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The Reclining Chinaman Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine April, 1983

     Historically, minority groups in this country have borne the brunt of hostility and ridicule. During the mid-to-late-1800s, the United States underwent a dramatic growth change due to immigration. A new racial element entered the American scene with the arrival of persons of Oriental background. Their presence posed serious problems for 19th century America. Although economic factors were important considerations, the major problems were difficulty in assimilation and the attitudes which prevail towards minorities. This article will deal with a creation of those times, the "Reclining Chinaman", a mechanical bank which is representative of the prejudice and stereotyping that was directed specifically against the Chinese people.
     The bank portrays the Chinese as having a "sardonic" smile, a penchant for gambling, shrewdness in money matters, using logs instead of chairs or beds, and living with, and using rodents for sustenance. Unlike banks such as the" Girl Skipping Rope" which offers esthetic value in its grace and beauty, the" Reclining Chinaman's" value lies in its historical and anti-racial theme.
     The smiling" Chinaman" holds his concealed poker cards in his right hand, while left hand is extended. His gestures tempt one to see his bet in order to be shown the cards. A penny is placed in the pocket of his tunic, and the lever at the far end of the log is pressed. At that moment his left hand moves towards his mouth as if to cover a victorious snicker. The "Chinaman" then displays his hand of four aces. Simultaneously, the money is deposited into the bank. At this point, I must offer a word of caution. The arms and hands are the "weak spots" due to their delicate casting, sharp action and precarious position. When a "Reclining Chinaman" bank is found, the chances are great that either one or both of the arms and/or hands will be broken.
     The "Reclining Chinaman" bank was invented by James H. Bowen of Philadelphia and was granted Patent number 262,361 on August 8, 1882. While researching this particular patent, an interesting fact emerged. The same patent papers that protect the "Reclining Chinaman" also apply to the "Two Frogs", "Paddy and the Pig", and the "Elephant and Three Clowns" mechanical banks. However, the patent papers make no reference to any figure other than the "Two Frogs" shown in its drawings (Fig. 1).
     The "Reclining Chinaman" was produced with two color variations but these pertain mainly to the clothing of the "Chinaman" and the drape upon which he leans. All other parts of the bank are painted in a standardized color scheme. The base and log area reddish brown; the two ends of the log are pale orange. The rodent under the subject's leg is gray with black eyes. The "Chinaman's" face, hands and arms are a natural pink flesh color. He has black hair, queue and eyebrows. His eyes are painted white with black pupils, and his lips are red. The cards in his right hand have reddish brown backs, while the other side has a white ground with a red heart painted on one card, a black club on the second, a black spade on the third, and a red diamond on the fourth card.
     The color variations previously mentioned are as follows: on some banks the drape which the "Chinaman" rests upon is dark purple with a yellow fringe; on others, it's painted light blue with a yellow fringe. On the banks with the purple drape, the "Chinaman's" tunic is dark blue with yellow piping, collar and buttons. He has pale yellow pants, white socks and black shoes with white soles. On the banks which have the light blue drape, the "Chinaman" dons a dark purple tunic with yellow piping, collar and buttons. He wears light blue pants, white socks and black shoes with white soles.
     The base of the bank accepts the round Stephens coin trap, indicating it was manufactured by the Stephens Foundry of Cromwell, Connecticut. The words "ENG. PAT. JULY 1882. U.S. PAT. AUG 8, 1882" are embossed into the base plate.
     To the best of my knowledge, the" Reclining Chinaman" bank has never been reproduced commercially. Nevertheless, I am including a base diagram (Fig. 2) to better acquaint you with its size and scale.
     On a final note the "Reclining Chinaman" is a bank of extraordinarily fine casting and design. Combined with its odd subject matter and historical significance it has not only become one of my favorites, but one which most serious mechanical bank collectors take great pride in owning.

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