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The Bread Winners Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – April, 1993

      The year was 1884. Squalor in the workplace and wage abuse were rampant. The paramount factors resulting in the exploitation of labor in this country were corruption in big business and monopolies. In order to stem these abusive conditions, the Anti-Monopoly Political Party was formed. Championed by Benjamin F. Butler, it suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Grover Cleveland, with Butler unable to muster even a single electoral vote.
     Two years later, in 1886, the J. and E. Stevens Company, a leading manufacturer of cast-iron toys, located in Cromwell, Connecticut, captured the essence of the still piteous labor situation with its creation of the "Bread Winners" Bank (Figure I). Depicted is "Honest Labor," with sledge hammer in hand, poised to strike at the heavy club of "Monopoly." The recipient of the blow is the corrupt big business "Rascal," appearing in the form of a Semite. Immediately behind the "Rascal" is the head of the crooked politician, his body imprisoned in an overstuffed moneybag. Portrayal of the "Rascal" as a Semite may have been prompted by prejudicial propaganda directed towards the newly immigrated Jews. This practice of discriminatory characterization of minority groups was evident in the design of several mechanical banks which J. and E. Stevens manufactured: i.e., "Bad Accident," "Paddy and the Pig," "Reclining Chinaman," etc.
     To date, there is little information which relates to either patent or design of "Bread Winners." However, the discovery of a letter amongst the Stevens Foundry archives sheds some light upon its history. The correspondence was dated May 6, 1886, and written by mechanical bank designer, Charles A. Bailey, assigning to them "a bank which hits on the labor question and is called the Bread Winners Bank."
     Operation of the mechanical is simple and effective: the "Honest Labor" sledge hammer is raised and set into position. A coin is placed within the slot at the end of the "monopoly" club. The small lever in the back of the laborer is then pressed. This causes the sledge to strike sharply down upon the club, depositing the money into the large loaf of bread and sending the big business "Rascal" up, heels over head! Coins are removed through a round retainer underneath the base.
     To find intended meaning in the fragmented imagery of the "Bread Winners" Bank, we must first take notice of the raised letters placed upon its many segments: across the base are the words, "SEND THE RASCALS UP — THE BREAD WINNERS BANK"; the loaf of bread is worded "HONEST LABOR BREAD"; the moneybag is embellished by the phrase "BOODLE, STEAL, BRIB­ERY," and the coin-slotted club states "MONOPOLY." Thus, upon activation of the bank, its meaning becomes evident. If labor strikes a forceful blow to monopoly, corrupt big business will be forced to relinquish its ill-acquired gain, thereby putting more bread into the mouths of the honest working man. Simultaneously, justice will prevail and the dishonest "Rascal" will be sent up "the river," to prison.
     There are no significant casting variations of the "Bread Winners" Bank, and few color variants. Occasionally, one may see the laborer, the rascal, and the base painted in reversed colors. The colors of the bank shown in Figure I are as follows: the laborer has pink, flesh-colored face and hands. He has black eyes, eyebrows, mustache, hair and shoes. His cap is reddish-brown, and he wears a dark blue shirt, olive green pants and a tan apron. The rascal's hands, face and feet are white. He has a black mustache, beard, eyes, eyebrows, and hair. His jacket is dark blue and he sports bright red pants. The politician emerging from the moneybag also has a white face, black eyes, eyebrows, hair and mustache. The moneybag is light brown with a dark blue drawstring. The "Monopoly" club is olive green, and the loaf of bread is painted shades of light brown and tan. One half of the base is red and the other is dark blue. All of the raised letters are highlighted in gold, as is the head of the sledge hammer and the anvil, upon which the "Monopoly" club rests.
     In view of the extreme rarity of the "Bread Winners" Bank (i.e., a superb example will command a high, five-figure price tag), I have included an early Selchow and Righter toy jobbers catalog advertisement, circa 1886-87, which may be of interest (Figure II). The price of the bank is listed at $8.50 per dozen!!!
     The "Bread Winners" Bank has been reproduced, ergo, Figure III, a base diagram of an original example. A recast example would appear approximately one-quarter of an inch shorter along the base than indicated.

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