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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 abroad.
     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 purposes."
     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 wood.
     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 tar stained.
     As previously mentioned, "Sailor Money Box" is extremely rare, with less than a handful known to exist on the shelves of a few fortunate collectors.
     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 manufacturer.
     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 Kidd, proprietors.

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