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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 patent number 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 arm.
     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.

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