The Clown Money bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – January, 2008
Circus clowns have entertained audiences with
humorous and prankish acts since their introduction centuries ago. The
clown's initial appearance was at the first "modern" circus that
originated in England (1868) and organized by Philip Astley. Prior to the
clown, this circus' sole source of entertainment was horse-mounted events.
One of the performances was entitled "Billy Buttons, or the Tailor's Ride
to Brentford" and was based upon a then-popular tale of a tailor and his
journey upon a rambunctious steed to the town of Brentford. The story's
humor revolved around Billy's clumsy attempts at trying to mount and
dismount his nag.
The instant popularity of this "new style" circus and Billy Buttons
sparked Astley and other local companies to incorporate the clown more
frequently into their acts. Within a few years the circus became a global
phenomenon; jesters in painted faces bedazzled audiences worldwide
(Figures 1 and 2).
Recognition of the clown's monetary potential was not limited solely
to the confines of the circus. Nineteenth and early twentieth century toy
manufacturers seized the opportunity to increase profits by creating a
number of mechanical banks incorporating the likeness of these
entertainers. In addition to our subject, namely "The Clown Money Bank"
(seen in Figure 3), other notable examples include: "Circus Bank",
"Bill-E-Grin", "Humpty Dumpty", "Jolly Joe the Clown", "Clown on Globe",
"Professor Pug Frog", "Elephant and Three Clowns", "Clown Bust", "Trick
Dog", "Hoop-La", etc.
Unfortunately, to date, neither catalog nor advertising data has
surfaced that would shed light upon the bank's manufacturer and/or
designer. However, another mechanical, namely "The Chinaman Somersault
Bank", Figure 4, had been previously discovered and thoroughly researched.
Uncanny similarities in design, action and tinplate construction had led
to the supposition that both mechanicals were produced, circa 1910-1912,
by Frank Smith and Company of Liverpool, England.
In addition, and to further support the aforementioned date of
manufacture and country of origin, "Clown Money Bank" displays the
following words inscribed upon its facade: "REGISTERED DESIGN 667121".
Such series registration numbers were issued by Great Britain's Patent
Office during the years 1910-1912. Furthermore, its box (Figure 5)
exhibits the verbiage "FACTORY NP. 126 MADE IN BRITAIN".
Operation of "The Clown Money Bank" is imprinted upon its front side
(Figure 3) as well as the front of the box (Figure 5). It reads:
"DIRECTIONS. Place the money in his arms, then press the spring and
watch." The clown then performs a somersault, the coin exiting its hands
to be deposited into the bank. Puzzling is the fact that there is no
apparent means of coin removal other than physically prying its tin base
apart. Such destructive mutilation of the bank may have been the single
factor attributing to the mechanical's extreme rarity.
There are two variations of "The Clown Money Bank". Both pertain
solely to its decorative features. One may exhibit the operating
instructions printed upon its facade (Figure 3) The other simply portrays
a modernistic geometric design on all four sides of the base.
Based upon the actual size of "The Clown Money Bank" seen in Figure 3
(i.e. Height: 6-3/8 inches, Width: 1-3/8 inches, A Depth: 1-3/8 inches) as
compared to the shorter dimensions of the box (Figure 5) it appears likely
that the mechanical was packaged and sold in a disassembled state. It is,
in fact, quite easy to remove the figure of the clown from its cradle by
gently prying open the sides of the bracket.
To my knowledge "The Clown Money Bank" has not been reproduced.
However, due to the bank's fragile and delicate construction, this does
not preclude the possibility of broken, replaced or reproduced parts. In
such an instance, appropriate reevaluation should be considered.
"The Clown Money Bank" is extremely rare, with only four examples
known to be in the possession of a quartet of fortunate collectors. For
these individuals it is an appealing addition to the Circus-Clown category
of mechanicals. For other serious collectors, it is a challenging quest.
Acknowledgement: The mint example "The Clown Money Bank", Figure 3,
and its original box, Figure 5, is in the collection of Bob Weiss.