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Elephant, Locked Howdah
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine December, 2003

     Since the Elephant's importation from exotic and foreign lands this majestic, "gentle giant" has enthralled and captivated audiences worldwide. Brought to American shores during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the pachyderm was featured in circuses and zoos. Its overwhelming popularity inspired the elephant's image to be displayed upon a multitude of products ranging from clothing, building supplies, hardware, foodstuffs, toys and mechanical banks. One of these items was "Elephant, Locked Howdah" mechanical bank (Figure 1), the subject of this article.
     Its creation is attributed to Charles F. Olm, Sr. and John Thalheim, both of Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. On February 5, 1901, Olm and Thalheim relieved Patent Number 667,332 for their "Elephant Toy Money-Box" (Figure 2). The mechanical was subsequently produced by the Gurney Refrigerator Company of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
     Gurney, as well as other enterprising concerns of the era, eagerly seized all opportunities to capitalize upon popular trends by producing items totally unrelated to its area of specialization. Other such manufacturers included the American Sewing Machine Company, producers of the "American Bank"; the Baumgarten Printing Press Company, producers of "Fortune Teller Savings Bank"; C.G. Bush Quality Kaleidoscopes' "Clown on Bar"; and Enterprise Coffee and Food Grinders' "Elephant, Man Pops Out".
     It is interesting that more than twenty different mechanical banks utilizing the image of the elephant were created by various manufacturers during the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries.
     Action of the "Elephant, Locked Howdah" is rapid and decisive. Its trunk is first pulled downward and snapped into place. A coin is then inserted within the provided slot at the end of the appendage. The lever protruding from the front of the base is depressed, releasing the proboscis. This propels the coin into the howdah. Deposits are retrieved by opening a square key lock coin retainer located in the side of the howdah.
     At this time, I am aware of the three casting variations involving the key lock of "Elephant, Locked Howdah". One has the word "BANK" in raised letters above the keyhole. The other has no wordage, while the third variant, seen in Figure 1, was produced with a completely sealed howdah and no key lock. This particular example requires the elephant to be completely disassembled and removed from its base in order to recover coin deposits. Such complicated coin removal may indicate it was an early production example in need of redesign for less complex coin recovery.
     In addition, early "Elephant, Locked Howdah" banks produced without the locking coin retainer were constructed almost entirely of a lead alloy. The activating lever and a few small reinforcement parts were, however, fashioned of cast iron. All later original production examples were constructed entirely of cast iron.
     "Elephant, Locked Howdah" has been reproduced, and its construction is entirely of cast iron. Fortunately, these are easily discernible, as illustrated in Figure 3. All reproductions exhibit only one tree stump on the base. The original banks have two...a large tree stump at the forefront and a smaller one just forward of the elephant's front legs. Another method of detecting a fraudulent example is seen in Figure 4. The activating lever underneath the base is created from a strip of spring steel rather than the original's finely cast iron counterpart, seen in Figure 5. Interestingly, the base of the reproduced "Elephant, Locked Howdah" more closely reflects the one pictured in the patent design (Figure 2), which exhibits a single tree stump and a flat activating lever.
     Figure 5 illustrates the underside of an original example "Elephant, Locked Howdah". Although the patent date seen differs from that indicated in the actual patent papers, it was, nevertheless, helpful in locating pertinent information.
     Figure 6 represents a base diagram of an original example "Elephant, Locked Howdah" mechanical bank. It is provided solely to indicate size and scale. Unfortunately, bases of the reproduced examples are identical in size to the original and, therefore, cannot be used to determine authenticity.
     Acknowledgement: The fine example "Elephant, Locked Howdah" (Figure 1) is in the collection of Robert E. Weiss, and is the same example that is pictured on page 30 of the "Bill Norman Bank Book".

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