Automated Wood Mottoes
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – December,
Unappreciated and often overlooked are
mechanical banks constructed of wood. Unfortunately, their composition
appears to be the sole factor responsible for lack of popularity amongst
collectors of cast iron and tin mechanical banks. In actuality, many of
these mechanicals are amusing and imaginative, and quite desirable.
The "Automated Wood Mottoes Bank" (Figure 1), an exciting new find,
was recently brought to my attention. It is an intriguing example of an
antique toy that was designed to teach children the wisdom of saving their
pennies. The virtue of thrift was an Anglo-American philosophy that
prevailed throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The "Mottoes Bank", as many other members of the wood mechanical
group, is ingenious in design, as demonstrated by its action, and highly
prized by knowledgeable collectors. In addition to our subject of
discussion, other notable examples of mechanicals composed partially, or
entirely, of wood include: "Barking Dog", "Watch Dog Savings Bank", "Darkey
in the Chimney", "Give me a Penny," "Thrifty Scotsman", "Presto Savings
Bank — Mouse on Roof", "Freedman's Bank", "Freedman's Bureau", several trick
drawer, disappearing coin-type money boxes, "Kick Inn", "Musical Church
Bank", "Sailor Money Box", etc.
Interestingly, the "Mottoes Bank" is also related to a category of
mechanicals which, upon insertion of a coin, display either a fortune, or
a proverb or an anecdote. Members of this group include: "Lucky Wheel
Money Box", "Automatic Fortune Savings Bank", Fortune Horse Race "Savings
Bank", "Bank of Education and Economy", "Fortune Teller Savings Bank" and
"Automatic Coin Savings Bank".
The "Automated Wood Mottoes Bank" therefore, has the distinction of
combining the characteristics of both of the previously discussed
categories. Action of the bank shown in Figure 1 is uncomplicated and
entertaining. Initially, a large English-type penny is "pushed",
forcefully, through the slot on the top of the bank. This action displaces
the motto displayed through the glass window on the front of the bank,
allowing for another motto to take its place.
Figures 2 and 3 not only reveal the mechanical bank's internal
mechanism, but also its original label, complete with instructions. This
dualistic view is unique since it occurs with no other example in either
The label reads: "Instructions for use. Having displaced the mottoes
by means of the coins open the box and take out the twelve pieces of wood
on which are the mottoes, after which place in order, push back the spring
and use the strip of wood to keep in position until the mottoes are
placed; release the spring by taking the wood strip away and after
locking, the box is again ready for use. In order to work the better, the
coins should be pushed with some force." Coin removal is accomplished by
opening the lid and turning the bank upside down. This allows deposited
coins as well as utilized mottoes to be expelled.
Unfortunately, due to lack of any identifying marks, the manufacturer
of "Mottoes Bank" remains an enigma. However, a clue as to its country of
origin appears on a motto inscribed on one of the bank's wooden plaques:
"Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves". Such
reference to British currency assumes the possibility of manufacture in
In addition to this motto, the others state: "Many a mickle makes a
muckle"; "If youth but knew what ages would crave. It sure would strive to
get and save"; "Fools and their money soon part"; "Tis the saving soul
that reaches the goal"; "Saving is getting"; "Money makes money"; "A full
purse is a good friend"; "To become rich you must save"; "Save in time and
you will never have a need"; "It is never too late to save"; and, lastly,
"Now open and fill me again".
On a final note, dimensions of the "Mottoes Bank", Figure 1, are 4
1/2 inches high, 5-1/2 inches wide, and 4-1/2 inches deep.
Acknowledgement: The unique example of "Automated Wood Mottoes Bank",
Figure 1, is in the collection of Max Berry.
Addendum: My apologies for omission of acknowledgement of the "Bear
and Tree Stump Bank" featured in the
October 2002 issue of Antique Toy
World. The fine example shown in the article is in the collection of Steve
and Marilyn Steckbeck.