The Football Bank — A
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – August, 1985
The subject of this article depicts a sport
which originated in ancient and medieval Britain. The game we recognize as
"football" developed from the disorganized, confused, and, often, violent
"melees" which attempted to punch, carry, or kick an oval object, usually
the inflated bladder of an animal, toward some goal. It was not until the
early 19th century that football became more orderly, with the U.S.
colleges and universities and the great English public schools adapting
variations of the game of kicking or booting a round, inflated ball. The
development of modern football, as we know it, was effected between 1906
With "footballmania" sweeping the United States, it wasn't surprising
that a toy mechanical bank reflecting the football theme would be designed
(Figure 1) and offered for sale to a receptive public. On August 29, 1905,
James H. Bowen, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was granted Patent number
798,491 for his design and invention of the "Calamity" mechanical bank.
This patent protects both the design and internal mechanism of the bank
Production of the Calamity bank was executed by the J. and E. Stevens
Co., of Cromwell, Connecticut, and is pictured in their catalog (Figure 3)
at $1.00 each, packed in its own wooden box. As evidenced by the
photograph in Figure 1, it may be said that Bowen's patent drawings were
stringently adhered to.
There are no casting variations of which I am aware. The basic color
scheme is also standardized, except for some instances where the colors of
the players' uniforms have been reversed.
The colors of the Calamity bank pictured in Figure 1 are as follows: all
three players have tan helmets, vests, and knickers; they have olive green
shoulder pads and brown shoes, belts, and hair. Their hands and faces are
pink flesh-colored, with red mouths and eyes that have white corneas with
black pupils. The ball carrier's knee-socks, shirt sleeves, and collar are
painted blue-gray. His two opponents' knee-socks, shirt sleeves, and
collars are maroon. The football is olive green. The base of the bank is
painted red with gold trim, as are its two hind legs. The top of the base
is bright green with gold, highlighting the raised floral design as well
as the words, "A Calamity."
The action of the Calamity bank is exciting, surprising, and
extremely amusing. To set the bank for its action, both side football
players are pulled back, automatically locking into position behind the
ball carrier. A coin is placed into the slot on top of the base; the lever
is then pressed. Simultaneously, the ball carrier lunges forward; his two
opponents swing around in front of him, and all three meet with a sharp
crack of their foreheads. The coin then falls into the base. the lack of
paint remaining on the faces of almost all Calamity banks gives credence
to the harsh treatment these figures experienced.
It is of further interest to note that the designer of this obviously
bold and aggressive bank, James H. Bowen, also designed the delicate "Girl
Skipping Rope" bank, an example of grace, serenity, and tranquility.
The Calamity's violent action, coupled with its delicately designed
castings, have resulted in breakage of many of these banks – a factor
which accounts for much of its rarity today. This scarcity, as may be
expected, has spawned an abundance of recasts. I am, therefore, including
a base diagram (Figure 4) to aid in determining an original Calamity bank
from a reproduction. The recast will appear approximately one-eighth inch
smaller in length than indicated in the diagram.