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African Native Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine September, 2000

     Exciting as well as challenging is the occasional discovery of a "new find" in mechanical banks. Oftentimes, it does not require persistent, exhaustive research to reveal its identity. Our subject this month (Figure 1) is one, however, that has defied attempts to unlock the key to its actual name. Its anonymity is, perhaps, the result of a lack of documentation relating to old trade catalogs and advertisements by its manufacturers. These unique banks offer their owners the opportunity to express creativity by conjuring up a title that appears to befit its subject.
     Such was the occurrence several years ago when my then eight-year-old son, Jon, and I were perusing the merchandise displayed in a local antique shop. He noticed, and called my attention to, the mechanical bank seen in Figure 1. Shortly after its purchase, I brought this rare, tin mechanical to a gentleman who stated that he had been searching for just such an item and desired to buy it from me.
     During our deliberation, I referred to the mechanical as "Little Black Sambo." This designation was based upon what I felt was the bank's uncanny resemblance, both appearance and attire, to the youthful hero in the storybook of the same name (Figure 2). To further support my theory, I referred to another mechanical in this particular series, similar in size, construction, and action, namely Little Black Sambo's whimsical story-book adversary, the "Tiger" (Figure 3).
     At the conclusion of our transaction, the new owner placed his new acquisition upon a shelf and proudly proclaimed: "With this African Native bank I now possess the entire set!" When questioned about his choice of nomenclature, he replied simply that "I think it looks like an African native!" And who was I to argue with such logic?
     Worthy of mention at this time is renowned author Helen Bannerman, who created and illustrated "The Story of Little Black Sambo" in 1899. With its charming saga and alluring illustrations, it realized worldwide acclaim, eventually being translated into a dozen languages. Children even today are captivated by the misadventures of its young hero.
     The "African Native" bank (Figure 1) and the "Tiger" bank (Figure 3) were manufactured by the Saalheimer and Strauss Manufacturing Company of Nurnberg, Germany. This company was the foremost designer and producer of tin plate mechanicals in Europe during the early twentieth century. The intricate die-cut, embossed tin and elaborate full-color lithography embellishing these toys have never been equaled.
     A 1929 Saalheimer and Strauss toy catalog page (Figure 4) illustrates the item shown in Figure 1 as part of a "series of six tin banks, produced with and without animation." However, to date, eight different subjects have been identified in various collections. These are "African Native," "Tiger," "British Lion," "Bulldog," "Teddy Bear," "Clown," "Harold Lloyd," and "Black Golliwogg." Several of the mechanicals in the series were not marketed solely as banks but were also intended to be candy containers. They were supplied with their cavities filled with "Lyon's Toffees." The following phrase is indicated upon the obverse of these banks: "LYON'S TOFFEES, LONDON, ENGLAND. Do not attempt to work before removing toffees."
     Activation of the "African Native" (Figure 1) is uncomplicated and effective. The bent wire lever located at the left side of the head is depressed. Simultaneously, the jaw lowers and the tongue protrudes. A coin is then placed upon the extended tongue, whereupon the lever is released. The tongue, carrying its assets, snaps back into the bank; the jaw then returns to the position seen in Figure 1. Deposits are retrieved by opening the key lock coin retainer on the back of the mechanical. Those specific examples exhibiting "Lyon's Toffees" advertising utilize non-key lock coin retainers.
     The "African Native," as well as all banks in this series, is quite scarce. To my knowledge, none of the Saalheimer and Strauss tin banks have been reproduced. That does not, however, preclude the possibility of a reproduced replaced part. Needless to say, in such instances the value of the bank diminishes considerably.
     Despite its material (i.e. tinplate) and diminutive size (Height: 5-3/8 inches; Width: 3-1/16 inches), the "African Native" bank is a delightful, colorful and highly desirable addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgment: The superb example of "African Native" bank (Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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