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The Strongman Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine December, 2005

     Carnival acts and circus themes have always proven to be lucrative topics for children's playthings. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries several mechanical banks were produced, both here and abroad, that reflected the public's heightened interest and fascination. Amongst the popular images depicted were clowns, acrobats, and wild animal acts.
     Eventually, however, initial fascination as well as audience attendance at performances began to wane. It was none other than the great entrepreneur and showman, P.T. Barnum, who revived the allure of the circus by creating the "side show". Barnum's "oddities" included fire-eaters, sword swallowers, dwarfs, bearded ladies, Siamese twins, two-headed snakes, albino alligators, etc. Before long all circuses and carnivals featured not only exotic animals but human anomalies as well.
     One act became known as the "World's Strongest Man", and subsequently, the subject of a mechanical bank. The "Strongman Bank", Figure 1, is but one of a series of extremely rare and desirable mechanicals believed to have been produced sometime during the years 1900-1910 by Gebruder Bing Tin Works of Nurnberg, Germany. Bing was renowned for its line of tinplate kitchen utensils, toys and model steam engines. Although "Strongman Bank" bears no wordage that may identify its manufacturer and country of origin, discovery of the Bing catalog (Figure 2) may possibly have revealed significant information.
     Despite the fact that the "Strongman" was not pictured, it is believed to have been one of the company's series of mechanicals. Visually, structurally, and mechanically it is quite similar to other mechanical banks represented in the aforementioned catalog.
     The description and pricing of the Bing series of banks, as indicated in Figure 2, are as follows: "Banks Made of tin, nicely decorated. With lock and moving figures. Supplied in 24 assorted subjects. price per piece: Mark - .57".
     The "Strongman Bank" was constructed almost entirely of painted tinplate. The exception is the articulated figure of the strongman. It is composed of cast, hand painted, zinc-lead alloy.
     The "Strongman Bank" operates by first inserting a coin through a slot in the back of the bank. The strongman then raises its left arm and weight (Figure 3). Upon deposition of the coin, the arm returns to its original position, Figure 1. Coins are removed by opening the key lock, trap door type coin retainer located underneath the base of the bank.
     The entire group of Bing articulated mechanicals is extremely rare. Its scarcity may be attributed to flimsy tinplate construction, delicate painted and/or paper-clad surfaces, exposure to temperature and humidity fluctuations, as well as possible mishandling by youthful owners. In view of the foregoing it is puzzling that any complete, intact example has survived.
     I am not aware of the existence of reproduced mechanicals in the Bing series. However, due to its aforementioned frailties, there is the possibility of repaired and/or replaced parts. In such an instance, limited professional conservation may be considered acceptable without significantly devaluing the bank's monetary worth.
     Although diminutive in size, i.e. Height: 4-5/8 inches; Width: 4-1/8 inches; Depth: 2-5/8 inches, the "Strongman Bank" is an extremely attractive and highly desirable addition to a collection of mechanical banks.
     To conclude, in addition to our featured subject (Figure 1), only one other manufactured mechanical bank captures the likeness of a circus strongman. The "Automatic Savings Banks", seen in Figure 4, is of lithographed tin composition. It was manufactured by Saalheimer and Strauss Tin Works of Nurnberg, Germany, circa 1928 (refer to Antique Toy World, June 2005).
     Acknowledgements: The fine example of "Strongman Bank", Figure 1, is in the Kidd Toy Museum Collection, Frank and Joyce Kidd Proprietors.
     The mint example "Automatic Savings Bank", Figure 4, is in the collection of Max Berry.
     The copy of the Bing catalog page, Figure 2, was provided by collectors and historians, Harold and Uli Merklein of Nurnberg, Germany.

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