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Tin, Automatic Savings Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine June, 2005

     Circus performers have entertained audiences since their advent centuries ago. The first so-called "modern" circus originated in England in 1782. Its lone source of entertainment was horse-mounted events. Eventually, over the years, feats of daring, acrobatics, wild animal trainers, clowns, juggling acts, etc. were added to attract diverse audiences.
     It was not until the mid-nineteenth century, and in the United States, that the great entrepreneur and showman, P.T. Barnum, created and added the "Side Show" to bolster audience attendance to his Big Top Circus. This particular exhibition of oddities soon became one of America's most popular form of entertainment. Attractions included "The World's Smallest Man", "Siamese Twins", "The World's Largest Elephant", "Sword Swallowers", "Fire Eaters", etc. It was not long before circuses and carnivals worldwide were featuring "strange" humans and exotic animals.
     One such popular act, the "Strongman and his Dwarf Sidekick", was to become the subject of a mechanical penny bank. The tin "Automatic Savings Bank" (Figure 1) was produced, circa 1928, by the Saalheimer and Strauss Tin Works of Nurnberg, Germany. During this period Nurnberg was the world center for the production of tin plate household goods and toys, and Saalheimer and Strauss was considered the foremost manufacturer of tin penny banks. The company's design and artistry, demonstrated by its colorful lithographed metallic creations, remain unrivaled to this day.
     Figure 2 depicts a wholesale flyer distributed in 1929 by Saalheimer and Strauss. In it is an illustration of the "Automatic Savings Bank" accompanied by pricing information. The ad reads: "Number 280, 60 Reich Marks Per Gross. One Half Dozen Per Carton."
     Action of the "Automatic Savings Bank" is quite interesting. Payment via coin deposition differs from actual Side Show admission procedure. One would generally pay an admission fee prior to viewing a Side Show exhibit; however, the "Automatic Savings Bank" requires a coin subsequent to its action. The head of the strongman covers the coin-receiving slot, thus preventing coin deposition to initiate further action. It is only after the lever at the bank's left side is fully depressed does the strongman's head move to the left, thus exposing the coin slot. The action continues with the strongman grasping his dwarf assistant by the hair and lifting him off the ground. It is at that point that the coin is deposited. A humorous aspect of the mechanical's action is that, as the dwarf is lifted, its neck stretches to a comical and unnatural length (Figure 3).
     Deposits are removed by opening the key lock, trap door, coin retainer located underneath the base of the bank.
     The "Automatic Savings Bank" as well as most other mechanicals produced by Saalheimer and Strauss is extremely scarce. This is quite understandable in view of their fragile tin plate construction, exposure to the ravages of time and moisture, as well as the careless and perhaps rough handling by its initial youthful proprietors. With less than a handful of examples known, fortunate is the collector able to boast of the possession of a fine "Automatic Savings Bank".
     To my knowledge, there are no reproductions of any of the Saalheimer and Strauss series, including the "Automatic Savings Bank". However, this does not preclude the possibility of reproduced and/or replaced parts. Needless to say, in such an instance the value of the bank should be adjusted accordingly.
     Despite its diminutive size, i.e. Height: 6-1/16 inches, Width: 3-9/16 inches, Depth: 1-15/16 inches, the "Automatic Savings Bank" is an extremely attractive and highly desirable addition to a collection of mechanical banks.
     Acknowledgement: The superb example of "Automatic Savings Bank" (Figure 1) is from the collection of Max Berry.
     The "Automatic Savings Bank" (Figure 1) was photographed by Alex Jamison.

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