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The Gardener Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine August, 2006

     A most appropriate subject for this month's article is the delightful mechanical seen in Figure 1. Evoking pleasant thoughts of sunny summer days is "The Gardener Bank".
     This mechanical has the distinction of being the only bank produced to depict the subject of floriculture. It also is the only known existing example of its kind. Perhaps designers of mechanical banks rejected motifs considered mundane, non-controversial, and thereby uninteresting, such as the watering of flowers. During the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries, manufacturers were engaged in fierce competition, each attempting to portray new, unusual and exciting subjects that would spark consumer attention. Popular topics represented included politics, the military, wild animals, historical events, clowns and other circus themes, children at play, racial and social issues, etc. Mechanicals portraying the aforementioned filled the shelves of sundry goods shops and country stores worldwide.
     "The Gardener" (Figure 1) is thought to have been manufactured by the Gebruder Bing Tin Works of Nurnberg, Germany, during the "Golden Age" of German mechanical bank production (i.e. 1900-1935). Bing was renowned throughout the European community as a leading producer of items such as tinplate household specialties and toys that included trains, boats, automobiles, and steam engines. Unfortunately, the company's entire line of toys and mechanical banks was neither fully documented nor catalogued. In addition, lack of any patent information pertaining to "The Gardener", as well as other mechanicals in the Bing line is attributed to early German patent law. It was so mandated that "insignificant patents", such as toys, were to be discarded after a period of fifteen years. Furthermore, and adding to the bank's ambiguity, "The Gardener" displays no wordage which may attest to its genealogy.
     The discovery, however, of a Gebruder Bing wholesale catalog (Figure 2) possibly reveals the bank's country of origin, manufacturer, as well as its date of production. Mechanicals similar in design, construction, materials and action to "The Gardener" were illustrated in the catalog. Although this particular mechanical was not pictured, its undeniably similar resemblance to other members of its assumed family appear to support this theory.
     The description and prices of the Bing series of mechanical banks, as indicated in the catalog (Figure 2) are as follows: "Banks Made of tin, nicely decorated, With moving figures and good lock. Supplied in 24 assorted subjects. Price per piece Mark -.75".
     "The Gardener Bank" is constructed almost entirely of tinplate, as were all others in the series. The articulated figure of the gardener and the flowerpot are composed of a zinc-lead alloy, and both are artfully painted. The bank's entire backdrop was executed upon a thin sheet of polychrome, photolithographic paper affixed to the bank's tinplate facade.
     Operation of "The Gardener" commences by the insertion of a coin into a slot located at the backside of the bank. The gardener's arm, watering can in hand, rises, and then lowers, simulating the sprinkling of flowers (Figure 3). Coin deposits are reclaimed by opening the key lock, trap door type coin retainer underneath the base of the bank.
     Mere survival of this mechanical, and a scant few others in the Bing series, accounts for their rarity. With extremely fragile construction, delicate paper clad and painted surfaces, decades of subjection to harsh environmental changes and early youthful ownership, the existence of any complete examples is fortunate.
      I am not aware of the existence of reproductions in the Bing series. However, there is the possibility of restored or replicated parts. As with any fine, rare and delicate antique, limited professional conservation may be considered acceptable without significantly devaluing the bank.
     "The Gardener Bank" is small in size: Height 3-3/4 inches; Width 3-3/8 inches; Depth 2-5/16 inches. This does not, however, diminish its desirability. In addition to rarity, it is a most attractive and significant addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgements: The fine example of "The Gardener Bank" (Figure 1), resides in the Kidd Toy Museum collection, Frank and Joyce Kidd Proprietors.
     Copies of the Bing catalog pages (Figure 2) were provided by fellow collectors and historians, Harold and Uli Merklein of Nurnberg, Germany.

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