by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – November, 2006
To anyone who characterizes all mechanical banks
as playthings intended for children, well then, guess again! Every so
often one comes across a toy mechanical bank whose appearance and theme
suggest it may have been designed for adults. Examples include:
"Afghanistan Bank" (Antique Toy World,
September 1986), "Breadwinners
Bank" (A.T.W., April 1993), "Chinaman in Boat, Rat on Tray" (A.T.W.,
1999), and our subject, "Guessing Bank" (Figure 1).
On May 22, 1877, Mr. Edward J. McLoughlin of New York City was issued
Patent Number 191,065 (Figure 2) for his invention of the mechanical bank
seen in Figure 1. To date, no catalog pages or advertisements have been
located that would indicate its manufacturer. Additional historical
information pertaining to "Guessing Bank" is attributed to Mr. Mark Haber
(deceased). Mr. Haber, a prominent mechanical bank collector and
historian, discovered the first example of "Guessing Bank".
In a conversation with Mr. F.H. Griffith (deceased), noted author and
mechanical bank collector, Mr. Haber related several aspects of his
discovery. These were subsequently recounted in a magazine article written
by Mr. Griffith in 1962. A summary of that writing is as follows: "The
first example of "Guessing Bank" was found in South Windham, Connecticut,
in the home of a Mr. and Mrs. George E. Sherman. It was being used as a
doorstop. Mr. Haber then relates that he purchased the bank from the
Sherman's. Further inquiry revealed Mr. Sherman's grandfather had
purchased Mr. McLoughlin's patent rights to "Guessing Bank" and assigned a
manufacturer the task of producing several examples for distribution to
jobbers. To the best of Sherman's recollection, the orders for these banks
were so meager as to make the venture unprofitable. Perhaps, a gambling
device in the hands of a child did not seem to have any appeal. Subsequent
visits to the Sherman's revealed that several other examples of
"Guessing Bank", in their original packing, were stored in an old barrel,
all of which Mr. Haber was able to acquire."
Mr. Haber's recollection of the acquisition of "Guessing Bank", as
summarized by Mr Griffith, is much appreciated. However, several details
of the mechanical remain ambiguous. Did Mr. McLoughlin utilize another
man's patent, namely the "Independence Hall Tower Bank" to design his
patent drawing seen in Figure 2 and his patent model (Figure 3)? Both the
patent drawing and patent model exhibit a previously manufactured figure
of the "Smoking Man Match Holder" (Figure 5) positioned atop what appears
to be an actual example of the "Independence Hall Tower Bank". This still
bank was patented by a Mr. Candide W. Croteau of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, on September 21, 1875 (Figure 4).
Except for a figure that is similar to the seated man match holder,
observation of the final production "Guessing Bank" (Figure 1) reveals
little resemblance to "Independence Hall Tower Bank". These factors lead
me to believe Mr. McLoughlin was, possibly, involved in the creation of
the match holder but was, perhaps, legally directed to abandon all rights
to Mr. Croteau's design (Figure 4).
Answers to these questions may be gleaned from yet undiscovered data.
At present, the uncertainty continues.
Operation of "Guessing Bank" is entertaining and uncomplicated. A
coin is dropped through the slot in the man's hat. The weight of the
descending coin causes an internal flywheel to turn, which causes a thin
horsehair pointer on the dial to spin. As the pointer revolves, it engages
small pins positioned around the dial. Ultimately, these pins will stop
the pointer at a particular number. If the operator of the bank has
"called" the indicated number prior to depositing the coin, he is entitled
to remove five times the amount deposited. Deposits are recovered by
opening the key-lock cast iron drawer in the back of the bank's base.
"Guessing Bank" is composed of several different materials. The
seated figure of the man is cast of zinc alloy. The numerical dial is
glazed white porcelain, and the entire base and drawer are cast iron.
"Guessing Bank" is quite scarce. Although I am unaware, at this time,
of any attempts to reproduce the mechanical, a base diagram of an original
example (Figure 6) is provided to indicate size and scale. If a recast
exists it would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter O.D. than
Acknowledgements: The superb example "Guessing Bank" (Figure 1) is in
the collection of Bob Weiss.
The patent model for the "Guessing Bank" (Figure 3) is in the Kidd
Toy Museum collection, Frank and Joyce Kidd proprietors.
The "Smoking Man Match Holder" (Figure 5) is in the collection of Bob