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Bear with Slot in Chest
"Teddy Bear Bank"

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine February, 2005

     Lovable and charismatic describe possibly the most remarkable icon ever to grace the world of toys. The year was 1902 and the event was the birth of the interminable Teddy Bear.
     Its arrival is attributed to President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt. Historical documentation relates he was engaged in a bear hunting expedition. Unsuccessful in locating game, his guides offered a shackled cub. However, President Roosevelt staunchly refused to shoot the young bruin. Political Cartoonist, Clifford Berryman of the Washington Post, portrayed the incident via a satirical cartoon (Figure 1). The illustration was subsequently published in newspapers throughout the United States. Within a few weeks the event received nationwide notoriety.
     At approximately this same time, a soft, plush cloth toy bear created by Steiff Toy Corporation of Grengen, Germany was being introduced in the United States. Its entry into the American marketplace could not have been timed more perfectly! The public's enthusiasm and immediate success of this tiny button-eyed bruin is attributed to the Teddy Roosevelt hunting incident.
     During the years 1902 through 1920, hundreds of companies both here and abroad produced "Teddy Bears" as well as various other products featuring its likeness. Several mechanical bank manufacturers exploited the marketplace with their creations. Amongst these were "The Teddy and the Bear Bank" produced by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut, the "Tin Teddy Bear Bank" manufactured by Saalheimer and Strauss of Nurnberg, Germany, and the subject of this article, the cast iron "Teddy Bear Bank," Figures 2 and 3, created by the Kenton Hardware Company of Kenton, Ohio.
     Kenton Hardware was a prestigious iron foundry that produced an extensive line of fine cast iron toy automobiles, trucks, horse-drawn carriages, trains, and doll sized stoves. Its manufacture of mechanical banks was limited to the following two productions: "Bear With Slot In Chest" Bank and "Mama Katzenjammer Bank" (refer to Antique Toy World, January 1984 and March 1997).
     It was unfortunate that, for approximately sixty-five years, mechanical bank collectors did not have knowledge of the manufacturer of the aforementioned mechanicals. This was due to the fact that neither patent information nor company advertising was known to exist. It was not until circa 1971 that the copper-flashed example of "Bear With Slot In Chest" Bank, Figure 2 and a copy of the 1906 Kenton Hardware Company catalog Figure 4, were located within the company's sample room archive. This unexpected discovery provided relevant information and parentage for both our subject and "Mama Katzenjammer Bank". It is now known that Kenton christened its product "Teddy Bear Bank". However, the title of this article defers to its designation by mechanical bank collectors necessitated by many years of an absence of pertinent information.
     Both "Bear With Slot in Chest" and "Mama Katzenjammer Bank" are quite scarce. One possible explanation is that both were introduced in a time period of waning public enthusiasm, when popularity of mechanicals was declining. This shift in events was, presumably, too difficult for such small, lackluster, subtly animated mechanicals to overcome. The catalog page represented in Figure 4 appears to indicate Kenton's recognition of the public's apathy towards its mechanicals. The word "OUT" is scripted above each of the banks' designations. In addition, note the word "Oxidized" scribbled across the color description of "Teddy Bear Bank". This may have indicated the company's belief that alteration of the painted finish to a more attractive copper, oxidized color would possibly gain public interest and increase sales potential. The copper, oxidized example seen in Figure 2 is unique. It may have been a Kenton factory showroom sample that was never mass-produced.
     Operation of "Bear With Slot in Chest" is quite simple. A coin is pushed through the slot in the bear's chest, causing his mouth to open. As the money drops into the bank, it's jaw returns to the closed position. Deposits are removed via an oversized, round, Steven's type coin retainer located underneath the base of the bank.
     Several recasts of this mechanical were attempted during the 1940's and 1950's. These are fairly easy to discern simply by their crude and pebbly appearance. In addition, both halves of these second castings are secured by a screw, rather than a Kenton factory administered rivet. These reproductions may also appear significantly diminished in overall size. Figure 5 represents a base diagram of an original example of "Bear With Slot in Chest." A recast will appear approximately one-eighth inch smaller O.D. than indicated.
     I am not aware of any casting variations of this bank. However, there are two color variants. One is painted a white creamy color as exhibited in Figure 3. The other, of which there is only one known example, is executed in a copper oxidized finish, as seen in Figure 2.
     Acknowledgements: Both "Bear With Slot in Chest" banks, Figures 2 and 3, are from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     The Kenton Catalog page, circa 1906, (Figure 4) was graciously provided by fellow collector, William Robison.

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