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The Boy on Trapeze Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – June, 1989

      The characteristics of grace, style and simplicity of form are applicable when describing the "Boy on Trapeze" mechanical bank (Figure I). Originally designated "French's Automatic Toy Bank" (possibly referring to the name of the inventor) when sold in the 1880s, this mechanical is recognized as one of the favorites among present-day collectors.
     Unfortunately, patent dates were not able to be located and other available information is limited in scope. However, the following advertising literature was useful in providing some information pertaining to this superb mechanical. Figure II is an advertising flyer which makes reference to the manufacturer: "The J. Barton Smith Co., Sole Manufacturers, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.A."
     Another toy catalogue published by Carey Bros. and Grevemeyer from 1888-1889, advertised French's Bank for sale at the price of $12.75 per dozen. In addition to the discovery of the aforementioned flyer is an original wooden packing crate. Both these objects contain the following sentences which describe the operational process: "For one penny dropped in the head the boy revolves once. For a nickel twice. For a quarter dollar three times. For a half dollar six times." Inexplicably, the reverse of the original advertising card (Figure II) contradicts the aforementioned number of revolutions described in the flyer with reference to the insertion of a half dollar. To quote those instructions: "For a half dollar the boy will revolve four times."
     It is interesting to note that if attempts are made to operate the "Boy on Trapeze" with modern, alloy-clad coins, the proper number of revolutions, as described in the flyer, cannot be achieved without altering the shape of the balancing bar. It is advisable to refrain from attempt­ing to adjust the bank by bending this bar or any of its parts to gain the proper number of revolutions with new coins. I would recommend purchasing the appropriate old coinage from a numismatist. This would be less complex and relatively less expensive than the cost of repairing a mutilated, or possibly broken, bank.
     Deposited coins are removed by opening the trap door base plate underneath the bank. This is accomplished by turning the single screw one-quarter turn counterclockwise.
     There are no known casting variations of "Boy on Trapeze." However, the quality of its casting does deserve special mention. Few mechanicals, if any, posses the extremely graceful, finely pierced iron work, as evidenced by the base of this bank.
     There are two color variations of "Boy on Trapeze." These pertain solely to the figure of the boy, since all the bases are similarly decorated with a dark brown, japan finish. Some banks have the colors of the boys' shirt painted red with a ruffled blue collar, blue pants and red socks, as pictured in Figure I, while others have the boy's shirt painted blue with a ruffled red collar, red pants, and blue socks. In both variations his face and hands are painted an orange pink flesh color. The hat perched atop his head is bright red with a bold black stripe down the back. His hair, as well as the counterweight ball attached to his right foot, are a reddish brown. His shoes are painted black.
     It is important to note that all original "Boy on Trapeze" banks were never painted with facial details (i.e., eyes, eyebrows, mouth). Why these were omitted remains a mystery. In my humble opinion, the omission merely adds to the bank's attractiveness and charm.
     To date, there are no known reproductions of the "Boy on Trapeze." Nevertheless, a base diagram (Figure III) will aid the collector in determining the bank's size and scale. If a recast were discovered, its base dimensions would, most likely, be approximately one-eighth inch shorter than indicated.
     CORRECTION: (from May, 1990) In the June 1989 issue of Antique Toy World, "Boy on Trapeze" article, it was mistakenly stated that no reproductions of the bank exist. This bank was indeed reproduced several years ago by the Book of Knowledge Collection, and, more recently, a very crudely reproduced "Boy on Trapeze" had been imported to the United States from Taiwan. Please note that all reproductions are at least one-eighth of an inch smaller than the base diagram in the June 1989 article indicates.

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