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SURPRISE BOX ALBUM BANK
(semi-mechanical)

by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – October, 2012

WONDERMENT, AMAZEMENT, and marvelment may perhaps describe the indefatigable popularity of "surprise boxes". The Encyclopedia of American Folk Art credits the endurance of "Jack in the Box" to its element of surprise.
     One of the earliest documented "surprise boxes" was created by a clockmaker from Nurenberg, Germany, circa 1500's. It was, presumably, a birthday gift for the son of a local prince. The device was a hand fashioned musical comb, mounted in an inornate wooden box with a crank handle. The device played a simple tune and featured a comical popup devil. When other nobles requested a "Devil In The Box" for their children, a trend ensued that has continued to this day.
     During the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the "surprise box" reached its height of popularity. This was due to the ingenuity of manufacturers in Germany. They developed cheaply made, mass produced toys and "surprise boxes" created from brightly lithographed paper clad cardboard, wood, cloth and papier-mâché. Such unique hand crafted items previously affordable to only the wealthy became accessible to the common masses. Most toys of this type and period were produced in Saxony or Nurnberg. Germany, then the toy producing capitals of the world.
     The Montgomery Ward and Company toy catalog, circa 1894, and Butler Bros. and Company catalog, circa 1905 advertised these inexpensive "surprise boxes", a.k.a. "Jack in the boxes" (refer to Figures 1 and 2). During this period a "surprise Figures box" was produced that incorporated a penny savings bank feature. Appropriately titled "Surprise Box Album Bank" (Figure 3), it is the subject of this article.
     To date, no information has surfaced pertaining to patent, catalog, or manufacturer of "Album Bank". The lone clues as to its genealogy may possibly be gleaned from the observation of its construction, materials, and subject matter. Figures 1 and 2 represent early catalog ads offering "surprise boxes" (but not penny banks), indicating all were manufactured in Germany. These "surprise boxes" feature several components that are comparable to "Surprise Box Album Bank" (Figure 3).
     Of interest is the fact that, during this period, a primarily metal "Jack in the box" type mechanical bank was produced within the United States. Entitled "Zig Zag Bank", it is seen in Figure 4. Thus far, only one example of "Surprise Box Album Bank" and one example "Zig Zag Bank" has surfaced, relegating each to the distinguished category referred to as "very rare and unique".
     Action of "Surprise Box Album Bank" is simplistic as well as entertaining. Initially, the figure is gently pushed downward into the box. The lid is then closed and latched. When the lid is released, "Jack" pops up, revealing a coin slot displaying the words "PAY HERE" (Figure 5). Deposition of a coin is not required to facilitate or to further its action, thus designating "Album Bank" as "semi-mechanical" ("a penny bank with moving parts, wherein coin deposit is not instrumental for any of its action").
     "Zig Zag Bank", however, is considered a "mechanical bank" The coin deposited through the hat of the Wizard atop the bank "zig zags" its way down the facade track, striking an internal latch, which releases the "Jack in the box" clown from its domicile.
     "Album Bank" is constructed of a lithographed paper clad, book shaped wooden box containing a cloth covered soft spring, pop up figure, with a highly detailed, hand painted papier-mâché  head.
     Despite its diminutive size, i.e. Height: 5 inches (to the top of the figure), 2 inches (closed), Width and Depth: 3-5/8 inches across top cover, "Surprise Box Album Bank" is a rare, attractive, and desirable addition to a mechanical bank collection.

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