The Sailor Money Box
(Jack Tar Bank)
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – February, 2008
Over the ages sailing and the lure of the sea
have ignited the imagination of boys and grown men alike. Nineteenth
century literature includes great works by such authors as Herman
Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson and Daniel DeFoe. Their novels, i.e.
"Moby Dick", "Treasure Island" and "Robinson Caruso", respectively,
captured the mood of the sea. Books such as these were the likely spark of
inspiration for toy manufacturers of the era, both in this country and
Production of a multitude of children's playthings depicting ships
and their colorful navigators proved to be quite profitable. Shelves of
country stores worldwide were soon overflowing with such goods.
Interestingly, however, is the fact that, despite the popularity and
plethora of naval toys created during this time, there were merely three
different representations within the category of "Mechanical Banks."
Further, and adding to the puzzlement, none of the three was produced here
in the United States, but rather in Europe. These are "Saluting Sailor"
manufactured by Saalheimer and Strauss, Nurnberg, Germany, "Sailor Face"
arched top, produced in Germany (manufacturer unknown), and the subject of
this article: "The Sailor Money Box" a.k.a. "Jack Tar Bank", Figure 1.
"Sailor Money Box", or "Jack Tar Bank" was produced by W.H. Britain
and Sons, London, England. An advertisement issued by the company, circa
1885, read as follows: "Introduced a New Item. The Sailor Money Box. The
Sailor is dressed in satin and mounted on a mahogany box. Always ready to
receive subscriptions either as a children's money box, or for charitable
Action of "Sailor Money Box" is also indicated in the ad..."On
placing a penny in the plate which he holds in front of him, he will
immediately transfer it to the box at his side. At the same time raising
his hat with his right hand and bowing gracefully." Figure 2 represents
Jack Tar prior to operation, while Figure 1 indicates deposition of the
coin. Deposits are retrieved by opening the key lock, hinged, left side of
the wooden base.
"Sailor Money Box" is one of only two extremely rare and important
mechanicals that were constructed of identical materials, namely wood,
cloth, and pot metal (zinc-alloy). The other is "Freedman's Bank", seen in
Figure 3, manufactured by Jerome B. Secor of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
"Freedman's Bank" reflected post slavery issues within the United States
and did not derive from a nautical theme. The heads and arms of both
mechanicals were created with zinc alloy and bronze. Their bodies were
clothed in fabric and their bases were constructed of finely polished
Worthy of mention is the origin of the name "Jack Tar", the common
Englishman's term for seamen serving in the Royal Sailing Ship Navy. There
are several plausible explanations for the designation: 1) all seamen
during this period waterproofed their garments with a coating of thinned,
high grade tar; 2) it was also common amongst sailors to braid their long
hair into a pigtail and smear it with diluted tar to prevent its getting
caught within the ship's equipment; 3) in order to inhibit the rotting of
the ship's riggings which were made of hemp, the ropes were soaked in tar.
Sailors handling these riggings would find their arms and hands heavily
As previously mentioned, "Sailor Money Box" is extremely rare, with
less than a handful known to exist on the shelves of a few fortunate
Figure 4 is a detailed photograph of an original head from a "Jack
Tar Bank". It appears in this article solely to demonstrate the artistic
and decorative capabilities of W.H. Britain and Sons, the bank's
I am not aware of reproduced examples of "Sailor Money Box".
Nonetheless, the following dimensions are presented to aid the collector
in determining size and scale: Height: 15 inches, Width: 10-3/8 inches,
Depth: 6 inches.
To conclude, "Sailor Money Box" a.k.a. "Jack Tar Bank" is a rare,
attractive, beautifully executed example of nineteenth century folk art.
It is an extremely important addition to a mechanical bank collection.
Acknowledgement: The mint, all-original example of "Sailor Money
Box", Figure 2, is from the Kidd Toy Museum collection, Frank and Joyce