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The Sportsman Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine June, 1984

     Avid collectors, as well as the aspiring novice, are acquainted with a category of mechanical banks known as the "shooting banks." This is a group that consists of such familiar names as "Teddy and the Bear," "Lion Hunter," and "Indian Shooting the Bear." Each one portrays a hunter shooting pennies into, or at, the figure of an animal, but never killing it. This month's article, appropriately named the "Sportsman Bank" is totally unique to this fine group of mechanical banks in that it vividly portrays the actual downing of the target.
     On June 14, 1892, Edwin I. Pyle of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was granted Patent number 476,895 for his invention of a toy which depicts a hunter shooting a bird from the air. As evidenced by the patent drawings (Fig. 1), the bank, as it was eventually manufactured, follows these designs quite faithfully, with the exception that it was designed to be a toy and not a mechanical bank. In fact, nowhere in these patent papers are the words "bank" or "toy savings device" mentioned. It appears likely that Edwin Pyle presented his patented toy to the J. and E. Stevens Company, of Cromwell, Connecticut, who felt it would be more saleable as a mechanical bank. Bearing that speculation out is the fact that it was manufactured and sold as a bank under the name, the "Sportsman Bank."
     The action of the Sportsman Bank is extremely realistic: a coin is placed into the slot on top of the base; the catapult spring is then pushed down and set. The pigeon, with its string attached to the bank, is cradled into the catapult (Fig. 2). The gun's hammer is cocked and a paper cup is inserted into the chamber. The lever next to the hunter's right foot is then pressed. Simultaneously, the pigeon springs into the air and hunter turns, as if aiming his rifle. The hammer falls, firing the cap; the bird, reaching the end of its string, is pulled back, and plummets to the ground. The illusion, of course, is that it has been hit by the Sportsman's bullet. The penny is automatically deposited within the bank. These coins are removed by way of a round Stevens' coin trap underneath the base.
     Although I, personally, find the action, as described, and subject matter fascinating, it does seem, in my opinion, an unusual and perhaps inappropriate toy for a young child.
     The casting of the Sportsman Bank deserves special mention; the figure of the hunter is completely devoid of any of the finely cast details for which Stevens' banks are so well known. Under close examination one will find no seams, collars, cuffs, lapels, or buttons cast into the jacket. Instead, they are painted on. This seems to lend a naive simplicity and primitive feeling to the bank.
     The Sportsman Bank has no casting variation, but there are several color variations. These pertain to the hunter, the base, and the pigeon.
     The bank pictured in this article has a yellow base with a red border and a red flourish on one side. The top is green and the lever is red. The catapult is yellow with red trim. The fowler wears a black-brimmed tan hat, which has a red band along its bottom. His jacket is also tan with red trim around the bottom and front. The sleeves, collar, and pockets are also trimmed in red. His pants are red and his shoes are black. His face and hands are a pink flesh color and he has black hair, eyes, and eyebrows. The pigeon is blue.
     Other color schemes include a gold pigeon; the Sportsman's jacket could be red with yellow trim, and his pants could be tan. The base can also be painted red with a yellow border and flourish.
     Inscribed into the top of the catapult are the words, "Pat'd. June 14, 1892" information which facilitated location of the patent drawings shown in this article.
     The Sportsman Bank is quite rare and this is further substantiated by the fact that few completely original specimens exist in collections. Most often, when one of these banks is found, either the man has been broken off, his gun barrel is missing, or, most often, the pigeon is recast or missing altogether. I would venture a guess that the Sportsman Bank's extreme fragility, combined with its unsuitable subject matter for children, might account for its scarcity. (The bank pictured in this article boasts having two original pigeons; the one in the catapult is painted blue and the other gold.)
     Several years ago, bank collectors began referring to the Sportsman Bank as the "Fowler Bank." This is the name by which it is referred to at present, and one which is certainly more descriptive for this fine mechanical.
     The Sportsman has never been reproduced. However, I am including a base diagram to show an original's configuration and scale (Fig. 3).
     Correction: (from August, 1984) Re: June 1984 issue of Antique Toy World, "The Sportsman Mechanical Bank." Figure 3, illustrating the base diagram, was placed upside down. It should read "9 inches" and not 6 inches.

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