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Tell Chocolate Cigarette Vending Bank
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 the bank.
     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 youthful proprietors.
     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 collection.
     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.

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