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The Lighthouse Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine October, 1998

                "I can think of no structure
                created by man as altruistic
                as a lighthouse"
                        George Bernard Shaw


     Ofttimes referred to as the "sentinels of the sea", these stark, phallic structures rise majestically from granite rock beds. Their luminescence has aided mariners for over 2,000 years, guiding through treacherous, craggy shores into darkened harbors, and back once again to endless oceans.
     The world's first lighthouse, i.e. the 450 foot Pharos, was erected in 300 B.C. in Alexandria, and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. America's first lighthouse was built in 1716 on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor. These noble beacons enjoyed their greatest eminence during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when approximately 850 were operational.
     The mystical aura created by lighthouses, and recognition of the general public's fascination, provided the motivation to produce the "Lighthouse" mechanical bank (Figure 1). Unfortunately, to date, neither the identity of its enterprising manufacturer nor its designer can be ascertained. However, the date of production is believed to be circa 1891, based upon an advertisement in the 1891 edition of the Specman Brothers Toy Jobber's Catalog. In it, the "Lighthouse Combination Savings Bank" was offered for sale at the price of $8.50 per dozen".
     The "Lighthouse" Bank is a realistic interpretation of the classic architectural form. This is seen in Figure 2, which depicts the Fisgard Lighthouse, built in Victoria British Columbia in 1860.
     The "Lighthouse" Bank has been relegated to a small, under appreciated and underrated group designated as "non-action" mechanicals. It is unfortunate since this attractive and interesting bank reflects a nostalgic and romantic period of history. Other members of this genre include "Safety Locomotive" (refer to Antique Toy World, January, 1993) and "Bank of Education and Economy" (Antique Toy World, March, 1992). These three banks are similar in that either a trap door or an integral part of the bank opens upon the total deposit of a precise amount of coins.
     Action of the "Lighthouse" Bank (Figure 1) is uncomplicated, and described in the Specman Brothers Catalog thuslys "The house admits any coin to the size of a quarter, while the tower takes nickels only, registering same to the amount of five dollars, when money can be removed. Until the full amount has been deposited in the tower not a cent can be drawn. Made of iron, finished in nickel, red and bronze".
     To further elaborate upon the catalog's description, when the tower has been filled with one hundred nickels (which are visible through the open windows, each marked 25, 35, 45, 55, 65 100), the dome atop the tower is pressed downward. This releases a semiround-trap door at its base, liberating the deposits. In addition, a small round coin retainer underneath the building portion of the bank is utilized for removal of coin deposits of other denominations.
     There are no casting variations of the "Lighthouse" Bank; however, there are several color combinations. The bank may be decorated as pictured in Figure 1, or totally nickel-plated, or completely finished in a gold-bronze color. The dome atop the beacon may be painted either gold or nickel-plated.
     I am not aware of any reproductions of the "Lighthouse" Bank. Nonetheless, Figure 3 represents a base diagram of an original example. If a reproduction were attempted, the base would appear approximately one-eighth of an inch shorter O.D. than indicated.
     ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The superb example of the "Lighthouse" Bank (Figure 1) is in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     Addendum: (from January, 1999) Refer to Antique Toy World, October, 1998, "Lighthouse Bank". My thanks to fellow collector, Mr. Robert Seebold for providing the following information: Only Liberty head type "V" nickels will register the precise sum of deposits in the bank's tower. These coins were first minted in 1883 and were discontinued in 1912. Subsequent mintings of the Buffalo and Jefferson nickels proved much too thick to stack correctly in the Lighthouse tower. This resulted in faulty operation, and an inaccurate total coin count.

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