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Tin Minstrel Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine October, 2000

     Who amongst us can dispute the ultimate goal of capitalistic ventures? Financial reward is certainly a motivating factor in the production and sale of wares.
     Mechanical bank manufacturers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were no strangers to the concept of attempting to produce toys and banks that would appeal to the general public, thus ensuring substantial profits. There was no lack of subject matter, as noted by the diversity of themes utilized. However, one topic in particular, that of racism, reflected popular sentiments and resulted in a plethora of degrading examples. Resentment towards emancipated slaves in post Civil War America was apparent by the number of banks featuring blacks in demeaning situations which varied from subtle innuendo to blatant, crude racism.
     Examples of such mechanicals include "Butting Buffalo" (refer to Antique Toy World, September, 1988); "Boys Stealing Watermelons" (refer to Antique Toy World, March, 1985); "Bad Accident" (refer to Antique Toy World, June, 1986); "I Always Did 'Spise a Mule (refer to Antique Toy World, December, 1985); "Dentist" (refer to Antique Toy World, October, 1986); "Mammy and Baby" (refer to Antique Toy World, January, 1987); "Jolly Nigger" (refer to Antique Toy World, December, 1983); "Cross-Legged Minstrel" (refer to Antique Toy World, December, 1990); and "Tin Minstrel (Figure 1), subject of this article.
     The "Tin Minstrel" was manufactured by the Saalheimer and Strauss Company. Located in Nurnberg, Germany, center of early European tinplate toy production, Saalheimer and Strauss was one of the most important German manufacturers of tin novelty items and mechanical banks. Figure 2 represents the cover page from one of the company's early twentieth century toy catalogs in which the "Minstrel" Bank was featured. Note the letters "D.R.G.M." positioned at the base of the "Minstrel" Bank illustrated on this page. This abbreviation signifies the German words "Deutsches Reichs Gebrauchs Muster," roughly translated to "Second Grade German Patent." It was the routine practice of the German patent office during this era to discard, after fifteen years, all patents pertaining to items which were considered to have little social or economic importance (i.e. toys and novelty items). Unfortunately, this course of action eradicated all data pertinent to the inventors and/or manufacturers of those patented items.
     Several years ago, noted mechanical bank collector, Ed Mosler, advised that he believed the "Minstrel" Bank was protected by Patent Number L-698681, dated June 22, 1928. Despite excessive inquiries both here and abroad, I have been unsuccessful in locating a transcript of that document.
     Activation of the mechanical (Figure 1) is achieved by following the instructive verse printed upon the facade of the bank pictured in the catalog page (Figure 2). It reads: "Press the lever lightly, Watch my tongue appear, Save a penny nightly, Make your fortune Here." A coin is placed upon the Minstrel's tongue. When the lever is released, the tongue and money snap back into the bank. The deposits are retrieved by unlocking the square key-lock coin retainer underneath the base.
     There are several variations of "Tin Minstrel." These pertain solely to its exterior design and colors. Figure 1, the most common example, exhibits no instructive verse under the face of the Minstrel. Figure 2 presents an example displaying the instructive verse. A third bank illustrates a young child playing with a penny bank in the area on the facade designated for the verse. Lastly, there exists a "Tin Minstrel" Bank of Spanish manufacture. The configuration and mechanism are identical to the Saalheimer and Strauss product, but its graphics are decidedly dissimilar.
     Due to an abundant number of surviving examples in collections, "Tin Minstrel" is considered the most common of all Saalheimer and Strauss mechanical banks, and is, therefore, priced accordingly.
     I am not aware of reproductions of any Saalheimer and Strauss mechanicals. Nonetheless, the following dimensions of "Tin Minstrel" are given to as an aid to collectors in determining size and scale: Height: 6-7/8 inches; Width: 2-7/8 inches.
     Addendum: Figure 3 represents a page from a Saalheimer and Strauss catalog illustrating a series of mechanicals, and includes "Tin Minstrel."
     Addendum: Refer to August, 2000, Antique Toy World entitled "Cabin Bank." Omitted was the fact that there are three casting variations: In one, the operational spring is secured internally. The other has two small perforations cast into the left side of the cabin. The spring is then secured by its being looped through these holes. Finally, the kick stop on the front end of the roof above the man's head can be either flat or serrated.
     My thanks to fellow collector, Russ Harrington, for calling my attention to this oversight.
     Acknowledgement: The "Tin Minstrel" Bank (Figure 1) is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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