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Darkey with the Watermelon Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine December, 1998

          The lifestyles, attitudes, and mores of America were vividly expressed by late nineteenth century mechanical bank manufacturers. Their creations were depictions of subject matter that included architecture, sports, thrift, politics, labor, immigration, recreation, racial issues, etc.
     This month's article discusses a bank which may be placed in not one, but two, of the aforementioned categories. The "Darkey with Watermelon" Bank was the result of seemingly incongruous topics, namely the popular game of football and rampant anti-negro sentiment.
     "Darkey with Watermelon" (Figure 1) was the brainchild of Mr. Charles A. Bailey of Middletown, Connecticut. He was granted Patent Number 385,225 (Figure 2) on June 26, 1888. The bank was subsequently manufactured by the J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. Mr. Bailey was employed by the Stevens Company at that time and served as its chief pattern maker and mechanical bank designer.
     Charles Bailey's illustrious career led him to become the foremost acclaimed and respected artisan in his field, with thirty-two masterfully-executed and manufactured designs to his credit. His repertory of banks include such classics as: "Boy Robbing Bird's Nest," "Milking Cow," Professor Pug Frog," "Indian and Bear," "Bread Winners Bank," "Dentist," "Jonah and the Whale on Pedestal," "Bad Accident," "Hen and Chick," "Lion Hunter," "North Pole Bank," "Teddy and the Bear," "Chief Big Moon," "Chinaman in Boat," "Springing Cat," etc. The "Darkey with Watermelon" Bank reflects Bailey's unmistakable trademark: graceful forms generously adorned with flowing floral decoration.
     A Selchow and Richter toy jobbers catalog advertisement, circa 1888-89 (Figure 3) introduced the "Football Bank" as a "NEW" product. Its action was described thusly: "Place a coin in the Foot Ball. Set the leg of the Old Darkey back in position ready to kick, press on the Spring on the Darkey's back, his foot will kick the Foot Ball, throw it over on the Water Melon and the coin will be deposited. Each in Wood Box. PRICE PER DOZEN 8.50."
     There are no color or casting variations of this mechanical. All known examples are identical to the one shown in Figure I.
     The "Darkey with Watermelon" is an extremely scarce item, with only three specimens known to exist in collections. Its rarity and desirability were evidenced at a recent auction sale, wherein a fine example was spiritedly bid upward to the astonishing price of $354,500.
     To date, I am not aware of any attempt at reproduction. However, in light of the recent auction price, replication is always an unsavory possibility. Figure 4 is a base diagram of an original example of "Darkey with Watermelon." If a recast was attempted, it would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter along the base O.D. than indicated.
     ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: The fine example of "Darkey with Watermelon" Bank (Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     CORRECTION: (from February, 1999) Refer to Antique Toy World, December 1998 The correct title of the article should have been: "DARKEY WITH WATERMELON BANK" (and not "Darkey with the Watermelon Bank").

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