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The William Tell Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine November, 1985

      The legend of William Tell symbolizes man's quest for individual and political freedom. Tell supposedly existed between the latter part of the 13th century and the early part of the 14th century. As the legend relates, he and his son traveled to the city of Albdorf, Switzerland, which was then occupied by the Austrians under Governor Gessler.
     Gessler, a cruel and power-hungry man, demanded acknowledgment of his sovereignty by proclaiming that each passerby curtsy to his hat, which had been placed upon a stake in the Main Square. William Tell refused to pay homage and was subsequently punished. He was ordered to test his marksmanship by using a crossbow to shoot an apple from his son's head. To Gessler's amazement, Tell succeeded, whereupon he commented that his "next arrow was destined for Gessler's heart," Gessler's response was to have Tell imprisoned. However, William Tell was to escape and eventually, to carry out his threat by slaying Gessler in an ambush. Tell's heroic deeds reached their culmination in Switzerland's liberation from Austria on New Year's Day in 1308.
     Approximately 583 years hence, on June23, 1896, Russle Frisbie, of Cromwell, Connecticut, honored William Tell by designing a mechanical bank in this legendary hero's image. On that date, Frisbie was granted design patent number 25,662 (Figure 1). He assigned the rights to the patent to J. and. E. Stevens, also of Cromwell, Connecticut, who eventually manufactured and marketed the bank. The final production bank (Figure2) follows this patent quite faithfully. Yet it only protects the external configuration and subject matter, and not the internal mechanism. Most likely, the mechanism was covered under a previous bank, possibly one either similar to, or the same as, the Creedmoor Bank. The Creedmoor was patented by James H. Bowen, of Philadelphia, on November 6, 1877 (Figure 3), and was manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company.
     The design of the William Tell bank is true to the popular legend except for one distinct difference: Tell brandishes a rifle rather than a crossbow. The action of the bank is aptly described in a 1906 J. and E. Stevens Company catalog (Figure 4): "Place the coin in proper position on the barrel of the rifle Press the right foot and the rifle shoots the apple from the boy's head. As the coin enters the castle, it strikes a gong bell. It is so arranged that a paper cap may be fired at the same time." (Figure 2 shows the bank with the apple shot off the head of Tell's son. The apple is reset by lowering the boy's right arm.)
     There are no major casting or color variations of the William Tell mechanical, other than some banks having the patent date cast underneath the base or some minor color changes pertaining to the boy's costume or the apple.
     The colors of the bank pictured in Figure 2 are as follows: William Tell's hands and face area pink flesh color; the corneas of his eyes are white with black pupils, and he has black hair and eyebrows; his lips are red. Tell's hat is gray with a red plume, and his jacket is black with red trim and a red belt. His sleeves have yellow puffs at the shoulders. The cape is black with a brown collar and red lining. His pantaloons are yellow, and his stockings area pink flesh color. He wears brown boots. The rifle is black with a gold coin pusher. Tell's son has pink flesh-colored arms, legs, and face He has black hair, eyes, and eyebrows. His shirt is red and his kilt and boots are orange. The apple atop his head is yellow. The castle is tan with gold decorations, and the entire base is painted light green, splotched with gold. The underside of the bank is, as are all Stevens' banks, painted with a creamy white protective coat, which was probably used as a rust preventative (another example of the pride and care these early toy manufacturers incorporated into their product).
     There is a rare version of a William Tell bank which was made in Australia and has Tell sporting a crossbow. It is considerably larger than the Stevens' William Tell bank.
     Also, unlike the cast iron bank designed by Frisbie, the Australian version is made of aluminum and pressed steel.
     The William Tell bank pictured in Figure2 is not considered rare. However, its extremely attractive coloration, combined with its glamorous subject matter, has made it quite popular with today's collector.
     This mechanical has been reproduced from the Book of Knowledge collection. I am, therefore, including a base diagram (Figure 5) to aid the collector in determining an original from the recast. The reproduction will appear approximately one-eighth inch smaller in length than an original.
     Correction: Referring to the September 1985 issue of Antique Toy World magazine, the photograph of the Organ Tiny bank was erroneously represented as actual size. The actual bank is smaller than the photograph. Please refer to the base diagram pictured in that article for the correct dimension.

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