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Clown Money Box
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine July, 2003

     Our subject of discussion, this article, is an extremely rare and attractive product of Great Britain. This bust style mechanical bank, referred to as "Clown Money Box," is seen in Figure 1.
     Its designer/manufacturer was Chamberlin & Hill, Ltd., a.k.a. Chuckery Foundry, of Walsall, Staffordshire, England. Data pertaining to this firm reveals its manufacturing objectives were likely to have been cost effectiveness and pragmatism. Not only did Chamberlin & Hill design a mechanical utilizing an unquestionably successful and popular subject, that of a circus clown, but one that could be easily manufactured with few moving parts. In addition, paint colors applied to its surface were limited to a sparse few, while its sturdy construction discouraged returns due to breakage during shipping or eventual consumer mishandling.
     The "Clown Money Box" was offered for sale in a wholesale catalog flyer, circa 1925 (Figure 2). The page contained the following verbiage: "33 shillings per dozen. Painted in Brilliant Colours. With full movement. Packed singly in cardboard box, size 7 in. x 4-1/2 in. overall". It had also been stated within the flyer that it was possible to order the "Clown Money Box" in either of two color combinations...Red, Yellow, Black and White, or painted Pale Blue, Yellow, Black and White".
Chamberlin & Hill manufactured two other similar bust style banks. These were the "Little Moe Bank" and "Jolly Nigger" with non-movable eyes. All three examples were produced from 1925 to 1935.
     Interestingly, the catalog page (Figure 2) indicates an extensive line of cast iron products manufactured by Chamberlin & Hill, Ltd. Two deletions, indicated by black lines, are observed within the listing. These barely legible obliterations are "Nuts, Bolts, Etc." and Paper Cap Pistols".
     Action of the "Clown Money Box" is uncomplicated and effective. A large English penny is placed within the open palm of the clown's right hand. The lever located behind its left shoulder is then pressed downward. Simultaneously, the arm lifts in an upward motion, the tongue recedes, the eyes roll upward, and the coin slides through the mouth into the bank. Deposits are retrieved by unscrewing the base plate underneath the mechanical.
     As an aside, Chamberlin & Hill was not the sole producer of mechanicals of simple design and construction. Other British toy manufacturers were known to have produced a plethora of bust style mechanical banks. Cost effectiveness and frugality may not have been the major factors influencing their decisions. Several English bank collectors/historians have theorized these manufacturers, including Chamberlin & Hill, may have designed simplistic mechanicals to avoid internal "jam-ups". The large, heavyweight English Penny used during that time was thought to cause malfunctioning of complicated mechanicals.
     Unhampered by weighty coinage, and unlike their counterparts in the United Kingdom, the goal of American mechanical bank manufacturers appears to have been the creation of colorful, complex, and flamboyant designs. Competitiveness was likely their motivation to produce, at any cost, mechanical banks reflecting new trends, whims, and fancies of the era.
     It was during this same time period that a mere five examples of the aforementioned, simply designed, bust style mechanicals were produced in America. These were the "Uncle Tom Bank" and "Hindu Bank" manufactured by Kyser and Rex, "Jolly Nigger Bank" and "Humpty Dumpty Bank", products of Shepard Hardware, and J. & E. Stevens' "Bill E. Grin" Bank.
     The "Clown Money Box" is extremely rare, with less than a handful known to reside in collections. Locating a fine example could prove a difficult, challenging, and rewarding exercise.
     I am not presently aware of the existence of reproductions of the "Clown Money Box". Nonetheless, Figure 3 represents a base diagram of an original example. If a recast was attempted the base would appear approximately one-eighth inch shorter in length O.D. than indicated.
     Acknowledgements: The fine example of "Clown Money Box", Figure 1, is in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.
     The rare "Clown Money Box" catalog flyer, Figure 2, is in the collection of Max Berry.
     My apologies for the lack of definition pertaining to the eyes of the clown seen in the photograph (Figure1). They were too deeply inset to be captured on film, and thus appear as black voids. Ergo, Figure 4 is a detailed representation of its eyes.

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