English "Football" Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – September,
Football, or soccer, in one form or another, has
been in existence for centuries as indicated by ancient historical
records. The Chinese played the game of "tsu-shu" more than 2,000 years
ago ("tsu" meaning kicking with the foot, and "shu" referring to stuffed
Soccer was introduced to England, or Briton as it was then known,
sometime around 10 A.D. via invasion by the Romans. The game was
disorderly and excessively violent, with its participants battering and
maiming one another. Although the Romans departed Briton in 409 A.D. this
unruly, haphazard version of soccer continued in the same manner for
approximately twelve centuries (Figure 1).
Sometime about the year 1800, the game evolved into the more familiar
nonviolent form wherein only the ball is propelled solely with one's foot.
This civil modification alone resulted in a soaring of the sport's
In 1848 the major Prep schools agreed upon the "Cambridge Rules", a
basic set of edicts that became the definitive regulations of soccer. In
1863 soccer clubs in London created the "Football Association", the
world's first organized soccer league. Further modifications over the
years elevated this sport to its position as England's national pastime.
Premium salaries were paid to talented players; children had visions of
becoming soccer heroes; fans crowded local stands to root for their
British toy and mechanical bank manufacturers, as their American
counterparts, were eager to capitalize upon popular trends. On January 7,
1895, inventor-manufacturer, John Harper of Willenhall, England was
awarded Registry Number 247,326 (Figure 2) for his design of a mechanical
bank featuring an English football player.
The "Football Bank" (Figure 3) was subsequently produced by England's
foremost mechanical bank manufacturer, John Harper and Company, Ltd., of
Willenhall, Staffordshire, England, at its Albion Works Foundry. Figure 4
represents an advertisement from the company's 1895 wholesale toy catalog.
In it, the "Football Bank" is offered "48 Shillings per dozen. Boxed
Operation of the "Football Bank" is noncomplex; its action is swift and
effective. A large English penny is placed upon the sloped platform in
front of the player's right foot. His right leg is then pulled backward,
thereby locking it into kicking position. Upon pressing the lever his leg
snaps forward and kicks the penny through the slot between the goal posts.
Deposits are retrieved by unscrewing the goal building from the base of
All examples of this mechanical display the words "Football Bank"
which had been cast into the top of the base. In addition, the numbers
"247326" were cast into the back of the goal building, and RdNo 247326
PATENT APPLIED FOR" is seen cast into the underside of the base. There are
several casting variations of "Football Bank". The coin slot can be one of
three different sizes; the player can be composed of either brass or iron;
in some the Registry number was cast into the leg and, in others, no
number is shown.
There are numerous color variations. As indicated in the Harper and
Company toy catalog advertisement (Figure 4), the soccer player was
"supplied in club colours, for orders of three-dozen or more". Also, I
have seen goal posts and front latticework painted in several different
In addition to the aforementioned, there are variations in the style
of shirt worn by the soccer player. It may be V-neck, turtleneck, or crew
neck. In examples of early manufacture, the player sports a cap upon his
head; in a later version, he is hatless.
The English "Football Bank" is quite scarce, especially when found in
superb condition. Unfortunately, Harper Company neglected to undercoat its
banks prior to application of paint. Thus, moisture, heat, cold, or any
degree of rough handling over time resulted in most examples experiencing
profuse flaking of their painted surfaces.
English "Football" is an attractive addition to a mechanical bank
collection. Its desirability is enhanced when displayed alongside other
sports-related examples such as "Darktown Battery", "Calamity", "Leap
Frog", "Horse Race", "I Always Did `Spise a Mule", etc.
I am not, at this writing, aware of the existence of
any reproductions of "Football Bank". Nonetheless, Figure 5 represents a
base diagram of an original example. If a recast were attempted, the base
would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter in length O.D. than
Acknowledgements: The superb example "Football Bank" is from the
collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
My thanks to John and Adrian Haley for contributing copies of the
English Registry papers seen in Figure 2.