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The Cross-Legged Minstrel Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – December, 1990

      Negro minstrelsy was a popular form of entertainment in England as well as the United States during the nineteenth century. Appearing in gaudy, swallow-tailed coats and striped trousers, faces blackened with burnt cork, minstrel performers delighted audiences with their music, songs and im­personations. The "Cross-Legged Minstrel" bank, shown in Figure I, is a fine example of such a performer and, if it were not for the overt racist verse printed upon its base, one might describe this bank as charming and amusing. I quote from the phrase printed at the base of the minstrel's feet: "Put in a coin, the lever press down tight/Then you will see a Nigger most polite."
     The "Cross-Legged Minstrel" bank was designed by the J. Levy Company, of White Cross Street, London, England, and granted United Kingdom Patent No. 543,231 on June 4, 1909. It is commonly assumed that the bank was manufactured in Germany. This belief is based upon the similarity of material, construction and lithography to several banks known to have been manufactured in Germany during this time. These include: "Royal Trick Elephant," "Monkey With Tray" and "Snake Frog in Pond." Most likely, Levy acted only as the designer and wholesale distributor, jobbing out actual production to foreign manufacturers.
     It is interesting to note that, while most mechanical banks manufactured in the United States during that era were produced from cast iron, almost all of those produced in Germany were fabricated from tin plate.
     The rarity of German tin banks, in contrast to most of the cast-iron banks produced in America, is easily explained. Prior to the First and Second World Wars, German command ordered the voracious and fanatical collection and reclamation of all metal objects for usage in war machinery. This, in addition to the fragility of these tin banks, leads one to wonder how any were able to survive.
     The "Cross-Legged Minstrel" is an extremely attractive mechanical. For the price of a single coin deposited into the minstrel's chest, the nattily attired entertainer tips his top hat in a most genteel manner. He acknowledges your generosity by exposing the words, "Thank You" on the top of his head. Deposits are removed via a small trapdoor-type key-lock coin retainer underneath the base.
     Examples of the "Cross-Legged Minstrel" which contain the previously mentioned racist phrase are extremely rare. Most of the banks located have had the verse deleted. The logical explanation for its removal may possibly be its exportation to countries which might have considered such racial sentiments quite distasteful.
     Examples of this tin mechanical, both with and without verse, account for the only variants known. The colors of the "Cross-Legged Minstrel" are as follows: the minstrel's face and hands are black; his corneas are white, with black pupils; and his lips are red. His jacket is bright red with a yellow flower in its lapel. The shirt is white, and the bow tie is green. The minstrel sports a yellow vest with gold buttons, and a gold watch fob and chain. His pants are blue and white-striped, his shoes are orange and his hat is yellow with a black band. He leans against a tan and green tree stump. Green vines with red flowers creep up at the rear. The base he stands upon simulates green grass with red flowers. A red band circumscribes the entire lower portion of the bank. The prejudicial verse is printed in black, as is the patent number on the reverse: "Rd No 543,231."
     The "Cross-Legged Minstrel" is quite scarce and extremely difficult to find in all-original, unbroken condition. A superb example recently sold for several thousand dollars. This is a sizable sum when we con­sider their cost, as indicated in a 1909 Butler Broth­ers Toy Wholesalers Catalog. The "Automatic Negro Bank," as it was originally designated, was priced at $1.85 per dozen!
     To date, there are no known reproductions of "Cross-Legged Minstrel." Nevertheless, the base dia­gram (Figure II) will aid the collector in determining size and scale.

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