The William Tell Bank
Arrow Coin Shooter
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – September, 1992
William Tell, the legendary Swiss figure of a
bygone era, acquired his popularity through heroic deeds. Tell and his
son had travelled to Altdorf, Switzerland, a city occupied by the
Austrians under the Austrian Governor Gessler. When Tell refused to pay
homage to the governor by bowing to a hat which had been placed upon a
stake in the main square symbolizing Austria's sovereign power, he was
punished. Tell was ordered to shoot an apple with a crossbow from the head
of his son. To the governor's amazement, Tell succeeded and followed his
act by commenting that his "next arrow was destined for Gessler's heart."
Tell was then imprisoned, but later escaped and, eventually, slew Gessler
in an ambush. This, as well as other heroic acts, led to Switzerland's
rebellion and liberation from Austria on New Year's Day in the year 1308.
Five hundred eighty-eight years later, the legend of William Tell was
captured in Russell Frisbie's design of a mechanical bank in the hero's
image (Figure I). Frisbie, of Cromwell, Connecticut, was granted design
25,662 (Figure II) on June 23, 1896. He assigned the patent
rights to J. and E. Stevens Company, also of Cromwell, Connecticut, who
eventually manufactured and marketed the bank.
The "William Tell" bank (Figure I) adhered quite faithfully to the
patent design and is true to the popular legend, with one major exception:
William Tell brandishes a bullet-firing rifle rather than an
arrow-propelling crossbow. This discrepancy is responsible for this
addendum to my November 1985 article, "William Tell Bank," in Antique Toy
World. A coin shooter slide in the shape of an arrow (Figure III) for the
"William Tell" bank, heretofore unknown, had been discovered by mechanical
bank historian Mr. Mark Haber, now deceased. Haber, who resided in
Wethersfield, Connecticut, located this unique part many years ago at the
then-defunct Stevens' Foundry pattern assembly room. This slide, to my
knowledge and puzzlement, had never been incorporated into the actual
design of the J. and E. Stevens "William Tell" bank. (If any reader should
happen to know, or be in possession, of a "William Tell" bank which was
produced utilizing the arrow coin shooter rather than the common example
shown in Figure I, your information would be greatly appreciated.)
The action of the bank in Figure I is aptly described in a 1906 J.
and E. Stevens catalog (Figure IV): "Place the coin in proper position on
the barrel of the rifle. Press the right foot and the rifle shoots the
apple from the boy's head. As the coin enters the castle, it strikes a
gong bell. It is so arranged that a paper cap may be fired at the same
time." (Figure I represents the bank after the apple has been shot from
the head of Tell's son.) The apple is resent by lowering the boy's right
The colors of the bank pictured in Figure I are as follows: William Tell's hands and face are a pink flesh color; the corneas of his eyes are
white with black pupils, and he had black hair and eyebrows; his lips are
red. Tell's hat is gray with a red plume, and his jacket is black with red
trim and a red belt. His sleeves have yellow pouffes at the shoulders. The
cape is black with a brown collar and red lining. His pantaloons are
yellow, and his stockings are a pink flesh color. He wears brown boots.
The rifle is black with a gold coin shooter. His son has pink
flesh-colored arms, legs and face. He had black hair, eyes and eyebrows.
His shirt is red, and the kilt and boots are orange. The apple atop his
head is yellow. The castle is tan with gold decoration, and the entire
base is painted light green, highlighted with gold.
The "William Tell" bank is not considered rare. However, its
attractive coloration, combined with its legendary subject matter,
contribute to its popularity amongst today's collectors.
Several years ago this mechanical had been reproduced as a promotion
incentive to purchase the "Book of Knowledge" Encyclopedia. I am,
therefore, including a base diagram (Figure V) to aid the collector in
determining an original from a recast. The reproduction will appear
approximately one-quarter inch shorter in length than an original.