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The Bonzo Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – August, 1997

     “Lovable” and "charismatic" describe the canine image pictured in Figure 1. Originating as a cartoon character known as "The Studdy Dog" after its creator, George Ernest Studdy, it was featured in a series within a popular magazine published in Great Britain, circa 1918. Evolving from its artist's conception of the traits and features of a terrier/bulldog/bull terrier/sealyam, the canine was embraced by an adoring public. It was this same devoted public that insisted upon the release of the dog's actual name. In November of 1922, "The Studdy Dog" was rechristened "Bonzo."
     George Studdy, one of the foremost British illustrators and cartoonists of his day, continued to enjoy success with his creation. Bonzo became famous indeed when he was among the first of the neon signs to be erected in Piccadilly Circus. The canine was eventually developed into the star of the only fully animated film series of cartoons produced in Great Britain during the era of silent movies. Bonzo's likeness was incorporated into postcards, clothing, books, lamps, children's playthings which include the "BONZO BANK" (see Figure 2), and a plethora of other items.
     However, despite its popularity and importance internationally, Bonzo never did capture the heart of the American public. Perhaps the tremendous competition from Walt Disney's beloved megastar, "Mickey Mouse," factored in the obscurity of both the British pup and its creator.
     During the 1920's, the Saalheimer and Strauss Company, of Nurnberg, Germany, acquired the rights from George Studdy to use an image of Bonzo on one of its tin mechanical banks (Figure 2). The company, a manufacturer of fine tin items, toys, and penny banks, produced an advertising flyer offering the "Bonzo Bank" to toy distributors and wholesalers This rare and early flyer is seen in Figure 3.
     To date, no patent papers for the "Bonzo Bank" have been located. However, since many of its mechanical components and action so closely duplicate Saalheimer and Strauss's "Minstrel Bank" (Figure 3), which was assigned Deutsches Patent Number L-698681 on June 29, 1928, it is generally assumed the "Bonzo Bank" was also protected under that patent.
     Interestingly, the obverse of each bank (Figure 4) bears the image of the Bonzo character about to deposit a coin into his very own "Bonzo Bank." This is one of the few instances in which an image of the actual bank appears on the surface of the mechanical itself.
     Operation of the "Bonzo Bank" is uncomplicated and aptly described in the brief but humorous verse seen on its front side (Figure 2): "Press the lever lightly, Watch my tongue appear, Save a penny nightly, Make your fortune here." The coin is placed upon Bonzo's protruding tongue. The lever is released, and the tongue and coin snap back into the bank. Deposits are retrieved by unlocking the square key-lock coin retainer underneath the base.
     The "Bonzo Bank" is quite rare and has the distinction of being considered a "cross collectable," i.e., not only appealing to bank collectors, but to collectors of comic character toys and Bonzo memorabilia. For these reasons, one could expect to pay a premium price for the privilege of adding an example to a collection.
     To my knowledge, none of the Saalheimer and Strauss tin mechanicals, including those shown in Figure 3, have been reproduced. Nonetheless, I am including Bonzo's dimensions to aid the collector in determining size and scale: 6-7/8 inches in height and 2-7/8 inches in width.
     The superb example of "Bonzo Bank" (Figures 2 and 4) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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