Uncle Sam Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – April, 1985
The question of whether there was actually an
"Uncle Sam" can be answered by the name, "Samuel Wilson." He was born in
Menotomy, Massachusetts, in 1766; when he was 14 years old, he ran away
from home to join the Revolutionary Army. After the war, at the age of 23,
Mr. Wilson started a meat packing business in Troy, New York. It wasn't
long before he became known within the community for hard work, honesty,
and a common-sense approach to life.
It was these qualities that earned Sam Wilson appointment to the post
of Inspector of Provisions for the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. The
"U.S." stamp he placed upon each barrel of inspected meat inspired the
following legend: when asked by a young woman what the "U.S." on each
barrel signified, a worker for Samuel Wilson jokingly replied, "Why, those
are the initials of "Uncle Sam" Wilson. And so was born our National
Symbol. By the end of the War of 1812, the name "Uncle Sam" had become
famous for honesty, reliability, and dedicated patriotism.
Samuel Wilson died on July 3l,1854. It was not until 1961 that
Congress adopted a resolution recognizing "Uncle Sam" Wilson of Troy, New
York, as "the progenitor of America's national symbol."
Literally thousands of toys depicting the likeness of Uncle Sam have
been manufactured throughout the years. And, the Uncle Sam Mechanical
Bank, the subject of this article, is undoubtedly one of the finest.
On June 8,1886, Design Patent Number
16,728 (Figure 1) was granted to
Charles G. Shepard and Peter Adams, of Buffalo, New York This patent
protected only the external "design" of the Uncle Sam Bank. Oddly,
although the drawing shown is clearly that of Uncle Sam, this name is
never mentioned within the patent papers.
Subsequently, on November 16, 1886, both Shepard and Adams were
granted patent number
352,786 (Figure 2) for their invention of the Stump
Speaker Mechanical Bank. This time, the patent protected only the internal
mechanism. This mechanism is precisely the one which governs and actuates
the Uncle Sam Mechanical Bank.
Operation of the Uncle Sam Bank is effected by placing a coin into
his right hand. The lever behind his left foot is then depressed.
Simultaneously, the satchel opens and the hand holding the coin lowers,
depositing it into the bank. Uncle Sam's goateed chin then wiggles in a
gesture of gratitude. These coins are reclaimed by way of a square lock
coin trap in the back side of the base.
The Uncle Sam Bank was manufactured by the Shepard Hardware Company
of Buffalo, New York - a company that was extremely prolific in the
production of mechanical banks during the late nineteenth century. It
should be noted that all of their banks (including Uncle Sam) exhibited
fine, meticulous, and delicate paint detail. However, because Shepard
Hardware neglected to prime the cast iron before they painted their banks,
over the years heat, cold, and moisture have caused deterioration and
flaking. For this reason, it is rare to find a Shepard bank in fine paint
I am not aware of any casting or paint variations of the Uncle Sam
Bank. The colors of the bank pictured in this article (Figure 3) are as
follows: the bottom edge and four corners of the base are green with
yellow striping. The Eagle on the front plate is bronze, and the ribbon in
his beak is blue with gold letters. All four sides have red backgrounds;
the word, "bank" which appears on two sides, is painted gold. The floor of
the base is grey with white lines. Uncle Sam's satchel is tan with dark
brown highlights and rimmed with black and yellow. He wears black shoes,
red and white striped pants, and a grey vest with silver stars and gold
buttons. He has a white bow tie outlined in red, a white collar, and a
dark blue jacket with red trim. His face and hands are pink flesh colored;
he has brown eyebrows, tan eyes with black pupils, red lips, white teeth,
white hair, and a white goatee with faint tan lines. He sports a grey top
hat with a dark blue band decorated with silver stars. Finally, his
umbrella is green with a yellow handle.
The Uncle Sam Bank is not considered rare, but, because
of its historical appeal, highly attractive paint scheme, fragile nature,
and imposing appearance, is one of the most sought after of all
mechanicals. This popularity has resulted in an overabundance of
reproductions. Therefore, I am including a base diagram (Figure 4) to aid
in the detection of an original from a recast. The recast will appear
approximately one-eighth inch shorter along the width than an original.