Always Did 'Spise a Mule
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – December, 1985
Once again, the subject of this month's article
portrays man's insensitivity and penchant for racial prejudice towards his
fellow man. The "I Always Did 'Spise A Mule" bank embodies 19th-century
stereotypic viewpoints directed against the black man. Instead of a
stately jockey, attired in fine racing silks, perched upon his sleek
Arabian steed, the " 'Spise A Mule" bank reveals a comically-proportioned, shoeless, black jockey, dressed in tattered clothes, atop a
It is difficult to conceive that the same gentleman who designed the
sensitive, etheral "Girl Skipping Rope" bank — James H. Bowen of
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – also designed the " 'Spise A Mule," for which
he was granted Patent number
214,615 (Figure 1) on April 22, 1879. That
date is impressed into the base plate underneath the bank. Oddly enough,
this patent designated a mechanical toy and not a mechanical bank. It is
quite possible that the idea of converting the toy into a bank was the
suggestion of the J. and E. Stevens Co., of Cromwell, Connecticut,
manufacturers of both the " 'Spise A Mule" toy and the " 'Spise A Mule"
bank. The bank and toy were marketed and displayed in Stevens' Catalog of
Iron Toys (Figure 2).
The patent drawings in Figure 1 indicate a small dog at the hind legs
of the mule being flipped heels-over-head as the mule kicks up its legs.
Even though this figure of the dog was never incorporated in the" 'Spise A
Mule" bank, it might have inspired the action of a second bank, also
designed and patented by Bowen and manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens
Company: the "I Always Did 'Spise a Mule" bank with Jockey on Bench
(Figure 3). Here we see the jockey being throw, heels-over-head, as the
mule spins around and kicks up its hind legs.
The " 'Spise A Mule" bank, as evidenced by the photo in Figure4,
follows the patent design for the " 'Spise A Mule" toy quite closely with
three exceptions: (1) the raised base, (2) the hat on the man's head, and
(3) the small dog.
The action of both the toy and the bank are unexpected and quite
exciting. To operate the bank, a coin is placed in the mouth of the jockey
(the toy will not accommodate money). The lever (Figure 4) in front of the
mule's hind legs is pressed on both the bank and the toy. Simultaneously,
the mule kicks upward and flips the jockey, heels-over-head, whereupon his
forehead strikes the log positioned at the front end of the bank. The coin
is thus deposited in the appropriate slot within the base. These coins are
retrieved by way of a round Stevens' type coin trap, underneath the base
of the bank. (It is worthy of mention that the visor of the jockey's cap
is spring-cushioned, which absorbs much of the shock caused by the violent
blow to his head.)
There are no casting variations of the " 'Spise A Mule, but there are
several color variations. The colors of the bank shown in Figure 4 are as
follows: the mule is dark brown, but it may also be tan-colored. The mane,
tail, hooves, and harness straps are black. The mule wears a light blue
blanket and a red hitch with yellow dots. The corneas of his eyes are
painted white with black pupils. The base has dark brown sides, but it may
also be painted either red or yellow, and has red and yellow striping
along the top and bottom edges, respectively. The top of the base is
painted green, splotched with red and yellow, and the log is dark brown
with tan edges. The name of the bank is painted white and the lever is
red. The jockey sports a red shirt with a white kerchief, which has a
black crescent moon. He has blue trousers, and his cap is blue, white, and
red. His hands, face, and feet are black and his lips are red. The reins
in his hands are tan.
Although the "I Always Did 'SpiseA Mule" bank may be easily located,
an extremely fine example is quite difficult to find. This is due to the
fragile nature of the castings and the extreme shock the bank receives
during its operation.
The exciting action, subject matter, coloration, and design of the " 'Spise
A Mule" has inspired many a reproduction. Figure 5 is a base diagram of an
original bank, which is intended to help the collector discern between it
and a recast. The reproduction will appear approximately one-eighth of an
inch smaller along the base than an original.