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Tin Minstrel Bank - Type II
(A Rare Variation)

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine November, 2009

    HISTORY BOOKS RECOUNT the suffering and humiliation resulting from racial and anti-black sentiment, both in this country and abroad. III-will and hostility laid the foundations for the introduction of prejudicial art, literature, music, as well as various manufactured items. Children's playthings proved non-exempt, as evidenced in the world encompassing mechanical penny banks.
     The majority of examples of such penny banks were manufactured in the United States and Germany. The "Jolly Nigger Bank" (Figure 1) was the most popular example and, by far, the most abundantly produced in this country. The Tin "Minstrel Bank" (Figure 2) was Germany's version of "Jolly Nigger". The total number produced surpassed all other tinplate mechanical banks manufactured in that country, and by more than ten fold!
     There are a few variations of Tin "Minstrel Bank" and these pertain solely to exterior design graphics. One of these, seen in Figure 3, is our subject for discussion and a puzzle to be unraveled. Because of its remarkable resemblance to the most common example (Figure 2), it was thought to have been a creation of Saalheimer and Strauss Tin Works. Located in Nurnberg, Germany, then the center of European tinplate toy production, this firm was a prestigious and important manufacturer of tin toys, novelty items and mechanical banks.
     Figure 4 represents a page from a Saalheimer and Strauss wholesale catalog, circa 1923, in which their "Minstrel Bank" was featured. Imprinted below the minstrel's face is an instructive verse. Activation of the mechanical (Figure 2) is achieved by following these instructions: "Press the lever lightly, Watch my tongue appear, Save a penny nightly, Make your fortune here". Initially, the lever located at the side of the bank is thrust downward and held in position. A coin is then placed upon the minstrel's protruding tongue, as indicated in Figure 5. When the lever is released, the tongue and money recede into the bank. Deposits are retrieved by unlocking the square key-lock coin retainer underneath the base.
     With one exception, all variants of "Minstrel Bank" appear identical and operate in a similar manner. The exception is that the most common example, seen in Figure 2, and the scarcest example (Figure 3) do not exhibit a verse beneath the minstrel's face.
     The assumption of manufacture by Saalheimer and Strauss prevailed until recently when a fully intact, flat tinplate, lithographed sheet was discovered. It contained several images similar to those decorating the facade of the "Minstrel Bank" seen in Figure 3. Flat sheets of lithographed tinplate such as these are utilized by the toy manufacturer to be inserted into a die cutting, bending and assembling machine in order to create a finished mechanical bank.
     Interestingly, the following wordage had been imprinted upon the aforementioned tinplate sheet: "M.N.2 E. Sanchez 11 11 29 1.1.20 Ejemplases PLANTILLA Nrd 158-RICO S.A." This loosely translates as: Template Example, Number 158, Design Patent, E. Sanchez, on November 11, 1929, Rico, South America. (Author's note: It is merely an assumption on my part that the initials "S.A" represent "South America".)
     Unfortunately, with only limited information, and until additional factual data is uncovered, one can only offer assumptions and possibilities as to who might have actually manufactured the bank seen in Figure 3. Conceivably, Mr. Sanchez supplied Saalheimer and Strauss with the design graphics of his bank. The company, in turn, translated the images to lithographed tinplate sheets. These were utilized to create the completed mechanical banks, (Figure 3), which were then forwarded to Mr. Sanchez for distribution in his country. A second explanation may be that Mr. Sanchez himself had produced the mechanical after acquiring the tinplate bank-forming machinery from Saalheimer and Strauss.
     In sharp contrast to the common Saalheimer and Strauss "Minstrel Bank" (Figure 2), the E. Sanchez example is considered quite scarce, with few examples appearing in present day collections. Despite its fragile tinplate construction and diminutive size (i.e. Height: 6-7/8 inches. Width: 2-7/8 inches), the "Minstrel Bank", (Figure 3), is an extremely illusive, attractive and desirable addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgments: The superb example "Minstrel Bank" (Figure 2) was photographed from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     The superb example E. Sanchez "Minstrel Bank" (Figure 3) is in the collection of Bob Weiss.

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