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Safe Deposit Box
(Tin Elephant bank)

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine May, 2003

     The mid to late nineteenth century was a time of discovery and adventure for the American populous. Immigrants traveling from distant and foreign lands brought a wealth of cultural diversity accompanied by unique and exciting ideas. Also brought to these shores were never-before-seen strange and exotic creatures.
     Many of these animals were feverishly pursued by carnival and circus owners seeking to feature new and novel additions to their menageries. The popularity of the "Great Apes" and "Big Cats" was indisputable and only exceeded by the noble and awesome elephant. Touted by carnival barkers and circus ringmasters as "the Mighty Lord of all Beasts" (Figure 1), the pachyderm reigned as the most popular attraction of its time. Its likeness adorned such items as posters, paintings, packaged foods, clothing, tools and toys.
     Mechanical bank manufacturers, ever cognizant of prevalent trends, incorporated the likeness of the elephant into many of their own wares. Notables include such classics as: "Elephant and Three Clowns" (refer to A.T.W., May 1991), "Hubley White Elephant" Pull Tail (A.T.W., October 1992), "Jumbo" (A.T.W., December 1987), "Light of Asia" (A.T.W., November 1991), and subject of this article, "Safe Deposit Box" Tin Elephant Bank, Figure 2.
     Although fifty years have passed since the discovery of "Safe Deposit Box", countless hours of searching for documentation have uncovered no trace of the bank's manufacturer or designer. Unfortunately, the only information that can be offered at this time is conjecture derived from my own conclusions as well as those of other knowledgeable collectors.
     The construction, design, and material utilized in fabricating "Safe Deposit Box" Tin Elephant Bank are reminiscent of several other tin animal-form toys. These had been the creation of prominent nineteenth century tin toy producer, George W. Brown and Company of Forestville, Connecticut.
     In 1869, Brown entered into a joint venture with the highly acclaimed cast iron toy and mechanical bank manufacturer, J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. The consolidated company became known as the Stevens and Brown Manufacturing Company (Figure 3). During the next decade Brown designed hundreds of tinplate items to supplement the J. and E. Stevens cast iron line. Included were general hardware, kitchen implements, birdcages, and toys. It would not have been inconceivable for Brown to design an articulated tin elephant penny bank to augment the J. and E. Stevens line of cast iron mechanicals.
     Although the name itself, "SAFE DEPOSIT BOX", appears obscure, it was not one that was arbitrarily designated by collectors. It was, in fact, printed by the manufacturer in gold letters on dark blue paper affixed to either side of the bank's base (not legible in photograph seen in Figure 2).
     In order to operate this mechanical, a coin is placed within the rounded end of the elephant's trunk. The tail is then depressed, causing its trunk to swing inward, dropping the money into the provided slot. Deposits are removed by opening the (keyless) hinged, front-end panel of the bank's base.
     The "Safe Deposit Box" (Figure 2) is an extremely rare item, having been the only example to surface in the past century. Its provenance is also quite impressive. It was discovered in the 1950's by pioneer collector/dealer Frank Ball of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Figure 4 represents a "Banks Wanted Ad" which Mr. Ball ran in Hobbies Magazine, circa 1950. He later sold the bank to eminent toy collectors, Covert and Gertrude Hegarty.
     Several years ago the Hegarty mechanical bank collection was offered for sale. The purchasers of "Safe Deposit Box" were Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck, in whose collection this bank presently resides.
     Figure 5 is a base diagram of the "Safe Deposit Box" Tin Elephant Bank (Figure 2). Since, to my knowledge, this mechanical has not been reproduced, it is provided solely to aid collectors in determining size and scale.

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