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The Safety Locomotive Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – January, 1993

      The legendary locomotive, a symbol of freedom and expansion, has been immortalized in story, folklore, and song. These steam-belching "iron horses" enabled early settlers and industrialists to span vast distances, through prairies, forests, deserts and mountain ranges, with both speed and safety. During the 19th century images of locomotives were seen adorning a great number of products which were utilized in everyday life. Toy manufacturers took full advantage of the trend. Children of the era were offered the fantasy via miniature railroad playthings.
     On November 15, 1887, Edward J. Colby, of Chicago, Illinois, was granted Patent number 373,223 (Fig­ure I) for his "Safety Locomotive" Bank (Figure II). Colby described his invention as having a threefold purpose, namely as a bank, a paperweight, and a toy drawn by a child. The locomotive, indicated in the patent drawings and shown after manufacture (Figure II), represents one of the earliest of the 4-4-0 engines. This numerical classification pertains to the locomotive's wheel arrangement: i.e., four wheels under the front truck, four wheels under the steam boiler, and no wheels under the engineer's cab.
     Interestingly, the "Safety Locomotive" Bank is not considered a true mechanical. This is based upon the fact that no visible action occurs immediately upon insertion of a coin. The bank does, however, open automatically when its cavity is saturated with deposited coins. The "Safety Locomotive" is not unique; several other banks may also be placed in the category of "semi-mechanicals." Among these are the Ives "Time Registering" Bank, Kyser and Rex's "Coin Registering" Bank, Proctor Raymond's "Bank of Education and Economy," J. and E. Stevens's "Perfection Registering," and the "Lighthouse" and "Pump and Bucket" Banks, whose manufacturers are unknown.
     The action of the "Safety Locomotive" Bank is accu­rately described in an early 1887 Montgomery and Ward Toy Jobbers Catalog (Figure III). It reads: "The weight of the money dropped in the slot on top of cab will, after the bank is full (and not before), loosen the smokestack, which can then be lifted out and the money poured from the opening."
     There are two casting and two color variants of the "Safety Locomotive." It may be either nickel-plated or black. The example shown in Figure II is painted glossy black. The cow catcher, front lantern and dome of the rear steam tank are highlighted with gold. The lens of the lantern is painted red.
     The casting variations apply to the word "SAFETY," which may be either cast into the front end of the boiler or under the windows of the engineer's cab. Similarly, the words "PAT. 87," may also be cast underneath the windows of the cab, or into the front end of the boiler.
     It is the later models of the "Safety Locomotive" which have the word "SAFETY" cast underneath the windows of the engineer's cab. This "improved" model also has a removable part under the smokestack, allowing for an easier and more reliable means of emptying the deposited coins.
     The "Safety Locomotive" Bank has never been reproduced. Nevertheless, I am including a base diagram (Figure IV) revealing size and scale. A reproduction, if it were created, might appear approximately one-eighth of an inch shorter in length than indicated.
     The bank in discussion is an extremely desirable and attractive addition to a collection. Unfortunately, its rarity dictates that few bank collectors will actually own one, and especially an example that is complete and original.
     ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The pristine example of the "Safety Locomotive" shown in Figure II is from the Steckbeck collection of mechanical banks.
     Refer to Antique Toy World, November 1992: The "Trick Monkey" Bank. I have been informed of yet a third color variation of this bank. It has a reddish brown base, rather than the more usual light or dark green versions. This mechanical resides in the Frank Kidd collection.

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