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Japanese Ball Tosser
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine April, 2000

     The intrigue, mystery and magic of the Orient has always fascinated the world outside its boundaries. Unfortunately, suspicion, fear, and prejudice all too often accompanied this fascination.
     A vivid example is the disdain and hostility that greeted multitudes of Chinese and Japanese immigrants during the latter portion of the nineteenth century. These ill feelings became widespread and were communicated via art and literature, as well as various products popular to the era. Included amongst the latter were children's playthings such as mechanical banks. Several depicted the new arrivals as deceitful, repulsive beings, worthy of ridicule. Examples included: "Reclining Chinaman" (refer to Antique Toy World, April 1983), "Chinaman in the Boat" (June 1999), "Mikado Bank" (December 1996), "Coolie Bank", "Mandarin Bank", and "Japanese Ball Tosser" (Figure 1).
     The "Japanese Ball Tosser" Bank was invented and patented by William T. Weeden of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was manufactured by his company circa 1888. Interestingly, the patents (Figure 2) assigned to the entire line of Weeden mechanical banks protect only the internal gears and pinions, including their manufacturing process. There is absolutely no mention of the bank's action, external appearance, subject, or design.
     An early Charles Schmidt Toy and Notion Company catalog dated October 1, 1888, pictures the "Japanese Ball Tosser" Bank with a selling price of $9.00 per dozen. This date of sale and price appear to correspond with the date of manufacture of other Weeden clockwork mechanical banks in the series, i.e. "Plantation Darkey Bank" and "Ding Dong Bell". Of the three, however, the "Plantation Darkey" is considered the more common, since a greater number of examples are known to exist. The "Ding Dong Bell" is far more scarce, with less than a handful in collections. The "Japanese Ball Tosser" (Figure 1) is the rarest of the three. To date, only one example has been discovered, and it resides in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     Of interest is a paper label (Figure 3) affixed to a wooden box containing a Weeden miniature toy steam engine, circa 1888. It indicates there were at least five clockwork mechanical banks in the Weeden line. The listing includes "Plantation Dance", "Japanese Ball Tosser", "Ding Dong Bell", "Jack Horner" and "Village Schoolmaster". Over the years, rumors have persisted regarding the discovery of a Weeden "Schoolmaster" bank, a "Jack Horner" bank, and a "Grasshopper" bank. Unfortunately, to date, none of the aforementioned materialized and the "rumors" remain mere hearsay.
     Operation of the "Japanese Ball Tosser" is initiated by winding the attached key (located at the back of the bank) several turns counterclockwise, as indicated by the arrow. A penny is then inserted into the slot on the left side of the bank. Instantaneously, the Juggler's arms move up and down, causing the balls to elevate on two thins rods, thus appearing to be tossed into the air. The Oriental sways from side to side during his performance. The balls will levitate approximately eighty times before rewinding is necessitated. Deposits are removed by opening the key lock, tin trap door at the rear of the bank. The "Japanese Ball Tosser" is composed primarily of embossed, painted tinplate. The exception is the back wall and bottom, which are constructed of thin sheets of wood.
     Imperceptible in the photo (Figure 1) are several words embossed into both sides and back of the bank. On the left side are the words "SAVE YOUR (PENNIES) AND THE (DOLLARS) WILL TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES", "DEPOSIT HERE". (Note: An embossed likeness of a one- cent piece is in the place of the word "pennies", while an embossed one-dollar coin facsimile replaces the word "dollar". On the right side are the words, "A (PENNY) SAVED IS A (PENNY) EARNED", "SAVINGS BANK" Here again, coin images replace the monetary verbiage. Finally, on the rear tin trap door are the embossed words, "COIN SAFE".
     I am not aware of reproduction "Japanese Ball Tosser" banks. Nonetheless, the following dimensions are provided to aid the collector in determining size and scale: Height: 5-1/2", Width: 3-11/16 inches, Depth: 3-1/8 inches.
     On a final note when the bank seen in Figure 1 was discovered approximately twenty-seven years ago by Massachusetts dealer, Danny Howard (now deceased), it was sans the juggler's head. Since that time, it has been expertly restored to the complete and beautiful state in which it appears today. Following its discovery, I can recollect Mr. Howard's boast of how he had actually acquired the bank. He related to me that it was nestled within a box of "junk" at a local yard sale. If accurate, it illustrates the old adage that "one man's trash is another man's treasure".
     ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: The label in Figure 3 is from the collection of Mr. Russell E. Snyder.

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