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Cowboy with Tray
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine July, 2002 

     What do Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the Lone Ranger have in common? Simply, the stuff that American dreams were made of. These cowboys were merely a few of the great western icons that dominated the American scene during the first half of the twentieth century. Young boys spent countless hours fantasizing about riding the imaginary range, battling cattle rustlers and bringing unsavory outlaws to justice.
     The golden age of the "real life" cowboy, however, reigned from the end of the Civil War through the early twentieth century. Unlike the aforementioned heroes, they were, in fact, grimy, overworked laborers who rode endless miles on horseback. Their jobs were to mend fences and search for lost calves while contending with the scorching sun, harsh winds, and drenching rains. Despite their toilsome, mundane existence, it was these very same "cowboys" (Figure 1) that created the image of the brave, hard-riding, fast-shooting "hombres" that has endured to this day.
     During his heyday the cowboy was aggrandized through photographs, paintings, songs, stories, and clothing. Toy manufacturers of the era produced a plethora of playthings that reflected the life of these seemingly stout-hearted western heroes.
     Interestingly, however, American manufacturers of mechanical penny banks apparently chose to ignore youth's obsession with the cowboy. Indeed, it was not until the early twentieth century that the hero of the "wild west" was utilized, not by an American firm but a European manufacturer, as the subject of a mechanical bank (Figure 2).
     Entitled "Cowboy With Tray" Bank, this mechanical was produced in Germany. To date, information pertaining to its patent and other data is virtually non-existent. Had it not been for the word 'GERMANY' printed upon the cowboy's left shoe, its country of origin would also have remained an enigma. This void in the bank's heritage is a result of nineteenth century German patent law mandating that toys and other insignificant products be designated "Reichsgebrachsmuster", or "registered design". Unfortunately, such documents were routinely discarded after fifteen years, and, therefore, lost forever.
     Occasionally, collectors will refer to "Cowboy With Tray" as "Boy Scout With Tray" Bank. Such designation is refutable since our subject appears to be sporting fringed chaps or leg coverings. This was a necessary garment designed specifically for the cowboy (Figure 3). It protected his legs from thorny, brush abrasions and the occasional, although inevitable, horse bite.
     Action of the "Cowboy With Tray" is non-complex. A coin is placed upon the extended tray. The rear lever, a part of the arms and tray assembly, is depressed. Simultaneously, the coin-laden tray tilts upward, and the coin drops into out hero's gaping mouth. Money removal is accomplished by opening the key lock, sliding coin retainer located behind the cowboy's head.
     There are no significant variations of "Cowboy With Tray" other than a few differences in wording imprinted upon the coin tray. One version states, "Please one penny! Bitte!" (Bitte: the German word for please.) Another is "One penny please", while a third variation contains no wording at all.
     "Cowboy With Tray" is, expectedly, quite scarce. In view of its fragile tin plate construction and the ravages of time, heat, moisture, as well as careless or rough handling by its early, youthful proprietors, it is surprising there are any surviving examples. Fortunate is the collector able to add a fine example of this attractive mechanical bank to his or her corral.
     To my knowledge, there are no reproductions of the bank shown in Figure 2. Nonetheless, the following dimensions of "Cowboy With Tray" are given to aid the collector in determining size and scale: Height: 5-3/4 inches; Width: 2-1/2 inches.
     Acknowledgements: The superb example of "Cowboy With Tray" Bank (Figure 2) is from the collection of Max Berry.
     The "Cowboy With Tray" Bank (Figure 2) was photographed by Alex Jamison.

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