by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – March, 2007
A most unique cast iron penny bank, and one that
deviates from those generally discussed in this column, is the
semi-mechanical "Key Bank".
Features such as action, construction, subject matter, design, etc.
have contributed to increased acceptability of specific semi-mechanical
and still banks by mechanical bank collectors (see Footnote). In addition
to "Key Bank", a few notable examples include "General Butler Bank" (refer
to Antique Toy World,
July 1992), "Lighthouse Bank" (A.T.W.,
1998), and "Safety Locomotive Bank" (A.T.W.,
"Key Bank" (Figure 1) was the creation of William J. Sommerville of
Cleveland, Ohio. On May 14, 1915, Mr. Sommerville was granted Design
47,308 (Figure 2) for his invention.
Based upon the date of patent and the words `GOLDEN GATE' embossed
upon the upper neck of a few examples (Figure 3), many collectors believe
"Key Bank" was possibly created and marketed for the San Francisco
Pan-Pacific World's Fair of 1915. A momentous occasion in history, the
Fair celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and also commemorated
the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by the
explorer, Balboa. The Fair continued from February 20th through December
4, 1915. The words "Golden Gate" appear to be an obvious reference to the
landmark Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Figure 4 is a page from The New York Company's Catalog of Novelties,
circa 1915-1920. In it is an advertisement for "Key Bank", at a cost of 25
cents each, and $2.75 per dozen.
Deposits are accomplished by placing a coin into the allocated slot
inside the oval head of the key, whereupon it drops, innocuously and
without fanfare, into its barrel. Coin removal, however, is unique, and
accounts for the bank's semi-mechanical classification. A combination type
lock is utilized; but rather than opening a safe door to retrieve monies,
it releases a small arrowhead shaped bar in order to expose the coin
removal slot (Figures 5a, b).
Figure 6 represents an original paper hangtag, with complete
operating instructions. (A tag accompanied each bank sold). Succinctly
describing coin removal, it reads: "To Open the Bank: Hold the Bank upside
down, and turn the bottom disc (Figure 7) around to the right three times
by stopping the notch at 1 then back to the left to 4. The bar covering
the opening can then be pushed back (Figures 5a, b) and the coins easily
There are two design and finish variations of "Key Bank". Figure 1
exhibits the copper electroplated, cast iron version. Figure 3 pictures a
"Key Bank" constructed of aluminum with the words "GOLDEN GATE" embossed
around its neck. It also displays a heart shaped design to its head, in
contrast to the oval shaped head seen in the "Key Bank" pictured in Figure
Both examples are equally scarce. Both are desirable and attractive
additions to a mechanical bank collection.
To my knowledge, "Key Bank" has not been reproduced. Nonetheless, I
am including dimensions solely as an aid for collectors to determine the
size and scale: 5-5/8 inches from the top of the key head to bottom of the
Footnote: a mechanical bank is defined as a toy savings device that
performs function and, in the process, receives a coin.
A semi-mechanical bank is generally defined as an animated device
whose action is totally independent of coin deposit.
A still bank is a toy savings device that has absolutely no moving
parts (other than possibly a key lock or disk shaped, or sliding, coin
Acknowledgment: the mint example "Key Bank", Figure 1, and its
original instructions (paper hang-tag) are in the collection of Bob
April, 2007) Antique Toy World
March, 2007, "Key
Bank". Footnote definition of a Mechanical Bank should read: "A toy
savings device that performs a mechanical function and, in the process,
receives a coin".