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The Darktown Battery Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine January, 1985 

     The subject of this month's article represents the blend of two incongruous ideas those of racial prejudice and baseball. The former was the sentiment expressed by slavery, first introduced into Jamestown, Virginia, in 1691; the latter was the brainchild of Abner Doubleday who, in the summer of 1839, in Cooperstown, N.Y., allegedly conducted the first game of baseball ever played.
     On January 17, 1888, James H. Bowen, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, incorporated anti-black sentiment and baseball into the "Darktown Battery" mechanical bank, for which he was granted patent number 376,628 on that date. Production of the Darktown Battery bank was handled by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. As evidenced by the photograph in Figure 1, it may be said that Bowen's patent drawings (Figure 2) were adhered to stringently.
     The action, coloration, and design of the Darktown Battery have rarely, if ever, been equaled in the world of mechanical banks. The basic color scheme is standardized, except for particular instances where the ball players' uniforms have some slight color variations.
     There is only one casting variation of which I am aware, and that pertains to a thicker baseball bat than the one pictured in this article. Neither the paint variation, nor the casting variation has any bearing on the bank's ultimate value.
     The color scheme of the Darktown Battery in Figure 1 is as follows: the pitcher has a red shirt, blue pants, red socks, and tan and khaki shoes. He wears a bright yellow scarf with black polka dots; his hat is red and white and has a yellow peak. The batter wears a blue and white striped shirt with the word, "POSSUMS" in red. His pants are yellow with a black belt, and his socks are blue with white stripes. He also has tan and khaki shoes, and his hat is black and white with a yellow peak. His bat is yellow with a red tip. The catcher has a red shirt, blue pants, tan and khaki shoes, and his hat is red and white with a yellow peak. All three ball players have black faces, arms, and hands; red lips; and white eyes with black pupils. The batter sports a pearly white smile. The ground is green, olive, khaki, and brown. The front and back of the bank's base is brown with a dusty pink background, and the words, "DARKTOWN BATTERY" are painted red. The baseballs are gold, the bats are white with red tips, and the bottom edge of the bank is painted black.
     The action of the Darktown Battery is an outstanding combination of realism, imagination, and coordination. A coin is placed between the spring-tensioned thumb and palm of the pitcher's right hand. His arm is then pulled back and cocked into position. The lever (Figure 3) is then pushed down; simultaneously, the pitcher releases the coin as his head snaps back; the batter lifts his bat as his head turns towards the catcher; the catcher's head moves forward as his hand moves aside to allow the penny to be deposited into an opened trap door in his chest. The deposited coins fall through the catcher's body into the base of the bank. These coins are removed by way of a round Stevens' coin trap underneath the base.
     Figure 4 is a copy of a page from the manufacturer's catalog which describes the Darktown Battery bank, and prices it at a modest $1.00 apiece. This proved to be quite an investment when one considers that, recently, a Darktown Battery was auctioned off at a price that exceeds the original J. and E. Stevens catalog price by more than 1,500 percent.
     The Darktown Battery bank was quite prone to breakage, and locating one in superb, all-original, unbroken condition can prove to be quite a challenge to the collector. The pitcher's arm, the batter's arms and bat, the catcher's hand, and the open decorations on both sides and the bottom of the bank are often cracked or broken.
     Close examination of this bank provokes wonderment at how something with such delicate castings could have as many survivors as it does.
     Unfortunately, the great appeal and popularity of the Darktown Battery have inspired many a reproduction and recast. Thus, caution should be exercised when contemplating a purchase. Aside from rough casting and crude paint, a recast can be detected by comparing it to the base diagram (Figure 5) which is included in this article. A recast will appear approximately 1/8 inch shorter in length.
     Several years ago there were authorized reproductions made of the Darktown Battery bank, but these are easy to detect. The name, "Darktown Battery" on the front of the bank was changed to "Hometown Battery," and the ball players are depicted as Caucasians, rather than as blacks. These banks were made by the Book of Knowledge and are so incised underneath the base plate.

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