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The Milking Cow Bank
(The Kicking Cow Bank)

by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – August, 1987

     Humiliating situations involving specific ethnic and racial groups provided a fertile area for nine­teenth-century mechanical bank designers. The Milking Cow bank (Figure I) would seem to deviate from this, since the subject of ridicule is a Caucasian farm boy. However, closer inspection of a bank which appears de­void of any racist intent reveals an uncanny resemblance between the farm boy's face and attitude and those of both Negro men portrayed in the J. and E. Stevens' "Dentist" and "Bad Accident" banks.
     To date, patent information relating to the production and design of the Milking Cow bank is sadly lacking. If, however, the Stevens Company was the manufacturer (as indicated by the research of others over the years), it is curious that a company which was engaged in producing many mechanical banks reflecting racist themes would paint a figure white when it was, in all likelihood, designed to be black.
     To further support the belief that J. and E. Stevens may have manufactured this mechanical, specific elements such as an abundance of leaf and floral designs in­tegrated within the Milking Cow's base reflect the unmistakable trademark of the well-known mechanical bank designer, Charles Bailey. The Stevens Company employed Bailey during the same period of time in which the Milking Cow bank was marketed.
     All early advertisements of the Milking Cow bank refer to it as the "Kicking Cow" bank. Figures II and III illustrate this in advertisements from wholesale toy catalogs circa 1880. Figure II represents a catalog page from Ives, Blakeslee and Company, which offered the "Kicking Cow" for $9.00 per dozen, while its competitor, Selchow and Richter, priced the bank at $8.50 per dozen!! It is uncertain when and why collectors began referring to the "Kicking Cow" as the "Milking Cow" bank.
     "Animated" and "slapstick" are descriptions befitting the action of the "Milking Cow." After placing a coin into a slot in the cow's back, the red, flower-shaped lever beneath its neck is pressed downward. Simultaneously, the coin drops into its body; the tail stands out perpendicular to its rump; and the hind leg kicks upward, hurling the boy off his stool, with the milk pail striking his face.
     Coin removal is no simple matter. The cow is first unbolted from the base, and the screw holding both halves of its body together must then be removed. Completion of these steps would allow the retriever access to the deposited coins.
     Figures II and III include illustrations of the Kicking Cow bank with the cow secured to the fence post by a string. At the time the bank shown in Figure I was purchased, the seller related that it had been in his family for many years. It had been given to his grandfather when the latter was a young boy and did, in fact, include that very string now affixed to the bank (concurring with the illustration in Figures II and III).
     There are several casting variations of the Milking Cow. These pertain solely to the length and thickness of the base. Because of an abnormal amount of breakage during production, the base was ultimately thickened in an attempt to rectify the problem. This "thick base" variation differs in length from the "thinner base" versions (refer to Figures IV and V).
     There is only one color variation, and that concerns the cow. It may be painted either a chocolate-brown or terra cotta. The colors of the bank in Figure I are as follows: the cow is terra cotta; it has white eyes outlined in black with black pupils. The mouth is red and the horns are tipped with gold balls. The udder is yellow with red teats and the hooves are black. The boy's face and hands are a pink-flesh color. His hair, eyes, eyebrows, and shoes are black, and he has red lips. He sports a red shirt with white suspenders and blue trousers. His milk pail is gold and the straw hat lying by his side is tan. The base is bluish-green, with the legs at each corner painted gold. The mound of daisies under the cow's head has white petals with yellow centers. Finally, the flower-shaped operating lever is red, and the fence is painted white.
     Prudence should be exercised when purchasing the Milking Cow bank due to its fragility. Generally, when one is located, it is either broken or missing parts. Those parts which have proven to be most vulnerable are the cow's tail, the tips of her horns, the fence, and each of the four legs hold­ing up the fence.
     Because of the various legitimate base lengths, it could become difficult to discern an original Milking Cow bank from a recast by merely comparing it to a base diagram. In this particular instance, the quality and sharpness of the castings, combined with the patina of the painted surface, should provide sufficient clues to judge an original from a reproduction. Nevertheless, I am including two base diagrams to further aid in the determination of size and scale.
     Figure IV shows the size of the "thin base" variation, and Figure V indicates the size of the "thick base" alteration.

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