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The Bird on Roof Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine December, 1984

     Although mechanical penny banks achieved some degree of sophistication during the time of their manufacture, there were those produced that reflected a naive and primitive quality. Examples of the latter include: "The Springing Cat" bank, with its subject expressed in oversimplified detail and painted in the classic primitive style; "The Sportsman" bank, displaying a simplistically-styled uniform; "Jonah and the Whale," with a larger-than life Jonah emerging from the whale's mouth; "Organ, Cat, and Dog" and "Organ, Boy, and Girl" banks, each with a disproportionately large hat-tipping monkey; and "The Bird On Roof"  bank, the subject of this article.
     A comparison of the patent drawing (Fig. 1), the final production bank (Fig. 2), and the patent description of the "Bird On Roof" bank lead one to speculate as to why the patentee would represent what, in the patent papers, is obviously a Gothic church, as a cottage. Possibly, it may have been thought that a religious connotation would limit the sales potential of his bank.
     The design of the "Bird On Roof" bank was patented on March 5, 1878, by Elisha Stevens and assigned number 10,509. The words, "PAT MAR 5 '78" are cast into the underside of the bank.
     The "Bird On Roof" bank possesses a simplicity and arresting tranquility; it reflects an era that was concerned with quality and appreciation for natural beauty. The delicate casting details and subtle coloration simply add to its attractiveness.
     The "Bird On Roof"  bank was manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. The initials "J" and "E" were the initials of John Stevens and Elisha Stevens; Elisha was the designer and patentee of the bank.
     The Stevens' foundry began its business as a manufacturer of cast iron hardware during the early 1800s. It was not until the late 1860s that the foundry began to produce cast iron penny banks. The height of Stevens' prosperity was simultaneous with the heyday of the mechanical bank (1880s). It was at that point that the foundry became the world's leading manufacturer of cast iron penny banks.
     The action of the "Bird On Roof" is extremely simplistic. A coin is placed into a groove atop the bird's head. The wire lever (Fig. 3) is then pressed inward, causing the bird to tilt downward. The coin rolls into a slot in the chimney, thus being deposited into the bank. Removal of the coins requires removal of the base of the bank. This is accomplished by undoing two small screws underneath the base. The bird is reset automatically when it is straightened into the upright position, as shown in Figure 2.
     The "Bird On Roof" is a difficult bank to acquire, particularly for the collector who seeks one that is all-original and unbroken. The complexity of coin removal might account for its rarity. It is easy to imagine a young child attempting to remove the two base plate screws in order to gain access to the bank's contents and having the bank slip from his hands and crash to the floor. Or, perhaps, he may have smashed the entire bank in order to get to its entrapped treasures.
     There are two casting variations and several color combinations for the "Bird On Roof" bank. The mechanical pictured in Figure 2 has a purple japanned roof; the bird has a gold beak, a gold stripe down its back, and gold wings and tail which are over-painted with purple japanning. It also has a black crest on its head. The sides of the house are decorated in gold, silver, and purple japan; the circular design on the chimney is painted gold. I have seen this bank also painted in an overall brown japan finish with gold highlighting on the roof; a bird with gold wings, beak, and tail; and the sides of the house decorated in gold and silver.
     The casting variations are primarily concerned with the pedestal on which the bird is perched. One pedestal is made of thick sheet steel, while the other, besides being made of a thinner material, boasts of a more delicate design. Neither adds to nor detracts from the bank's value.
     An exceptionally fine "Bird On Roof" mechanical bank possessing an attractive color scheme will generally command a premium price.
     Because of the extreme fragility of this bank, the prospective buyer should be wary of repaired, replaced, or re-cast parts. When this bank is finally located, all too frequently it is discovered that the bird, as well as the delicate fretwork in the arched windows, has been repaired or replaced.
     The "Bird On Roof" bank has been reproduced. The base diagram (Fig. 4) may be helpful to the reader in discerning an original from a recast. The recast version will appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter in length.
     As a final note, it is difficult for this writer to resist the temptation to express his personal views: the exceptional casting, graceful lines, and quiet but eloquent coloration truly make the "Bird On Roof" bank a mechanical for the discriminating collector.

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