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London Traffic Tower Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine September, 2009

     A most unique and interesting subject for a mechanical bank is the "London Traffic Tower Bank" (Figure 1). Its creation was inspired by an actual structure built to alleviate traffic problems caused by the advent of the mass produced automobile.
     The year 1914 ushered in a new age in transportation history when Henry Ford commenced assembly-line production of his "Model T". Availability of these vehicles to an excited public, both in the United States and abroad, resulted in overwhelming sales.
Motorists were seen driving through city streets at then-alarming speeds. Police, poised with stopwatches, were posted at particularly hazardous thoroughfares with orders to stop anyone driving faster than 20 m.p.h. Berlin and London were examples of large cities crowded with rush hour traffic. The most dangerous areas were at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany and Piccadilly Circus in London, England. It was not uncommon to see hundreds of cars jammed at major intersections. The city government of Berlin sought to resolve the problem by erecting the first traffic tower (Figure 2). It soon became a major public attraction.
     Seizing upon an idea to create a toy in the image of this popular structure was a gentleman by the name of Heinrick Dreesen. Mr. Dresser of Potsdame, Germany applied for and was granted a patent for his invention of the "Toy Traffic Tower". Shortly thereafter, Ernst Paul Lehmann, founder of the Lehmann Manufacturing Company, acquired the rights from Dresser for 200 marks and redesigned the patent (Figure 3) as it mechanical bank. His modification, entitled "Hemline Tower Bank" (Figure 4) was promptly placed into production.
     The Lehmann Company of Braderiburg, Prussia was one of the foremost late nineteenth-early twentieth century manufacturers of colorfully lithographed tin novelty items and wind-up, spring driven tinplate toys.
     During production of the "Berolina Tower Bank" Lehmann Company began manufacturing another traffic tower bank, this one replicating the structure erected at an intersection in London, England. This mechanical was, appropriately, christened "London Traffic Tower Bank" (Figure 1).
     The Lehmann "London Tower Batik" is almost entirely constructed of lithographed tinplate. The exception is its small flag that had been created from cloth. Its five-sided facade is attractively decorated with various views of London landmarks, namely Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, The Monument, Cleopatra's Needle, and Westminster Abbey. Wordage imprinted upon the bank's surface include: "PATENT LEMIANN TOY" and "D.R. PATENT 791 MADE IN GERMANY".
Action of the "Power Bank" commences after a coin is deposited through the provided slot in its roof. The police officer in the tower raises and lowers his flag. Coin retrieval is accomplished by removing the bank's key lock, pentagonal shaped base.
     I am not aware of the existence of reproduced examples of the "London Traffic Tower Bank". However, due to its delicate construction, there is the possibility of crudely restored and/or replaced parts. In such instances, limited professional conservation may be considered acceptable without significantly devaluing the bank.
     Although the "London Traffic Tower Bank" is small in size, i.e. Height: 6-1/4 inches, Width: 2-5/8 inches, its desirability is not diminished. In addition to its rarity and historic significance, it is an extremely attractive addition to a mechanical bank collection.
Acknowledgements: The superb example of "London Traffic Tower Bank", (Figure 1) is in the collection of Max Berry.
     My gratitude to Harold and Uli Merielein of Nurnberg, Germany for supplying copies of the original patent papers (Figure 3) for the Lehmann "Traffic Tower Bank".

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