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Alice in Wonderland Bank

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine June, 2011

     ONE SLEEPY afternoon, a very bored little girl known as Alice sat with her sister beside a riverbank. Suddenly, appearing within Alice's vision was a White Rabbit, fully clothed and adorned Figure with a pocket watch (Figure 1). Curiosity overcame Alice and she proceeded to follow this creature into a rabbit hole. Losing her balance, she tumbled into a strange hallway with numerous locked doors. On a small table was a key that unlocked one of these portals. And so begins the bazaar odyssey of "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland".
     This imaginative tale was written in the year 1865 by British author, Charles Ludwig Dodson, known to most by his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll. The appeal of its subject, i.e. a sweet, naive little girl named Alice, and her adventures into a world populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures gained instant acclaim amongst adults and children alike.
      Several entrepreneurs of the era responded quickly to the popular success of Alice by exploiting the fable's absurd, zany characters. Dolls, toys, articles of clothing, games, etc. filled shelves of country stores and gift shops worldwide. Amongst the items produced was a penny bank (the subject of this article: Figure 2) featuring characters from the "Alice In Wonderland" novel.
     Although most examples of the "Alice Wonderland Bank" exhibit the words "PEW. PAT. 18808/07 impressed into its false bottom, there was little, if any, information pertaining to either the bank's manufacturer or designer. Then several years ago, fellow bank collector and historian Dr. Greg Zemenick uncovered relevant information pertaining to the aforementioned Provisional the bank Patent. His findings were reported in a journal of the Mechanical Bank Collectors Club, and I will attempt to paraphrase Dr. Zemenick: "I have in my collection a unique example "Alice In Wonderland Bank" which shows (for the first time) its manufacturer, in addition to the Provisional Patent number. Impressed into its false bottom are the words "A. Barrett and Sons, L3 and L4, Piccadilly, London".
     Interestingly, the "Alice In Wonderland Bank" has been categorized as Semi-Mechanical because of its similarity in construction and action to both a still bank and a mechanical bank. Coins are deposited through a slot in the top of the bank (the grinning mouth of the Cheshire Cat seen in Figure 3). As with a still bank, there is no resultant action.
     The mechanical aspect is observed during coin removal when sliding out the bank's well-disguised, false bottom. This is followed by a metal flap (Figure 4) displaying the embossed likeness of "ALICE" automatically swinging downward, exposing a void in the bottom of the bank. To the viewer, it appears that the bank is empty and the coins have "magically" disappeared. In order to retrieve deposits,
one must know Alice's "secret": i.e. pushing upward on one end of an internal spring-held baffle, thus allowing the coins to exit the bank.
     "Alice In Wonderland Bank" is constructed of deeply embossed, silver-plated sheet brass. The execution of the highly detailed Wonderland inhabitants exhibited upon the bank's surface is a tribute to the bank's surface is a tribute to the metal smith's skills of the period.
     The sides and top section of aforementioned Provisional the bank display the names and  images of significant characters appearing within the story. They are as follows: the "Duchess" (Figure 2), the "Cheshire Cat" (Figure 3), "Alice" (Figure 4), the Knave of Hearts" (Figure 5), the "Queen of Hearts" (Figure 6), and the "Mad Hatter" (Figure 7).
     Despite its monochromatic and simplistic design, its silver-plated brass construction and its modest size (i.e. Height: 4-9/16 inches. Width: 4 inches, Depth: 4 inches), this Figure 7 extremely scarce Semi-Mechanical bank is a most attractive and interesting addition to a mechanical bank collection.

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