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Bureau Bank Serrill Patent
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine April, 2014

THE SUBJECT OF discussion, this article, is a most distinguished member of the mechanical bank community. "Bureau Toy Savings Bank", seen in Figure 1, was the first known patented, commercially manufactured, mechanical bank.
     A landmark date in the history of mechanical banks was February 16, 1869. It was on that date that James A. Serrill of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was assigned Patent Number 87,006 for his invention of "Bureau Toy Savings Bank". These patent papers (Figure 2) bear testimony to the fact that the final production bank adhered faithfully to Serrill's drawing-design.
     "Bureau Bank" is constructed almost entirely of wood, the lone exception being its baffle, which is composed of cloth. The bank incorporates a simplistic and ingenious mechanism. Its action is initiated by opening the top drawer of the chest (Figure 3) and placing a coin within. The drawer is then closed (Figure 1), causing the bottom of the drawer to tilt downward, whereupon the coin falls unseen into the bank. Upon reopening the top drawer, its bottom flips upward. Lo and behold! The coin appears to have mysteriously and magically disappeared. An internal baffle, seen in Figure 4, allows the cloth coin to silently descend into the bank's cavity, further enhancing the illusion of the disappearing coin. Deposits are removed via a secret, sliding wood bottom (refer to Figure 4).
     Doubtless, the public's intrigue with the disappearing coin illusion accounted for the immediate popularity and marketing success of "Bureau Bank". Whether it be the inquisitive child or adult, who could resist placing pennies into the "magic chest of drawers" only to view their disappearance right before one's eyes?
     The significance of Senill's invention served as an inspiration for another inventor-entrepreneur, i.e. John D. Hall of Watertown, Massachusetts. Most possibly, Hall, recognizing the overwhelming success of Serrill's "Bureau Bank", designed and patented, the first commercially produced cast iron. mechanical bank, namely the "Hall's Excelsior Bank"
(Figure 5). The success of Hall's invention led to the eventual creation of a major mechanical bank industry spanning several continents, and for a period of more than eighty years. During these years mechanicals with over five hundred different subjects were produced, and in various materials, i.e.: cast iron, tin, spelter, wood and cardboard.
     Serrill's creation itself, that of the disappearing coin "Bureau", was to serve as an inspiration for the design and creation of other patented and commercially produced mechanicals utilizing a vanishing coin drawer. Notable examples worthy of mention include the following: "Give Me A Penny", "Chandler's Bank", "Child's Bank", "Darkey In The Chimney", "Automatic Surprise Money Box", "Ideal Bureau", "Freedman's Bureau", "Model Savings Bank", "Presto 'hick Drawer Bank", etc...
     "Bureau Bank" is extremely rare, and especially so when found in complete, operational and un-restored condition. Unfortunately, this mechanical is stigmatized by its lack luster appearance. However, knowledgeable and sophisticated collectors have recognized the appeal of its simple and aesthetic qualities. In addition, and most importantly, its historical importance cannot be discounted, for "Bureau Bank" is the undisputed great granddaddy of all commercially manufactured mechanical banks.
     Although, to my knowledge, "Bureau Bank" has not been reproduced, the following dimensions are intended to inform the collector of size and scale: Height: 5-3/4 inches. Depth: 3-7/8 inches. Width: 4-15/16 inches.
     Acknowledgment: The superb example -Bureau Bank, Serrill Potent- (Figures 1, :3, 41 is in the collection of noted mechanical bank historian and collector Dr. Greg Zemeniek, M.D.

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