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Darkey Fisherman Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine May, 1999

          Tumultuous happenings and consequential upheaval epitomize post Civil War America. Newly-freed slaves continued to be treated in a degrading manner, and were the targets of increased resentment and hostility.
     Ill-feeling toward blacks pervaded society via popular literature, art, music, advertisements, children's playthings, etc. Mechanical banks, designed to entertain while encouraging thrift amongst the young, were not exempt from such demeaning, prejudicial sentiments. One example is the "Darkey Fisherman" Bank (Figure 1), subject of this article.
     We can observe the black fisherman who stands in front of a small pond holding a wire pole. He is depicted with grossly exaggerated facial features and is attired in tattered, patched, brightly colored, mismatched clothing; a comical cap is perched atop his head. Further, the disparaging words "DIS POND AM DE BOSS PLACE TO FISH" are emblazoned upon the ground in front of his feet.
     The consensus of opinion among mechanical bank collectors is that master bank designer and inventor, Mr. Charles A. Bailey, was the creator of "Darkey Fisherman" Bank. Unfortunately, no documentation has surfaced which would either confirm or refute this supposition. However, significant factors support the contention that Mr. Bailey was, indeed, its producer. Surfaces generously blanketed with meticulous and intricately-detailed floral designs and art forms reflecting nature were Bailey's trademark. These features were incorporated into each toy and bank created throughout his career. In addition, "Darkey Fisherman" was manufactured of lead-zinc alloy, the same material utilized for the other three mechanicals produced by Bailey at his Cobalt, Connecticut, foundry, namely "Baby Elephant Bank Unlocks At X O'Clock", "Springing Cat" Bank, and "Chinaman in the Boat". It is also assumed that the aforementioned banks, including "Darkey Fisherman", were created from 1800 through 1883. Mr. Bailey is best remembered in his role as head bank and toy designer (c. 1890-1916) for the prestigious J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut.
     Operation of "Darkey Fisherman" Bank requires lowering the fishing pole and fish into the opening in the pond. A coin is then positioned horizontally onto the space provided in front of the coin slot. When the lever behind the darkey's right arm is depressed, he lifts his fishing pole and the emerging fish nudges the coin through the slot and into the bank. Simultaneously, the fisherman's cap tilts upward, indicating the element of surprise. Deposits are recovered by unscrewing the coin retainer underneath the base.
     The superb example of "Darkey Fisherman" Bank seen in Figure 1 was discovered c. 1959 by pioneer mechanical bank dealer, David Hollander. Shortly thereafter, it was purchased by Mrs. Mary Gerken of Allison Park, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Gerken then traded the bank to the eminent collector, Mr. Edwin Mosler, Jr. who, subsequently sold it to Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck of Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
     For thirty-seven years this example was the only "Darkey Fisherman" Bank known to exist. Sometime around mid-1997, a dealer located in central Massachusetts acquired another example. He then proceeded to distribute several sets of photographs of his "Darkey Fisherman" Bank to collectors, with hopes of generating a sale. The bank was eventually purchased by a prominent member of the bank collecting community. This "Darkey Fisherman" Bank is identical in casting, construction, and coloration to the example pictured in Figure 1. The only difference is that it has a frog (Figure 2) attached to the line of the fishing pole, whereas the other example displays a fish dangling from its line. (Note: Figure 2 illustrates a section of one of the aforementioned photographs sent to collectors by the aforementioned dealer.) Since its discovery, the figure of the frog has been adjudged by mechanical bank authoritarians to be authentic and factory original to the bank.
     The "Darkey Fisherman", as well as all mechanicals produced by Bailey in Cobalt, reflect not only exemplary craftsmanship but his wry, satirical, and unorthodox wit, a combination which has brought him great acclaim as one of the most prominent mechanical bank designers of his time.
     There are no casting or color variations of "Darkey Fisherman", and I am not aware of reproductions. Nevertheless, the base diagram (Figure 3) of the example seen in Figure 1 should help collectors in determining size and scale.
     All four mechanical banks, as well as the two mechanical bank patterns produced by Bailey at his Cobalt plant, are considered quite rare. I am assuming very limited production combined with fragility of materials and construction account for their present status. "Darkey Fisherman" Bank is the rarest of the banks, with only two known examples residing in very fine collections.
     ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The "Darkey Fisherman" Bank, Figure 1, is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     CORRECTION: "Springing Cat Bank" article April 1999, paragraph six: The word is "Articulately" cast. "Sprining Cat Bank" in Figure 1 is in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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