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
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
"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
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.