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Lion Tamer Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – October, 2006

     Circus themes, animals, youngsters engaged in playful activities, as well as numerous other topics, were popular and lucrative subjects for mechanical banks. Late 19th and early 20th century designers of these "penny guzzlers" boasted of such charming mechanicals as "Circus Bank", "Girl Skipping Rope", "Leap Frog Bank", "Trick Pony Bank", etc.—all intended to delight and entertain children while encouraging savings.
     In sharp contrast were mechanical banks depicting human figures and wild animals engaged in frightening and perilous situations. Perhaps the inappropriateness of such subjects was the reason for a mere two examples that are known to have been produced. These were "Native and Crocodile Bank" (refer to Antique Toy World, March 2005), seen in Figure 1, and "Lion Tamer Bank" (Figure 2), subject of this article. Both were manufactured by Gebruder Bing Tin Works of Nurnberg, Germany.
     "Lion Tamer Bank" depicts a potentially gruesome scenario. The animal trainer, outfitted in brightly colored circus attire, has obviously lost control of the fearsome lion. The large knife in his left hand and the discharging pistol in his right appear no match for the great cat's menacing jaws.
     "Lion Tamer Bank" and "Native and Crocodile Bank" were part of a multifarious series of rare and desirable mechanicals that were produced during the years 1890-1910. The aforementioned Gebruder Bin Tin Works was renowned for its line of tinplate kitchen utensils, toys and model steam engines. Although "Lion Tamer" bears no wordage that may attest to its manufacturer and country of origin, the recent discovery of a Bing catalog (Figure 3), circa 1893, has revealed significant information. The catalog pictures the "Lion Tamer Bank" accompanied by the following data: "Supplied in 24 assorted subjects, price each 35 pfennige. Colorfully painted. With lock and moving figures".
     The articulated figures of the tamer and lion are composed of cast, hand painted, zinc- lead alloy, while the remainder of the bank is constructed of painted tinplate. The entire multi-tiered audience backdrop was executed upon a thin sheet of photo lithographed paper affixed to the bank's tinplate facade. The catalog's illustration of the "Lion Tamer Bank" (Figure 3) indicates a decorative finial crowning the mechanical. The example seen in Figure 2 is sans finial, suggesting the possibility that it had been removed and lost some time in its past.
     Lion Tamer" operates by first inserting a coin through the slot in back of the bank. This causes the animal trainer's knife-wielding arm to rise (Figure 4), followed by a lowering movement. The hand gripping the discharging pistol remains stationery. 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 mechanicals is extremely rare. Its scarcity may be attributed to flimsy tinplate construction, delicately painted or paper clad surfaces, exposure to climactic fluctuations, as well as playful usage. It is puzzling how any complete examples have 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 instances, limited, professional conservation may be considered acceptable without significantly diminishing the bank's value.
     Although diminutive in size (Height: 3-3/8 inches, Width: 3-11/16 inches, Depth: 2-15/16 inches), the "Lion Tamer Bank" is a unique, extremely rare, attractive, and highly desirable addition to a collection of mechanical banks.
     Acknowledgements: The fine examples of "Native and Crocodile Bank" (Figure 1) and "Lion Tamer Bank" (Figure 2) are from the Kidd Toy Museum Collection, Frank and Joyce Kidd Proprietors.
     The Bing catalog page (Figure 3) was provided by fellow collectors and historians, Harold and Uli Merklein of Nurnberg, Germany.

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