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British Clown
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine March, 2003

     Since its advent, circus entertainers have delighted and amazed countless audiences. Acrobats perform death-defying feats, while animal trainers defy the jaws and lethal fangs of dangerous beasts. However, no performer participating in the grand spectacle known as the "Big Top" has elicited as much anticipation, excitement and laughter than the clown.
     This jester's universal appeal did not escape the attention of late nineteenth and early twentieth century mechanical bank manufacturers. Companies both here and abroad produced a number of banks that incorporated the images of circus clowns. Several prominent examples include: "British Clown" (seen in Figure 1 and subject of this article), "Circus Bank", "Bill-E-Grin", "Acrobats", "Humpty Dumpty", "Jolly Joe the Clown", "Clown and Dog", "Hoop-La", "Professor Pug Frog", "Clown on Globe", "Punch and Judy", "Clown on Bar", "Clown Bust", "Trick Dog", "Elephant and Three Clowns", etc.
     "British Clown" was manufactured by Saalheimer and Strauss Tin Works of Nurnberg, Germany. During the aforementioned time period, Nurnberg was the world center for production of tin plate toys. Undeniably, Saalheimer and Strauss was the foremost designer of tin plate penny banks during that era. The company's technology and artistry demonstrated by these colorful, lithographed metallic creations remain unrivaled to this day.
     Figure 2 depicts an advertising flyer distributed in 1929 by Saalheimer and Strauss. In it are portrayed two tin plate mechanicals similar in design and construction to "British Clown". These are "English Bulldog" and "African Native". The descriptive captions beneath the catalog illustrations are inscribed in German, English, and French. In all likelihood, this series of mechanicals was also manufactured for export.
     An additional statement within the flyer (Figure 2) indicates the "British Clown" (not pictured or mentioned by name) was one of a "series of six tin plate mechanical banks produced with and without animation". However, in contradiction to the aforementioned number is the fact that, to date, a total of eight different subjects are known to collectors. These are: "British Clown", "English Bulldog", "Teddy Bear", "Harold Lloyd", "African Native", "Tiger", "British Lion" and "Black Golliwog".
     Action of "British Clown" is quite amusing and, interestingly, varies from one example to another. The variations pertain solely to movement of the clown's lower jaw. In the example appearing in Figure 1, a wire lever located behind the clown's left ear (not evident in the photograph) is depressed. Simultaneously, the jaw lowers and a large red tongue emerges from its mouth. A coin is then placed upon the protruding tongue and the lever is released. The tongue snaps back into the bank, depositing the money. Coin deposit and activation of the bank portrayed in Figure 3 is less complex. This example exhibits a simple coin slot located behind the yellow tuft of hair at the top-center of the clown's head. Deposits entered via the slot strike an internal baffle that causes the the lower jaw to merely "wiggle".
     As indicated in the flyer, a third variation of "British Clown" was produced by this same company but "without any animation". Collectors refer to such examples as "still banks". All three variants utilize identical means of deposit recovery, i.e. a rectangular sliding coin retainer located at the top of the rear coin receptacle.
     Worthy of mention is the fact that there is a subtle visual identification mark that can help determine the "protruding tongue" mechanical from the one with the "wiggly jaw". The lever-activated clown (Figure 1) has a small wavy line imprinted upon the center of its lower jaw, while the wiggly jaw clown (Figure 3) has a red ball displayed upon its chin.
     The "British Clown", as well as all mechanicals in this series, is extremely rare. To my knowledge, none has been reproduced; however, this does not preclude the possibility of reproduced replacement parts. Needless to say, in such instances the value of the bank is compromised.
     Despite its diminutive size, i.e. Height 5-7/16 inches, Width 2-15/16 inches, "British Clown" is a colorful, attractive "circus theme bank" and a most desirable addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgement: The fine example "British Clown" (Figure 1) is in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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