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The Stump Speaker Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine May, 1985

    The Civil War had ended and there were a few educated slaves who had achieved some degree of self-independence. Many of these men, dressed in their finest and touting a carpet bag with their worldly belongings, set out for Washington to champion the black cause. They traveled the back roads and country sides, collecting money and preaching political reform for their newly-freed brothers. Many times, their orations were delivered to the townsfolk by standing on a box, stool, or a flattened tree stump; hence the name, "Stump Speaker." These traveling politicians served as inspiration for a mechanical bank, which is the subject of this article. On November 16, 1886, Charles G. Shepard and Peter Adams, of Buffalo, New York, were granted Patent number 352,786 for their invention of the Stump Speaker Mechanical Bank (Figure 2). Unfortunately, this bank, as it was ultimately produced (Figure 1), ridiculed rather than glorified these brave proclaimers of civil rights.
It portrayed them as comical, dwarf-like caricatures, reflecting the racial prejudice of that era.
     Comparison of the patent drawings (Figure 2) and the final production bank (Figure 1) show several design changes. One example is that the figure of the man was changed from Caucasian to Negro. A cocked top hat was incorporated into the final design, and the umbrella at his feet in the patent drawings was deleted.
     It is interesting to note that Design Patent number 16,728, granted June 8, 1886 to Shepard and Adams for their Uncle Sam Mechanical Bank (Figure 3), also covers the Stump Speaker Mechanical Bank. That date ("Pat'd. June 8, 1886") is so incised into its base plate. It is not coincidental that both banks have great similarities between their designs and internal mechanisms.
     To operate the Stump Speaker Bank, a coin is first placed into the subject's right hand. The lever behind his left foot is then depressed, whereupon the carpet bag opens; the Stump Speaker's right hand lowers, dropping the coin into the open bag; and his jaw wiggles in a gesture of gratitude. The deposited bounty is removed by way of a square locking coin trap built into the backside of the base.
     The Stump Speaker was manufactured by the Shepard Hardware Company of Buffalo, New York, one of the most prolific 19th-century mechanical bank designers and producers. All Shepard banks exhibited extremely fine and meticulous paint detail. Unfortunately, because they neglected to undercoat the banks prior to painting, age, heat cold, and moisture have caused severe paint deterioration and flaking in all of the banks Shepard manufactured (Stump Speaker included). For this reason, it is almost Figure 2 impossible to find a Shepard bank in fine condition. When one does, it is usually accompanied by an appropriately high price tag.
     There are no casting variations of the Stump Speaker Bank, but there are two color variations. These pertain solely to the face, hands, and lips of the man. The bank pictured in this article has chocolate brown hands and a brown face with pink lips. The other variant has black hands and a black face with red lips. All other colors are constant and remain basically the same. They are as follows: his hat is light gray with a black band. He has black hair and black eyebrows. The cornea of each eye is white with brown iris and black pupil; he has white teeth, each separated by a thin red line. Our hero sports a bright green suit, trimmed in red with a red collar. His vest is yellow with black buttons, and he wears a white shirt with a black bow tie, highlighted in gold. His shoes are black. The carpet bag at his side is brown and tan with a black clasp and handle. The platform upon which he stands is dark gray, with thin white lines delineating each board. The four sides of the base are painted red with gold lettering. Each corner and the bottom edge of the bank are painted black with a yellow stripe.
     The popularity of this bank may be attributed to several factors: an attractive and bright color scheme, imposing size, and subject matter that makes this bank appreciated not only by mechanical bank collectors but also collectors of political and black memorabilia. This popularity has led the Stump Speaker Bank to be reproduced. I am, therefore, including a base diagram (Figure 4), to assist in determining an original from a recast. The recast will appear approximately one-eighth inch smaller along the base than an original.

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