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The Jolly Nigger Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine December, 1983 

     The year 1619 is infamous as the (date of the arrival of the first slave ships in Jamestown, Virginia. Accompanying the shame and degradation of human bondage was the introduction to American society of anti-black art literature, music, and various objects, including children's playthings.
     The world of mechanical penny banks was not to be left unaffected by these hostile and irrational racist attitudes. Examples may be cited of banks which portray black persons hitting their heads, falling, having their teeth yanked, mouths slammed, eating, kicking, and stealing watermelons and chickens, as well as involvement in a plethora of other humiliating situations.
     Which leads us to the subject of this article: a mechanical penny bank with its humiliating stamp boldly emblazoned on its back "THE JOLLY NIGGER BANK"
     On March 14, 1882, both Charles G. Shepard and Peter Adams, Jr., of Buffalo, New York were granted Patent Number 255,090 for their invention of the Jolly Nigger bank. This bank was eventually manufactured by the Shepard Hardware Company of Buffalo, New York and later, when the Shepard Company ceased production, by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell. Connecticut. As evidenced by the patent drawings, the final production bank follows the patent papers faithfully (Figure 1).
     The operation of the Jolly Nigger bank is quite simple. A coin is placed in the right hand; the lever in his back is pressed down. Simultaneously, his eyes roll up, his tongue recedes, and his right arm raises the coin, whereby it is flipped into his gaping mouth and deposited within the bank.
     The bank which was produced by the Shepard Company allows for coin removal by unscrewing the entire base plate. In the Stevens variation, the coins are removed by opening the small round Stevens-type coin trap in the base. Both Shepard's and Stevens' castings of the head, arm, and body are identical. The only major casting differences are in the base plates.
     With the exceptions of some color variations which will be discussed later in this article, both Shepard and Stevens painted their Jolly Nigger banks exactly the same colors: the man's face, hair, and hand are black; his lips, nostrils, jacket, tongue, and spaces between his teeth are red. He has a black tie and buttons. His eyes are white with brown irises outlined in black and the pupils are black. The base plate of the Shepard bank is japanned with a brown lacquer and has the words, "MADE BY SHEPARD HARDWARE CO. BUFFALO N.Y. Pat'd in Canada Mar. 22, 1883." The Stevens' base plate is painted with a creamy whitewash and has the following words printed in raised lettering "Manufactured by the J and E Stevens Co. Cromwell Conn. U.S.A."
     The paint variations that show up occasionally, particularly in the Shepard Jolly Nigger, have, in some, the coat painted a bright ultra-marine blue, and in others, the face and hand painted in cocoa brown rather than black. Many collectors (myself included) feel both of these variations are extremely attractive.
     The Jolly Nigger bank gained great popularity during the period of its manufacture This possibly was due in part to its reasonable price of sixty cents apiece (see Figure 2, Montgomery Ward and Co. ad. circa 1889), the bank's sturdy construction, and, perhaps, because of its racist subject matter. This mechanical's anti-black theme has transcended the boundaries of our own country, and Jolly Nigger-type banks have been manufactured in England, France, Germany, Spain, South America, the Near East, and Canada. Some other names they are known by are: Jolly Nigger High Hat, Little Hi-Hat, Little Moe Little Joe, Sambo, Greedy Nigger Boy, Darky Bust, African Native and the list goes on.
     I would venture to say this particular design was the most popular and imitated of any mechanical bank ever produced. I am not aware if any reproductions of the Jolly Nigger bank exist; nevertheless, Figure 3, a base diagram, shows its scale.
     Many collectors, including myself, find little, if any, charm or endearing qualities in the Jolly Nigger bank other than its historical significance. Rather, it reflects a period in our history of which I am certain this country is not particularly proud.

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