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Tin Teddy Bear Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine June, 2002

     Cuddly, cute, and composed of cloth is the plush creature affectionately referred to as "Teddy Bear". The public's infatuation with this appealing character is long-standing and continues to grow.
     American and European affection for the fuzzy creature is reported to have begun sometime about 1902. It is told that, while arbitrating a border dispute between Louisiana and Mississippi, President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was invited to a bear-hunting expedition. Unsuccessful in spotting game but eager to please the President, his hosts captured a cub. However, President Roosevelt adamantly refused to shoot the animal.
     Cartoonist Clifford Berryman of the "Washington Post" portrayed the incident via a political cartoon entitled "Drawing the Line in Mississippi" (Figure 1). The illustration was subsequently published in newspapers throughout America. Within a few weeks the event received nationwide notoriety.
     Coincidentally, a soft, articulated cloth bear created by Steiff Toy Corporation of Grengen, Germany, was being introduced in this country by the well-known toy distributor, George Borgfeldt Company of New York City. Timing could not have been more perfect! Owing to the Teddy Roosevelt incident, entry of the Steiff Bear into the American marketplace was met with great enthusiasm.
     The tiny, button-eyed bruin realized immediate success both here and abroad. From the years 1910 to 1920, hundreds of companies were created on both continents to produce the Teddy Bear as well as various memorabilia in its likeness. Its image was affixed to clothing, furniture, china, and jewelry; songs, books, and poems were created with Teddy Bear as the principal theme. Photographers captured images of children hugging their Teddy Bears.
     Needless to say, toy and mechanical bank manufacturers eagerly entered the marketplace with their creations. In the United States the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut, introduced its cast iron interpretation of the Berryman cartoon, "The Teddy and the Bear" mechanical bank (refer to Antique Toy World, December 1986). In Europe, the very prestigious manufacturer of tin mechanical banks, Saalheimer and Strauss Company of Nurnberg, Germany, presented its contribution to the bear-hungry masses, i.e. the "Teddy Bear Bank" seen in Figure 2.
     In Figure 3 we see a flyer distributed by Saalheimer and Strauss. Represented are illustrations of two tin mechanicals of similar construction to the "Bear Bank", namely, "African Native" and "English Bulldog". This suggests they were all a segment of the same series.
     Interestingly, a descriptive statement beneath the illustration of the "English Bulldog" indicates this bank and the "African Native" Bank were part of a "series of six tin mechanicals produced with, and without, animation." However, in contradiction to the aforementioned number of banks is the fact that, to date, a total of eight different mechanicals are known to exist. They are: "English Bulldog", "African Native", "Clown", "Harold Lloyd", "Tiger", "Black Golliwog", "British Lion", and "Bear" (Figure 2). The "Tin Teddy Bear" is quite scarce, as are all mechanicals in this group.
     Worthy of mention is that several of the aforementioned served a dual purpose. Not only were they marketed as banks but also as candy containers filled with "Lyons' Toffees". The following statement is inscribed upon their obverse: "LYONS' TOFFEES, LONDON, ENGLAND. Do Not attempt to work before removing toffees."
     Action of the "Bear Bank" is uncomplicated and amusing. The lever located at the left side of its head is depressed. Simultaneously, the jaw lowers and its tongue protrudes. A coin is placed upon the extended tongue, followed by release of the lever. The tongue then snaps back into the bank, depositing the coin. Monies are retrieved by opening the sliding coin retainer positioned in back of the bear's head.
     I am not aware of any reproductions of Saalheimer and Strauss banks. However, this does not preclude the possibility of reproduced or replaced parts. Needless to say, in such instances the bank's value is compromised.
     Despite its diminutive size, i.e. Height: 5-1/8 inches, Width: 2-7/8 inches, it is an attractive and extremely desirable addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgement: The fine example of "Bear" Bank (Figure 2) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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