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Pelican Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine February, 2003

     A worthy representative of a noble breed of waterfowl is the pelican. Endowed by Mother Nature with a cavernous bill and pouch, this creature would appear to be a most appropriate subject for a mechanical penny bank.
     Indeed, one inventor in particular did utilize the image of a pelican in his design and creation of an automated coin-consuming object. In Figure 1 we see the culmination of his endeavor, and the subject of this month's article, namely the "Pelican Bank".
     On October 15, 1878 John Gerard of Trenton, New Jersey was assigned Patent Number 209,038 for the "Pelican Toy Money Bank" (Figure 2). He, in turn, reassigned the patent to the Trenton Lock and Hardware Company, also of Trenton. This company ultimately manufactured the bank seen in Figure 1. As evidenced by the patent drawings in Figure 2, Trenton Lock and Hardware adhered closely to the design of John Gerard.
     Interestingly, deposits in this bank are not accomplished via the Pelican's bill-pouch, the seemingly obvious feature suitable for coin insertion. Instead, monies are placed through a slot in the top of its head. The bill-pouch does, however, offer a surprise therein to the depositor of this bank. Action of the "Pelican Bank" is initiated by pushing the bird's bill (shown in the open position in Figure 1) downward and snapping it shut. This causes the head of the man to recede into the pelican's pouch. Upon insertion of a coin, an internal mechanism is released. This causes the bill to open, liberating the pouch-entombed figure. Deposits are retrieved by unscrewing the oval base upon which the pelican is perched.
     An early advertising flyer, circa 1870-1880, issued by the James M. Vance and Company, 211 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pa., pictures the "Pelican Bank" accompanied by the following text: "The Ornamented Pelican Savings Bank. Patented October 15, 1878 Combines Amusement, Ornament and Utility. As a savings bank it is as useful as any that has been offered for the favor of the public.
     The very neat mechanical trick by which the mocking face of the cashier appears when a coin is deposited is a source of perpetual surprise and amusement to young and old. The bank is handsomely bronzed and is highly artistic in design and execution making it a desirable ornament for the bracket or mantle.
     The form is novel and attractive and the reasonable price at which the bank is offered recommends it generally. Price upon request."
     The "Pelican Bank" is a member of an interesting category of mechanicals occasionally referred to as "surprise action banks". When activated, such examples designedly expose a concealed object, either animal or human. Notables in this group include: "Elephant With Howdah, Man Pops Up", "Zig Zag Bank", "Chief Big Moon", "Teddy and the Bear", "Cupola Bank", "Shoot That Hat Bank", "Cat and Mouse", "Called Out", "Bimsarck Bank", "World's Fair Bank", etc.
     The "Pelican Bank" was produced in several color and casting variations. Some examples exhibit painted coats of dark japan brown, or glossy black, or white, or "handsomely bronzed" gold (Figure 1). It is reasonable to assume that other examples of this mechanical exist which utilize colors not mentioned. If in doubt as to authenticity, consultation with a knowledgeable individual prior to purchase is recommended.
     Casting variants pertain solely to the colorful figures inhabiting the interior of the pelican's pouch. These include a man wearing a peak cap, thumbing his nose (Figure 3), an Arab (Figure 4), a hatless man thumbing his nose (Figure 5), a Negro mammy (Figure 6), and a Rabbit (Figure 7).
     Despite the fact that some of the aforementioned figures are considered much scarcer than others, all "Pelican Bank" examples are priced equally. As with most antique mechanical banks, cost/value is generally determined by overall condition.
     The "Pelican Bank" is an extremely well designed, attractive mechanical. It is particularly impressive when exhibited as an "open-billed" group, displaying the various pouch occupants.
     Figure 8 is a base diagram of an original "Pelican Bank". A reproduction will appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter O.D. than indicated.
     Acknowledgement: The fine example "Pelican Bank" Arab figure variation is proudly perched in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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