Tell Chocolate Cigarette
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – September, 2002
Ahhh, the virtues of thrift, morality, and
charity. These were revered values, taught to children of an earlier
period in time.
Many methods of instruction were utilized, including mechanical
banks, to impart lessons in ethics. Notable examples include "Peg Leg
Beggar Bank", "Patronize the Blind Man and His Dog", "Boy Robbing Birds'
Nest", "Boys Stealing Watermelons", "Uncle Remus Bank" etc. Unfortunately,
however, many seemingly innocent mechanicals possessed a "dark side".
While prejudice and intolerance were preached via "Jolly Nigger Bank",
"Breadwinners Bank", "Paddy and the Pig Bank", and "Reclining Chinaman",
others encouraged unhealthy habits. Figure 1 represents one such example,
namely the "Tell Chocolate Cigarette Vending Bank", a bank that portrayed
the pleasures of smoking.
The mechanical was created by a prominent toy manufacturer, i.e.
Hartwig and Vogel Company of Dresden, Germany, circa 1920. This apparently
harmless toy candy dispenser not only doled out chocolate cylinders in the
form of cigarettes, but was also abundantly adorned with the images of
euphoric young children engaged in smoking (Figures 2a, b, c).
Fortunately, thanks to Hartwig and Vogel, the mechanical itself
contained sufficient pertinent data to document its heritage for
posterity. Significant wordage and graphics embellish the façade of the
"Tell Chocolate Cigarette Bank". The words "Tell. Die zigarette fur kleine
Raucher. Hartwig and Vogel -A. -G. Dresden" translate from the German to:
"Tell. The Cigarette for little Smokers. Hartwig and Vogel Company,
Dresden". Portrayal of such detailed, concise information was uncommon for
the majority of German mechanical bank manufacturers of the period. In
addition, early German patent law mandated all mechanical bank patents to
be routinely discarded after fifteen years, thus creating a significant
void in the history of most of the category.
Of interest is the word "Tell", printed upon the mechanical's
marquee. It designated the name of a renowned European chocolate producer,
namely the Tell Company. Apparently both companies entered into a joint
venture wherein Tell utilized the Hartwig and Vogel vending bank in order
to advertise and dispense its product.
The "Tell Chocolate Cigarette Vending Bank" is constructed almost
entirely of lithographed tinplate; the exception is a small glass pane set
into the front panel. It is through this transparent window that we are
able to view the chocolate cigarettes as each makes its descent through
Action of the mechanical pictured in Figure 1 is typical of the
myriad of candy vending banks produced in Europe during the early
twentieth century. Initially, a coin is inserted through the slot directly
behind the "Tell" marquee at the top of the bank. This releases a drawer
which, when manually opened, reveals one "Tell" chocolate cigarette.
(Note — the mechanical pictured in Figure 1 is not equipped with chocolate
cigarettes. If it were, they would be visible through the window.)
Deposits are recovered by unlocking the key lock, trap door, coin retainer
underneath the base.
I am not aware of any structural variants of the "Tell Chocolate
Cigarette Vending Bank". However, Figure 3 depicts a decorative variation.
In contrast to the mechanical pictured in Figure 1, it contains no wording
and might possibly have been a dispenser of actual cigarettes. This
example similarly exhibits illustrations of young children engaged in the
act of smoking.
The "Tell Chocolate Cigarette Bank" is quite scarce, as are most
early European tin mechanicals. This may be attributed to fragile tin
plate and glass construction as well as careless handling by early
Disquieting subject matter, combined with charming, fairy tale type,
children's book illustrations make the "Tell Chocolate Cigarette Vending
Bank" an attractive and most interesting addition to a mechanical bank
To my knowledge, the "Tell Bank" (Figure 1) has never been
reproduced. Figure 4 represents a base diagram of an original example,
provided to aid the collector in determining size and scale.
Acknowledgement: The fine example of "Tell Chocolate Cigarette
Vending Bank" is in the collection of Don Curran.