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The Smyth X-Ray Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – September, 1997

     This month’s featured mechanical bank owes its origins to an extraordinary discovery which impacted powerfully upon the scientific world. The year was 1895 and the discovery was "X-rays," so named because of their uncertain nature. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, professor of physics at the University of Wurzburg, Germany, astounded the scientific community with his observations, which followed much experimentation begun by his predecessors.
     Although X-rays have had far-reaching effects into many branches of science, they are especially well known in medicine. The first medical application took place on January 12, 1896, when Dr. Henry Louis Smith, professor at Davidson College, North Carolina, was able to locate a bullet lodged within the hand of a human corpse.
     Interestingly, despite numerous scientific advances throughout the 19th century, only one aspect of that vast arena was recreated in the form of a mechanical bank, namely "The Smyth X-Ray Bank" (Figure 1). This is curious, since toy manufacturers generally tended to capitalize upon intriguing and timely topics. The designer/inventor of "The Smyth X-Ray Bank" was Charles Smyth of Dayton, Ohio. On May 31, 1898, three years after Rontgen's amazing presentation before the scientific community, Charles Smyth was granted Patent Number 605,064 (Figure 2) for his creation. The bank was subsequently manufactured by the Henry C. Hart Manufacturing Company of Detroit, Mich. Examination of the patent papers shown in Figure 2 attests to the fact that the Hart Company's product (Figure 1) faithfully adhered to Smyth's design.
     Operation of "The Smyth X-Ray Bank" is uncomplicated and fascinating, A coin is placed within the lever or slot of the X-ray camera. The depositor then raises the bank to eye level and points it at a very well-lit object. Peering through the flanged opening at the end of the camera, the viewer sees the object as if he or she were looking through the coin. The lever is then depressed and the coin falls into the bank. The depositor continues to see the object with uninterrupted vision. What has occurred is a clever illusionary effect created by the usage of four internal mirrors. (Refer to Figure 2 and observe the arrows shown in the patent drawing.) The viewer is actually looking at a reflection of the object in the mirrors rather than the object itself. Deposits are retrieved by unscrewing both halves of the bank.
     Henry C. Hart produced only one other mechanical bank whose action also relied upon the usage of mirrors to create an illusion. (Please refer to the May 1993 issue of Antique Toy World for my article entitled "Presto Bank, Penny Changes to a Quarter,")
     There are a few insignificant internal variations of "The Smyth X-Ray Bank," and two color variants. Referring to the latter, most are totally nickel-plated, as is the example in Figure I. However, I am aware of a variant with sides that are painted brown with gold highlighting.
     "The Smyth X-Ray Bank" is considered quite rare and is especially desirable when it boasts of an unblemished plated finish and original operating lever.
     Many collectors, in addition to myself, are becharmed by illusionary banks. In addition to the two aforementioned mechanicals which utilize internal mirrors, there is a third: "The Multiplying Bank," manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Conn. However, this particular bank is not considered mechanical, since it contains no moving parts to either engage a coin or activate the bank.
     "The Smyth X-Ray Bank" has been reproduced. Ergo, Figure 3 is a diagram indicating the base size of an original example. A recast will appear approximately one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch shorter O.D. than indicated.
     Acknowledgments: The superb example of "The Smyth X-Ray Bank" seen in Figure 1 is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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