The Detection of
Mechanical Bank Reproductions
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – December, 1993
Mechanical bank reproductions may be
categorized into two specific areas: (1) those which are clearly
identified as such in their castings, and offered for sale "as is"; and
(2) those which were created to replicate authentic antique mechanical
banks and serve solely to deceive the purchaser.
Several "bogus" banks (i.e., those which did not identify themselves as
replications) were supposedly produced during the late 1940s by two
gentlemen residing in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, identification and
realization of these forgeries are difficult since they possess many
characteristics similar in nature to original mechanicals. Their castings
are extremely smooth and detailed, and their seams are exacting enough to
fool the unwary collector. However, knowledge and experience in the
detection of frauds can avoid costly errors.
These reproductions were created by usage of original mechanical
banks as master patterns, rather than utilization of master patterns
themselves. Therefore, they lack the extremely fine details of the
original banks. In addition, deep, muddy, muted tones of the originals
colors were used to give the banks a look of age and authenticity. And,
most importantly, each is one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch shorter
along the base than the original.
The following is a listing of several "high quality" reproductions
which are believed to have been created by the aforementioned individuals:
"Acrobats"; "Boy Robbing Birds' Nest"; "Boy on Trapeze"; "A Calamity";
"U.S. and Spain"; "Chimpanzee"; "Circus Ticket Collector"; "Milking Cow";
"Goat, Frog and Old Man"; "Mama Katzenjammer"; "Peg Leg Beggar"; "Squirrel
and Tree Stump"; and "Tabby."
In addition to these, there were equally fine reproductions produced
either by those previously mentioned gentlemen or unidentified others.
This list includes: "Bill-E-Grin"; "Boys Stealing Watermelons"; "Bread
Winners"; "Bull and Bear"; "Dog Charges Boy"; "Bucking Mule"; "Bear and
Tree Stump"; "Girl in Victorian Chair"; "Billy Goat"; "Harlequin, Clown
and Columbine"; "North Pole"; "Perfection Registering"; "Bismark Pig";
"Shoot-the-Hat"; "Shoot the Chute"; and "Uncle Sam Bust" bank.
During the 1950s the "Book of Knowledge" issued thirty reproduction
mechanical banks as an incentive to purchase its set of children's
encyclopedias. Each bank displays the following words underneath its
base: "Reproduced From Original in Collection of The Book of Knowledge,"
which is followed by a 1-9/16 inch impression of a circle (Figure I).
Also during the 1950s, approximately 11 other mechanical banks had
been reproduced from the "James D. Capron Collection," and were identified
as such underneath their bases. Both sets of these 1950s reproductions are
fairly easy to discern. Besides the designations cast into their bases,
their surfaces and seams are rough and pebbly. Their paint quality is
garish and crude, lacking the subtle color tones and details of an old
original mechanical bank. And, as with the unmarked reproductions, each is
one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch shorter along the base than the
original example (Figure II).
Most reproductions can be distinguished from original banks by noting
either the quality of its casting or the virtues of its paint application.
Nineteenth and early twentieth-century toy and mechanical bank
manufacturers utilized high-quality, lead-bearing enamels to decorate
their wares. The pigments used were of exceptional purity and intensity,
never to be duplicated. For example, the yellow pigment (and those colors
such as green and orange, which were dependent upon yellow) was derived
from uranium oxide. Because of the obvious hazards involved in its usage
as well as those of lead-based pigments, government mandate has restricted
sale of both these paint ingredients. Unfortunately, few, if any,
substitutes accomplish the same purposes as successfully as uranium oxide
for intensity of yellow, and lead, for a thick, smooth-flowing surface.
Due to heavy applications of paints and the sparse amount of drying
time required on the assembly line, particular dryers were used. This
resulted in very smooth, glass-hard finishes. As with fine china, this
fine old paint cracked and crazed as it struggled against the ravages of
time. Close examination of most antique mechanical banks will reveal tiny
craze lines throughout their painted surfaces. This is especially true in
the deep, creviced areas, where paint might have pooled to an excessive
The mechanical bank manufacturers of yesterday employed highly
skilled artisans to decorate their mechanical banks. Their brush strokes
were deft and knowledgeable. No detail was omitted, as seen in the Shepard
Hardware "Uncle Sam Bank" — from the tiny hairs of an eyebrow or eyelash,
to the minute buttons, piping and stars on its vest. Conversely, modern
reproductions are not manufactured with the same objectives. There is a
lack of sensitivity and pride in the finished product. The only goal is
to create a "reasonable" facsimile of the original old mechanical bank,
with compromise as the standard and not the exception. Paint is applied
thinly, using only the basic and primary colors. Mixing subtle tints and
shades of colors only increases the cost of the banks, and is omitted from
Paint thickness, texture, brush strokes, crazing, detail, chipping,
intensity, and purity of color are characteristics which can be helpful in
determining the age and/or authenticity of a mechanical bank. If further
proof of originality is required, ultraviolet, or "black" light, can be
useful, although it is not foolproof. When illuminated in a darkened room
by this particular light source, "old" paint appears as muted shades of
the colors in question. In contrast, newer paints fluoresce, giving the
semblance of bright "Day-Glo" hues.
Undoubtedly, chemical tests and "black" light are valuable adjuncts
to the detection of new and repainted banks. However, knowledge, intuition
and the experienced eye peering through a high-power magnifying lens also
play an important role.
February, 1994) Refer to Antique Toy World,
December, 1993, "Detection of
Mechanical Bank Reproductions" Part II: Figures Number I and II,
positioned above the photographs of "Teddy and the Bear" banks should be