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The Mikado Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine December, 1996

     Nineteenth-Century America realized an influx of immigrants from foreign lands. Oppressed, persecuted peoples, as well as those seeking their fortunes and that "pot of gold" arrived on the shores of the "land of opportunity." However, treacherous, lengthy journeys were offtimes rewarded not with friendship and open arms, but with wariness and hostility.
     These evils were reflected in many products of the era, including children's playthings. Therein, newcomers were often depicted as buffoons, subjected to cruel jokes and pitiless mockery. Several mechanical penny banks expressed the stereotyped prejudice prevalent at that time. Examples indicating the ill feelings directed towards persons of Oriental heritage include: "Reclining Chinamen" (refer to Antique Toy World, April 1983), "Chinamen In the Boat," "Japanese Ball Tosser," "Coolie Bank," "Mandarin," as well as the subject of this article, the "Mikado Bank" (Figure I).
     The year was 1885, and the highly successful and prolific British team of Gilbert and Sullivan was enjoying enormous success in America and abroad with its latest operetta The Mikado, a parody of Japanese life. Eager to capitalize upon the success of this musical, another highly successful team, the accomplished American toy manufacturers Louis Kyser and Alfred C. Rex, of Frankford, PA., combined the popular theme of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta with America's anti-Oriental sentiment. The result was the "Mikado Bank," as seen in Figure I. The Kyser and Rex creation was a ludicrous, stereotypical representation of the exalted emperor, or Mikado, of Japan. This embodiment of divine ancestry was portrayed as a con artist engaged in the old Chinese shell game, attempting to lure pennies from children.
     To date, there is no known data indicating the designer and/or manufacturer of the "Mikado Bank," and the words "PAT. APLD, FOR," impressed into the top of the desk, offer no clue. However, several design, mechanical and color similarities strongly suggest the possibility that Kyser and Rex produced this mechanical. This is further confirmed by the interchangeability of the back's key-lock coin retainer with another known mechanical manufactured by this company, namely the "Lion and Monkeys Bank." Despite the fact that Kyser and Rex created many banks with racially motivated themes, its line of production was extensive, with such non inflammatory examples as "Bowling Alley Bank," "Chimpanzee," "Organ Bank with Cat And Dog," "Confectionary Bank," et cetera.
     Action of the "Mikado" is ingenious and intriguing. It is aptly described in an 1886 Selchow and Richter toy jobbers catalog (Figure II). To quote from that advertisement: "Place the coin in the recess in the top of the cabinet, under the hat of the Mikado's right hand, and when the lever is turned the coin will disappear and reappear under the hat in his left hand, where it will remain until another coin is deposited, when the first coin will drop into the bank. A sweet chime of bells will be heard when the lever is turned. The bank is richly painted and decorated and packaged each in a wooden box. 8.50 per dozen." It should be noted that only large 19th-century pennies must be utilized for the bank to operate properly. Deposits are removed by undoing the square key-lock coin retainer underneath the base.
     The "Mikado Bank" is categorized as a rare mechanical. Considering its price, as indicated in the aforementioned 19th-century advertisement, today's possession of one dozen banks, each in its own wooden box, would be valued at upwards of one million dollars!
     There are two casting variations of "Mikado." One operates with internal bell chimes, and the other does not. There are also two color variants, and these apply to the cabinet, with one version painted blue, and the other, red. The figure behind the blue cabinet version is attired in a red kimono and yellow hat, while the figures behind the red cabinet sports a yellow kimono and blue hat.
     The colors of the bank shown in Figure I are as follows: the Mikado's face and hands are painted a pale pinkish flesh color. He has white eyes, black pupils, black eyebrows, a black que, red nostrils and a red mouth. His kimono is red; the buttons, collar and stripes on his sleeves are all painted a yellow color. He wears a yellow hat with a blue band. The bells in his hands are brown with a red stripe. The cabinet is an ultramarine blue with the oriental designs, etc,. highlighted in copper, gold and silver. The words "MIKADO BANK" atop the desk are highlighted in gold. The Mikado's chair is yellow with blue trim.
     Fortunately, complicated design and mechanism have discouraged attempts to reproduce the "Mikado Bank." Nonetheless, please note the base diagram of an original example (Figure III). If a recast were attempted, it would appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter along the base than indicated.
     Acknowledgment: The superb, all-original "Mikado Bank" (Figure I) is housed in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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