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The United States Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine June, 2007

     Unexciting and lackluster may, perhaps, unfairly describe the category of mechanical banks representing the commercial floor safe. This utilitarian object was utilized in the design of several nineteenth and early twentieth century toy savings devices referred to as "penny banks".
     Interestingly, a mere five different floor safe style mechanical banks were produced during that era, while the production of varied still banks of this design numbered well over three hundred fifty. Perhaps the most important features for mechanical bank manufacturers were action and excitement, characteristics that were difficult to achieve utilizing an inanimate "box on wheels".
     The five aforementioned mechanical banks are "Electric Safe", "Fortune Teller Savings Bank", "Magic Safe", "Watch Dog Safe" and our subject, "The United States Bank" (Figure 1). Of these, only two exhibit some form of animation: "Watch Dog Safe" features a dog possessing a movable, albeit barely noticeable, lower jaw, and "The United States Bank" contains a "flip-up" lid (Figure 2). Figure 3 represents an early advertising flyer in which "The United States Bank" is pictured. Its manufacturer is indicated as the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut.
     Until recently the inventor and distributor of "The United States Bank" were unknown. This is attributed to a partially obscured patent date stenciled in gold upon the obverse of the bank (Figure 4). The wording appeared to read "PAT'D. AUG. 27, 1880". After several unsuccessful research attempts it was apparent that no patent for any toy penny banks was issued on that date. Owing to the intuition and perseverance of mechanical bank historian and collector, Mr. Bill Jones, the actual date was discovered to be "AUG. 27, 1889", as evidenced by the patent papers seen in Figure 5.
     On August 27, 1889, Max Emanual of London, England was granted U.S. Patent Number 409,778 for his creation. Mr. Emanuel subsequently assigned all rights to George Borgfeldt and Company, a toy distributor with its main office located in New York City. This company presumably contracted the aforementioned J. and E. Stevens Company to manufacture this mechanical. The George Borgfeldt Company distributed "The United States Bank" to various outlets and country stores throughout the United States.
     Operation of "The United States Bank" is incomplex and appropriate to the subject. A coin is placed through a slot in the door of the bank. Simultaneously, a concealed flap at the top of the safe springs open (Figure 2) revealing a colorful image of a young girl in Victorian attire. In addition, as illustrated in the J. and E. Stevens Company advertising flyer (Figure 3a), a shallow recess underneath the flap contained a "miniature bankbook, into which the child may enter the amount of the deposit". Accumulated coins are removed by opening the front door of the safe with the provided key.
     There are no color variations of "The United States Bank". However, there is one design difference. The bank may also exhibit two coin slots, one above the front door, as seen in Figure 1, and a second slot located at the top of the safe.
     "The United States Bank" is quite rare. Despite simplicity of form and action as well as modest coloration, a superb, all original example will command a high price.
     I am, at this time, unaware of attempts to reproduce "The United States Bank". Nonetheless, Figure 6 represents base dimensions of an original example to aid the collector in determining size and scale.
     Acknowledgements: The superb example "The United States Bank" (Figures 1 and 2) is in the collection of Bill Jones.
     The J. and E. Stevens Company flyer (Figure 3) advertising "The United States Bank" was provided by Bill Jones.
     The Patent Papers for "The United States Bank" (Figure 5) was discovered and supplied by Bill Jones.

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