and decorations of the clown figure's garb were painted red.

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