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The Seven Ravens Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – January, 2005

     The Seven Ravens
     There was once a man who had seven sons. He and his wife prayed for a daughter. At length their prayers were answered and a little girl was born to them.
     But their joy turned to grief, as the child was sickly, and had to be baptized immediately lest she die without the blessing of God.
     The father sent the seven brothers to the well to fetch water for the baptism. When the bucket fell into the well the seven boys just stood around bewildered.
     As they did not return, the father angrily said, "They have forgotten the water and their sister will die without being baptized". And he cried out "I wish the boys were all turned into ravens". As soon as his words were spoken, he looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying away.
     Years passed and the daughter grew stronger. Then one day she overheard it said that she was responsible for the curse that befell her seven brothers.
     Filled with guilt, she borrowed her parent's ring and set out to find her siblings.
     In time she came across a small cottage in the forest. There she spied a dining table set with seven small plates and seven goblets. She knew that she had found her seven brothers. She then carefully placed her parent's rings into one of the cups and hid behind the door.
     Suddenly she saw the seven ravens fly into the cottage. Each ate and drank from the table setting, until one found the ring and said, "God grant that our sister is here and then we shall be free". When his sister heard the wish, she came forth, and on this all the ravens were restored to their human form again. They hugged and kissed and returned joyfully home.
               —Die Sieben Raben, Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, 1812

 
     The "Seven Ravens Bank", seen in Figure 1, is a fine example of early twentieth century German mechanical bank craftsmanship. The inspiration for its creation was the above-indicated fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
     One of the illustrations depicted upon the facade of this mechanical is the moment when the young girl, hiding behind the door of the cottage, first encounters her seven lost brothers. The other, and not true to the original fable, portrays the girl seated before a raven, one of her hands extended (presumably to present the bird with her parent's ring).
     The "Seven Ravens Bank" (Figure 1) is believed to have been manufactured between 1900 and 1920 by the Gebruder Bing Toy Works of Nurnberg, Germany. Bing was a well-known producer of tinplate items for the European and overseas market. Its wares included such items as kitchen utensils, toy trains, boats, and steam engines.
     Although this mechanical does not exhibit identifying marks indicating heritage or birthplace, discovery of the Bing manufacturer's catalog (Figure 2) revealed significant information. Despite the fact that "The Seven Ravens Bank" was not pictured, it is believed to have been one of the company's series of rare mechanicals. Visually, it is quite similar to other mechanical banks represented in the aforementioned catalog.
     The catalog (Figure 2) provides the following descriptions and cost for the Bing series of mechanicals: "Banks — Made of tin, nicely decorated. With good lock and moving figures. Supplied in 24 assorted subjects. Price per piece: Mark – .57".
     Figure 3 illustrates an early, circa 1908, Maienthau and Wolff of Nurnberg, Germany, toy distributor catalog. In it is also pictured a series of mechanical banks similar in design and construction to the "Seven Ravens." The description and prices of the Maienthau and Wolff series of mechanicals are as follows: "Tin Banks, With Movable Figures, in 6 various subjects. Delicately Painted, Hand finished with good lock". Fractional Mark -.76" Comparison of both catalogs lends insight into the profit margin for Bing and pricing structure for Maienthau and Wolff.
     The "Seven Ravens Bank" was constructed almost entirely of tinplate. The articulated figures of the raven and little girl are composed of zinc alloy. Both figures were attractively hand painted. The background scenery, that of the cottage, was executed upon a thin sheet of polychrome photolithographic paper affixed to the bank's tinplate facade.
     Operation of "The Seven Ravens Bank" is initiated by insertion of a coin through the slot in the back of the bank. The raven then tilts forward as if to peck at the outstretched hand of his sister (Figure 4). Deposits are recovered by opening the key lock, trap door type, coin retainer located underneath the base of the bank.
     It is miraculous that this mechanical, as well as any others in the Bing group, have survived. In addition to their fragile tinplate construction, delicate paper-clad and painted surfaces, they were subjected to the harsh elements and careless youthful ownership.
     I am not aware of any reproduced mechanicals in the Bing series. However, there is the possibility of reproduced parts. In this instance, limited professional restoration may be considered acceptable without significantly devaluing the item.
     Measurement of "The Seven Ravens Bank" is as follows: Height: 4-15/16 inches; Width: 3-1/2 inches; Depth: 2-3/8 inches. Its diminutive size does not diminish its desirability. It is an extremely rare, colorful, and welcome addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgements: The superb example of "The Seven Ravens Bank" (Figure 1) is nested within the Kidd Toy Museum, Portland, Oregon, Frank and Joyce Kidd Proprietors.
     Fellow collectors Harold and Uli Merklein of Nurnberg, Germany, graciously provided copies of the Bing and Maienthau and Wolff catalog pages, Figures 2 and 3.
     My gratitude to Ms. Mary Beth Dunhouse, Coordinator of Special Projects and Collections, Boston Public Library, for her research and provision of information linking the mechanical hank featured in this article to the "The Seven Ravens" fairy tale.

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