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Mandarin Bank, Tin
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine March, 2006

     Intriguing and mysterious was the strange world of the Orient. In past centuries western civilization concocted fascinating tales of secret potions, mystical spells, and supernatural powers.
     During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when a willing, hard-working and low wage force was required, Chinese and Japanese immigration to both the United States and Europe increased dramatically. It was then that western society came face to face with these hitherto unknown cultures.
     Suspicion, mistrust, and fear were communicated via art and literature, as well as goods during this era. Children's playthings were not exempt from the onslaught of prejudicial items, as exhibited by several toy mechanical banks. Negative depictions included the devious and wily gambler portrayed in "Reclining Chinaman Bank", Figure 1, (refer to Antique Toy World article, April 1983) as well as the oriental gentleman about to consume a most unsavory dinner, portrayed in "Chinaman in the Boat", Figure 2, (A.T.W., June 1999). Other mechanicals, however, portrayed the Oriental in a kinder manner. "Those" examples include the entertaining and delightfully executed "Japanese Ball Tosser Bank", Figure 3, (A.T.W., April 2000), and the distinguished, serene, tea sipping "Mandarin", Figure 4, subject of this article.
     To date, neither patent papers nor manufacturers' catalogs have surfaced that would have unquestionably identified the designer and/or manufacturer of "Mandarin Bank". Lack of patent data for this bank, as well as countless others, may be attributed to early German patent law. It was a government-mandated policy that "unimportant patents, including toys, were to be routinely discarded after fifteen years of issuance". This practice has proven to be a hindrance to today's mechanical bank and toy historians.
     The recent discovery of a toy wholesaler's catalog (Figure 5), circa August 1908, produced by the Maienthau and Wolff Company of Nurnberg, Germany, does offer significant information. In it is pictured the "Mandarin Bank" and the following descriptive: "5785/1, 9.5 cm tall, cost .14 Part Mark, shipped 12 to a box". Such information has provided collectors and historians with this mechanical's approximate date of manufacture, country of origin, and general pricing.
     However, there is puzzlement involving the firm of Maienthau and Wolff itself. The question remains unanswered as to whether the company was a manufacturer, or a jobber of tinplate items, or perhaps involved in both. This lack of conclusive data has led many collectors to speculate that "Mandarin Bank" was produced by yet another company of that region. The bank's fine lithography and intricate tinplate construction is suggestive of Saalheimer and Strauss Tin Works, one of the foremost producers of tinplate mechanical banks of the era. "Mandarin Bank" is constructed entirely of delicate and colorfully lithographed tinplate. Operation is initiated by the insertion of a coin through the slot located in the back of the bank. As the coin descends, the eyes tilt upward and its queue wiggles. Deposits are removed, via a can opener, by forcefully cutting out the sealed bottom of the bank (Figure 6). Unfortunately, this was the only method of coin removal designed by its manufacturer.
     "Mandarin Bank" is extremely rare, with less than a handful known to exist. Its alleged intentional destructive method of coin purging, delicate mechanism, and flimsy construction easily explain its scarcity.
     I am not aware of the existence of reproduced examples of this mechanical. However, in view of its fragile nature there is the possibility of restored and/or replaced portions. As with any valued and antique, limited professional conservation considered acceptable.
     "Mandarin Bank" is quite miniscule in size: Height: 3-3/4 inches, Width: 2 inches. Nevertheless, it is considered to be an extremely desirable and attractive addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgement: The fine, all original example "Mandarin Bank", Figure 4, is from the collection of Bob Weiss.

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