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The Dentist Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine October, 1986

     A popular bank representing a most unpopular profession is the paradoxical description befitting the subject of this month's article. The "Dentist" mechanical bank not only portrays its namesake as a buffoon but uses his helpless patient to incorporate 19th-century anti-black sentiments.
     Unfortunately, no pertinent information relating to the bank's manufacturer has been located. However, evidence attesting to the approximate date of marketing, the late 19th century, was based upon an ad from an old Ives, Blakeslee and Williams Company jobber's catalog.
     There is supposition that the Dentist bank was produced by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. This is based upon similarities observed between the Dentist bank and several other mechanical banks manufactured by them. Specifically, the "Bad Accident" bank has, as its subject, a black farmer riding atop a donkey cart. This figure is quite similar in casting and attitude to the black patient occupying the dentist's chair. Moreover, in the Stevens"' Milking Cow" bank, the boy sitting beside the cow also bears close resemblance to the casting, attitude, and action of the dentist's patient. Finally, the "Milking Cow" bank stands upon four small legs, as does the Dentist bank.
     Interestingly, the production of the Dentist bank coincided with the 19th-century renaissance of dentistry. Great advances were being made, especially in the area of tooth extraction. An improved forceps allowed for the more careful and scientific removal of teeth, while the advent of general anesthesia provided painless dental treatment for the first time. Unfortunately, this intriguing mechanical bank neglected to recognize these medical developments, but chose, instead, to entertain at the expense of a stereotyped underdog.
     It is of interest to note the large hump-shaped object behind the dentist in Figure 1, since it illustrates the method by which nineteenth century dentists administered anesthesia to their patients. A large animal hide bag was inflated with nitrous oxide; by exerting a slight amount of foot pressure to this gas bag, the dentist was able to control the flow of anesthetic to a mask over his patient's face.
     Animation of this mechanical is achieved through the following: a coin is placed into the dentist's left jacket pocket. The small lever in front of the patient's foot is then pressed downward. Simultaneously, the dentist falls backwards, bloody tooth protruding from the forceps in his hand. The coin from his pocket then falls into the raised slot atop the gas bag. The black patient also tips backwards, heels over head, striking his cranium on the floor of the bank. This violent action accounts for the difficulty most collectors experience in finding a totally intact Dentist bank. The deposited coins are recovered by removal of a single screw which secures the gas bag to the base of the bank.
    The Dentist bank has both minor casting and color variations. For example, the dentist's pocket may either be cast into, or riveted onto his jacket. Also, the floor of the bank may be painted either light grey or medium blue.
     The colors of the bank in Figure 1 are as follows: the dentist's face and hands are a creamy white, and he has a red mouth. His eyes, eyebrows, hair, and mustache are black, as are his coat and shoes. He wears a yellow shirt and light grey pants. His toothless patient has a black face and hands, white corneas with black pupils, and red lips with white teeth. His jacket is yellow and he wears grey pants with black shoes. The tooth in the dentist's forceps is white, tipped with red. The chair is painted maroon and is trimmed in gold. Its arm rests and seat cushions are reddish-orange. The gas bag is chocolate-brown with the raised coin slot painted gold. Finally, the base of the bank is light grey with gold legs.
     Over the years, the Dentist bank has proven to be one of the most popular of mechanicals with collectors, and is the reason for the relatively large number of reproductions on the market. I am, therefore, including a base diagram (Figure 2) which will indicate the exact length of an original (antique) bank. Any deviation in size, no matter how slight, should alert the prospective buyer to be wary.
     Note: The entire contents of these articles, both past and present, are the sole property of the author and cannot be reproduced without his written consent.  

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