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The Spring Jaw Alligator
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – October, 1987

     An interesting and relatively undiscovered group of European antique banks is the "spring jaw" me­chanicals. Figure I represents the "Spring Jaw Alligator," one of a series of seven known "spring jaw" banks. Each of the seven differs in subject matter — i.e., the aforementioned alligator, Bonzo the dog, a mule, a parrot, a gray kitten, a bulldog, and a chimpanzee. Although the Alligator is one of the most common of the series, few collectors can boast of owning one.
     Rather than utilize the alligator as merely a motif, as does the "Baby Elephant Opens At Ten O' Clock," the "Spring Jaw Alligator" is unique since it is the only bank known to incorporate the figure of this reptile into its action. I wish to express my thanks to the renowned collector and expert on European coin-savings devices, Gerhard Riegraf of West Germany, for his response to my inquiry regarding the "spring jaw" series. The following are excerpts from his recent letter:
     "Having gone through all of the toy patents registered in Germany since 1871, I am sorry to report that none were ever issued for a bank incorporating a "spring jaw" mechanism. My patent attorney advised me that this type of device could never have been patented under German law, but would most likely have been issued a "Reichsgebrachsmuster," which translates to "a small patent" or registered design. Unfortunately, the papers for this type of patent are usually destroyed after 15 years, which explains why no patent papers for any of the "spring jaw" series exist today.
     "Both my attorney and myself are also of the opinion that these banks must have been manufactured at the turn of the century (1890-1930) since they were made of a zinc-alloy. This was a popular material utilized in most German still banks manufactured during that period. To further strengthen this date contention, we discovered that all of the "spring jaw" banks employ the same small brass, heart-shaped trick lock to secure the deposited coins, as several zinc-alloy still banks which are documented to date exactly within the 1917-18 period."
     Operation of the "Spring Jaw Alligator" is incomplex and amusing: coin insertion into the alligator's mouth (or slot) activates a thin internal leaf spring attached to its lower jaw. This results in the jaw "wiggling," giving the illusion that the deposited coins are being chewed. The "digested" coins are retrieved by unfastening the "trick lock" and opening the alligator's hinged head.
     The "Spring Jaw Alligator" has neither casting nor color variations. The colors of the bank pictured in Figure I are as follows: the alligator is painted olive green with reddish-brown highlights. Its nose, cheeks, stomach, and paws are splotched with white, and the inside of its mouth and nostrils are pink. Its teeth are white, and its eyes are yellow with black pupils. Attractive coloration, com­bined with finely cast details, are indicative of the entire series of "spring jaw" banks.
     Care should be exercised when handling this, as well as any zinc-alloy bank, since they are extremely fragile and damage quite easily. This inherent weakness probably accounts for the rarity of the entire series.
     To my knowledge, none of the "spring jaw" banks has ever been reproduced. However, Figure II is an outline drawing of the "Spring Jaw Alligator" to aid in the determination of its size and scale.
     Any information which would shed fur­ther light upon this particular mechanical, and/or other "spring jaw" subjects, would be greatly appreciated, and passed along to readers in future articles.

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