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Automatic Coin Savings Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine April, 2006

     Magical mystical were the powers of the predictors of one's future. In days of old, when mysticism and superstition prevailed, witches, high priests and sorcerers were alleged to possess the power to foretell future events and unlock doors to the unknown. Modern-day "forecasters" are the psychics, tarot readers, and crystal ball gazers.
     Throughout the ages, there were always those who sought to capitalize upon fear and superstition. Over the centuries enterprising individuals produced numerous products that appealed to the interests of the public. Nineteenth century entrepreneurs, cognizant of such prevailing interests, created a plethora of fortune telling novelties. Their goods were primarily intended to entertain and amuse, and perhaps to offer a glimpse into the future. Included amongst the manufactured items were a multitude of children's playthings and mechanical banks. Examples of the latter acknowledge such notables as "Witch Fortune Telling Bank"; "Fortune Horse Race, Savings Bank"; "Fortune Teller Savings Bank", tin; "Lucky Wheel Money Box"; and the subject of this article, "Automatic Coin Savings Bank" (Figure 1).
     To date, neither catalog nor patent information pertaining to "Automatic Coin Savings Bank" has been located. However, the November 1893 issue of the "New Peterson Magazine" pictures the bank and offers it for sale. The advertisement reads as follows: "Save Your Money. Send for the Automatic Coin Savings Bank. Delivered express prepaid for $1.25. One of the latest novelties for Holiday Presents. Each deposit changes the Motto. Its novelty will make it adaptive in every home, and the children will find their Bank a source of much entertainment as well as profit. Agents wanted. Automatic Coin Savings Bank, 32 Hawley Street, Boston, Mass."
     In addition to the aforementioned, the mechanical bank itself provided further information pertaining to the creator and/or designer. Inscribed upon its obverse are the words tab at the peak of the bank (Figure 1), provided to enable "PAT. APPLD. FOR". Within the bank was a small, rectangular card that stated the following: "AUTOMATIC COIN SAVINGS BANK" Manufactured and for sale by Geo. N. March, Patentee, 32 Hawley St., Boston Mass.". My curiosity, thus aroused, prompted an involved and enlightening search at the U.S. Patent Library.
     Interestingly, neither the name "George N. March" nor "Automatic Coin Savings Bank" appeared upon any patented items several years before, during, or after the presumed year of its sale date of 1893. Yet, during the same month and year of the bank's advertisement in "New Peterson Magazine", the Patent Number 508,019 was issued to a William N. Hunter of Cincinnati, Ohio for a Toy Fortune Wheel Savings Bank (Figure 2). It utilized the identical rotating notched cardboard fortune wheel mechanism, (Figure 3) and coin activation as the George N. March creation. Considering the close similarity between the fortune telling mechanisms of both the George N. March bank and the William N. Hunter patent drawings, perhaps Mr. March was denied patent protection for his bank (Figure 1). This may have been based upon infringement of an already patented item, namely the bank illustrated in Figure 2.
    This situation may also possibly explain the rarity of "Automatic Coin Savings Bank". In view of patent duplication, the plagiarist was ordered to cease and desist its manufacture, thus severely limiting the number of items produced.
     Operation of the mechanical (Figure 1) is initiated by dropping a coin into the provided slot. This causes a notched cardboard wheel to revolve, thus exposing the operator's "fortune" through an arched window at the peak of the bank. Each succeeding deposit displays a different message. Coins are reclaimed by unfastening the small screws at the bottom of the bank and removing the base plate.
     There are two casting variations. One has a perforated tab at the peak of the bank (Figure 1), provided to enable wall mounting, while the other (Figure 4) does not. In addition, the "Automatic Coin Savings Bank" was produced with three surface finishes. One version is in black with gold highlights (Figure 1); another is copper flashed (Figure 4); the third variation is nickel-plated. All of these are composed of cast iron, utilizing a thin cardboard fortune wheel (Figure 3).
     To my knowledge, at this date, "Automatic Coin Savings Bank" has not been reproduced. Nonetheless, Figure 5 is a base diagram of an original example, intended to inform collectors of size and scale. In the event of an attempted recast, that example would appear approximately one-sixteenth of an inch shorter O.D. than indicated.
     Acknowledgments: The fine example "Automatic Coin Savings Bank", Figure 1, is in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     The fine example "Automatic Coin Savings Bank", Figure 4, is in the collection of Bob Weiss.
     My thanks to fellow mechanical bank collector and historian, Donal Markey, for contributing pertinent information relating to the manufacturer of "Automatic Coin Savings Bank".

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