Shoot That Hat Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – June, 2004
Bigotry and hatred have been expressed in various ways throughout
American history. One such unfortunate example is the multitude of
prejudicial items, including children's toys, which were produced during
the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Our subject of discussion, a
mechanical bank entitled "Shoot That Hat" is no exception.
Motivating forces inspiring creation of this mechanical were the
accelerating frustration and belligerence against Chinese immigrants. It
began in 1848 in Northern California with an unexpected and accidental
discovery by John Sutter. At the bottom of a stream that ran through his
sawmill lay shimmering, yellow, metal flakes. This heralded the cry
"there's gold in them thar hills", one that was heard round the world.
Hundreds of thousands of itinerate treasure seekers from all points of the
globe flooded the hills and valleys surrounding Sutter's property, all
seeking to stake their claim. Amongst these were the Chinese, desiring to
escape impoverishment in their homeland. These Asians were welcomed as
"cheap labor" and exploited to work in the mines, as domestic workers and
to lay tracks for the first Transcontinental Railroad. However, initial
enthusiasm turned to distrust and hostility when jobs became scarce and
Americans were refused work in favor of "Cheap Chinese Labor". The outcry
by labor unions, politicians and the frustrated American working class was
for the deportation of all Chinese persons. Reflective of these sentiments
is an animated toy cap pistol (Figure 1), circa 1879, entitled "The
Chinese Must Go".
It was also during this time period of 1879-1882 that several
mechanical banks were created which portrayed prevailing anti-Chinese
attitudes. In addition to "Shoot That Hat Bank" seen in Figure 2, were
"Chinaman in is the Boat" (refer to Antique Toy World article,
and "Reclining Chinaman (A.T.W.,
"Shoot That Hat Bank" was designed by Charles F. Ritchel of
Bridgeport, A Connecticut. On November 7, 1882 he was allotted Design
13,401 (Figure 3) for his creation. Ritchel subsequently
reassigned his patent rights to Messrs. S.S. and G.D. Tallman of New York
City. The Tallmans were not toy manufacturers, but rather toy jobbers.
They most likely commissioned one of the local iron foundries to produce
their line. It is speculated that the "Shoot that Hat Bank" was
manufactured by either one of the following three companies: H.L. Judd of
Wallingford, Connecticut, or Ives, Blakeslee and Williams of Bridgeport,
Connecticut, or the Mechanical Novelty Works of New Britain, Connecticut.
Difficulty in determining which of these firms actually produced "Shoot
that Hat" is that all three foundries employed similar casting techniques
and all three applied exactly the same decorative finish to their final
product. This was a glossy japan varnish, highlighted with a touch of
color, or an accent of metallic paint.
Action of "Shoot That Hat Bank" explicitly demonstrates this
mechanical's entry into the anti-Chinese "hall of smut". A coin is first
placed upon the indent in the "hydrant". The "shoe brush" in the hands of
the "boot-black" holds the coin in place. The lever is then pressed
downward, whereupon the standing figure pushes the hat over the head of
the seated figure. Simultaneously, the top of the hat pops open to expose
the head of a Chinaman (Figure 4). The seated figure then raises his arms,
allowing the coin to roll off the hydrant, between his legs, through the
slot and into the base. Deposits are recovered by unscrewing the bottom
plate underneath the bank.
It is interesting that the Patent, seen in Figure 3, makes no
reference to the head of a Chinaman emerging from the top of a hat. This
offers speculation that perhaps such timely, racist design features were
added by either the Tallmans or the foundry that ultimately manufactured
the bank to encourage sales.
"Shoot That Hat Bank" is an extremely rare item, with less than a
handful of original examples known to exist. Several attempts to reproduce
this mechanical have been made over the past forty to fifty years.
Fortunately, the trained eye will find the reproductions fairly easy to
discern from the original, as they are crude and exhibit a rough surface
texture. Additionally, a recast will appear approximately one-eighth inch
shorter in length O.D. than an original "Shoot That Hat Bank" (Figure 5).
Acknowledgements: The fine, original example "Shoot That Hat Bank",
Figure 2 and 4, is from the collection of Max Berry. The "Shoot That Hat
Bank", Figures 2 and 4 was photographed by Alex Jamison.