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 The J. & E. Stevens Co. of Cromwell, Conn.
(Part 1)

by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – March, 1988

     Information pertaining to antique cast iron mechanical banks would be incomplete if it did not include possibly the most prominent of all toy foundries—the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, CT. In view of the major role it played in the history of American toy manufacture, this and subsequent articles will concern themselves with that foundry.
     Inspiration for these articles was attained through several discussions with noted mechanical bank historian, Mark Haber, former resident of Wethersfield, CT., and the discovery of a hitherto unknown photograph of the Stevens Company, circa 1880. This photograph (figure 1) had originally been in the possession of Russell Frisbee, whose role in the Stevens Company will be discussed shortly. An inscription by a Frisbee descendent on the obverse of the photo attests to its authenticity.
     The foundry began its operations, humbly, in 1843 when John and Elisha Stevens, sons of a Bristol, CT, blacksmith, arrived that year in Cromwell, then known as Upper Middletown. Following the family tradition they established an iron works in a small clearing known as Frog Hollow. Here was the ideal location, between a local water supply which operated the necessary water wheel and the Connecticut Valley Railroad which furnished the needed raw materials for iron production. Soon after the foundry began operating, John and Elisha approached William Keighly, an experienced and talented iron mold maker, to become a partner in the concern.
     During these early years they manufactured principally household hardware, small tools, and some farm implements. The year 1866 is significant in Stevens history, for it was during that time that Russell Frisbee, designer, inventor, master pattern maker, and astute businessman, joined the firm as General Superintendent, assuming a twenty-five percent partnership. It may be said that Frisbee's business acuity and foresight led to the birth of the mechanical bank industry in the United States.
     Imagine Frisbee's excitement as he viewed the patent drawings of John Hall's new invention (Figure II). It was through Frisbee's encouragement and perseverance that these drawings were to evolve into the first patented cast iron mechanical bank, "The Hall's Excelsior." Who would have envisioned that this simplistic bank with its popup monkey would serve as the catalyst for a major industry that would span continents and continue even today!
     To be continued next month.

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