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Indian Chief Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine August, 2003

     The subject of this month's article is a mechanical bank of mystery. Discovered in New Jersey some forty years ago, the "Indian Chief Bust" Bank (Figure 1) continues to perplex mechanical bank collectors worldwide.
     Featuring the likeness of a male Native American, The "Indian Chief Bust" is devoid of any identifying marks which could reveal its origin. In addition, no catalog or patent data has surfaced to provide information. Its anonymity has prompted a great deal of supposition relating to this mechanical's heritage. The following, therefore, are the possibilities expressed by several knowledgeable mechanical bank enthusiasts and authorities.
     In view of the material of which it had been composed, i.e. cast aluminum, the "Indian Chief Bust" may have been a product of English manufacture. This thinking was deduced from the fact that during the early twentieth century, several foundries located in Great Britain produced mechanicals solely of cast aluminum. One of the most prominent was the Robert and Nellie Starkie Foundry of Lancaster, England.
     Other experts, however, differ in their conclusions. Perhaps, since the mechanical was located on the continent of North America, it may have been a product of Canada. This theory was based upon the fact that several aluminum foundries were operating in Canada at that time.
     The only other viable supposition emerged several years ago. A bank collector residing in Tarragindi, Australia, claimed to have acquired an original example of the "Indian Chief Bust" Bank locally, thereby suggesting that the mechanical may have been produced in that country.
     Recently, there have been reports of the discovery of an "Indian Chief Bust" in New Zealand. However, evidence of its existence has not been substantiated. Determination of the bank's age as a product of the early twentieth century and not contemporary had been ascertained primarily upon a method of casting and attachment. Specifically, both halves were fastened together utilizing an iron nut and bolt. The nut fits into a raised cast square void inside the front half of the bank and is supported by thin iron pins. Such method of utilizing iron pins in conjunction with an iron nut within an aluminum casting was limited solely to early aluminum casting procedures.
     The "Indian Chief Bust" is one member of a very limited group of mechanicals that feature the Native American. These include such notables as: "Chief Big Moon" (Antique Toy World, October, 1990), "Indian and Bear" (A.T.W. October, 1985), and "World's Fair Bank" (A.T.W. February, 1989). The creation of a moderate number of mechanicals featuring the Indian as its subject is puzzling in view of the interest and research pertaining to their lifestyles, particularly during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Figure 2).
     Operation of the "Indian Chief Bust" is reminiscent of the plethora of bust type banks that proliferate the genre. A coin is placed within the palm of the Chief's right hand. The lever in the left rear shoulder is then depressed. Simultaneously, the arm and hand rise, the tongue recedes, and the coin slides through the open mouth and into the bank. Deposits are removed by unscrewing both halves of the mechanical. It is to be further noted that, unlike several other bust type mechanicals, its eyes are fixed and do not move during operation.
     Provenance of the "Indian Chief Bust" pictured in Figure 1 is adequately documented. Such information is essential in establishing the authenticity and credence of any important objet d' art. It was originally discovered and acquired by noted mechanical bank historian, F.H. Griffith. He subsequently traded it to Leon Perelman, curator of the Perelman Toy Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When Mr. Perelman disbanded his museum, the "Indian Chief" Bank was acquired by noted collector, Stanley Sax. Upon Mr. Sax's death it was consigned to Bertoia Auctions and purchased by mechanical bank collector, Max Berry, in whose prominent collection it now resides.
     Figure 3 is a base diagram of an original example "Indian Chief Bust". If a recast were attempted, it would appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter O.D. than indicated.
     The bank pictured in Figure 1 is extremely rare. To date, I am not aware of reproductions. However, in view of simplicity of construction, monetary value, and its desirability, such fraudulent attempt at duplication cannot be ruled out. When contemplating purchase of a "newly discovered" example, it would be advisable to consult with an expert in the field.
     My apologies for the photograph seen in Figure 1. Due to limitation of photography and printing, the Indian Chief's flesh tone appears to be black in color. In actuality, it is dark brown.
     Acknowledgement: The "Indian Chief Bust" was photographed by Alex Jamison.

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