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National Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine July, 2006

     Our topic of discussion, this article, is the highly sought-after and extremely rare "National Bank". Pictured in Figure 1, this desirable mechanical is but one in the increasingly popular category of architectural style banks.
     "National Bank" was created by Mr. Henry W. Prouty of Boston, Massachusetts. On August 5, 1873, he was granted patent number 141,516 (Figure 2) for his invention of a "new and improved" building-style mechanical bank. Mr. Prouty subsequently consigned its production to one of the most prestigious manufacturers of cast iron mechanical banks of the era, namely J. & E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut.
     Unpredictably, production of "National Bank" was short lived. Plagued with mechanical, material, and construction problems from its inception, a drastic redesign was implemented within a few years. Major problems were attributed to an unreliable mechanism and flimsy construction of the tinplate figure of the bank's cashier.
     To demonstrate the vulnerability of this bank's mechanism one need only to observe its operation. Initially, the small brass doorknob is pulled forward, allowing the front door to be manually rotated to the right. As the door is "snapped" into place, the paper clad, tinplate cashier moves along a precariously thin, internal tin track, positioning itself behind the arched window in the door (Figure 3). A coin is placed upon the tray under the window. The small brass knob to the right of the door is then pressed. This causes the forceful turning of the door, hurling the coin into the bank, and rapidly propelling the figure of the teller out of sight. Deposits are recovered by unscrewing a rectangular coin retainer located underneath the base.
     Prouty's redesigned patent, dated March 7, 1876 (Figure 4), entitled "Magic Bank", addressed and resolved the faults of its predecessor. This was accomplished by simplifying the mechanism and eliminating all of the bank's tinplate components without compromising aesthetics. Prouty simply replaced the fragile articulated figure of the cashier with a more durable teller that actually became a component of the front door casting (Figure 5).
     Of interest is that both of the aforementioned patent dates, i.e. "AUG. 5, 1873" and "MAR. 7, 1876" are impressed into the underside of "Magic Bank". The rarity of "National Bank" is based upon its assumed defective nature and limited production. Of all the sparse examples gracing fortunate collectors' shelves, less than a handful exhibit an original, complete image of the ill-fated paper-clad tinplate cashier figure.
     To date, I am not aware of attempts to reproduce "National Bank". Nonetheless, Figure 6 is a base diagram of an original example. It is provided to aid collectors in determining size and scale. If the mechanical had been reproduced, it would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter O.D. along the base than indicated.
     In conclusion, over the past few years, and as previously mentioned, architectural style mechanicals have become an increasingly popular category amongst collectors. In addition to "National Bank" and "Magic Bank" other notable examples include "Hall's Excelsior Bank", "Hall's Lilliput Bank", "Cupola Bank", "Mosque", "Multiplying Bank", "Novelty Bank", "New Bank", "U.S. Bank", and "Zoo Bank".
     Acknowledgement: The superb example "National Bank", Figure 1, was from the collection of Bob Brady prior to its sale at a recent auction.

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