The Owl Bank, Turns Head
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – August, 1994
An unlikely, or perhaps inconceivable subject
for a child's plaything is the image of a bird of prey. And yet, the "Owl
Bank," turns head is just such a creation. Represented in Figure I, this
ornithological beauty is cloaked in a soft, plush feathery coat. It peers
at the world with two large limpid and transparent eyes.
To date, there are three different cast iron mechanical banks which
portray this nocturnal dinizen. In addition to the subject of this
article, there is "Owl Bank," slot in head (refer to Antique Toy World,
April, 1989), and "Owl Bank," slot in book (Antique Toy World,
1990). Of these, "Owl Bank," turns head is the one which most closely
mimics the creature it represents. Its inventor and designer, James H.
Bowen, of Philadelphia, Pa., was able to capture characteristics endowed
by nature such as the owl's large yellow, transparent eyes and a head that
is able to swivel a full 90 degrees.
Inscriptions underneath the base plate of "Owl Bank," turns head
which read "PAT'D SEPT 21 & 28th 1880" and "PAT NO
location of the patent drawings (Figures II and III). The "Design Patent"
(Figure II) was utilized to protect the external features of the invention
from pilferage, while the patent shown in Figure III protects the inventor
from infringement of the internal mechanical workings of his design.
The bank shown in Figures II and III was ultimately manufactured by
the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Conn. As evidenced by the
patent papers (Figures II and III), the final production bank (Figure I)
adheres faithfully to these drawings.
Figure IV represents a page from a J. and E. Stevens' catalog, circa
1906, wherein the "Owl Bank," turns head is offered for sale at the price
of both 50 cents and 75 cents each. (The reason for the price differential
remains a mystery to this day.) The action of "Owl Bank," turns head is
best explained by the following quote from the advertisement (Figure IV):
"Place a coin on top of the branch and press the thumb piece at the back,
when the head of the Owl turns and the coin is deposited, after which the
head moves back to its former position." Deposits are recovered through a
round Stevens'-type coin retainer underneath the base.
Interestingly, there are several painted variations of the "Owl
Bank," turns head. Each depicts a different specie of owl. The example
shown in Figure I is representational of a Snowy Owl and is painted
primarily with white plumage. Other colorations are medium-grey plumage
for the Barn Owl, brown feathers with yellow highlights for a Barred Owl,
and greyish-brown, mottled with light grey coloration for the Great Horned
There are no casting variants of "Owl Bank," turns head other than
the two different patent designations inscribed underneath the base
The colors of the bank pictured in Figure I are as follows: the owl
is painted an overall white with light grey highlights. It has yellow
talons and yellow translucent glass eyes with black pupils. The foliage to
the left of its head and the back of the base is dark green with gold
embellishment. The bird is perched upon a brown tree stump, the ends of
which are painted light tan with brown age rings. The operating lever
located at the rear of the base is bright red.
The "Owl Bank," turns head is considered a fairly common mechanical.
However a superb, almost-mint example, or one decorated in one of the
scarcer color schemes (i.e. white with light grey highlights) will command
a premium price.
Several reproductions of "Owl Bank," turns head do exist. Figure V is
a base diagram of an original example. A recast will appear approximately
one-eighth of an inch shorter along the base than indicated. Note: the
arrows indicate the outside dimensions of the base.