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Fortune Telling Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – December, 2006

     Humankind’s fantasy: a glimpse into the future with events yet to unfold. Infinite fortune and fame await the dreamer who can foresee tomorrow's happenings.
     A popular attraction at many a country fair and carnival had been the fortuneteller. Portrayed as a mysterious Gypsy woman garbed in colorful scarves and garish gold jewelry, these persons purportedly possessed the ability to predict one's future. The belief sustained over hundreds of years was that a group of nomads, referred to as "Roma'', or "Gypsies", possessed remarkable psychic abilities and the gift to attract good fortune, or inflict a ruinous curse.
     Worldwide fascination with this group of traveling prognosticators reached its peak during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The public was beguiled by Gypsy magic, fortune telling, Tarot readings, and crystal ball gazing. This fascination did not escape the attention of enterprising individuals both in this country and abroad. Astute entrepreneurs recognized the marketability of these mysterious itinerants. Numerous items portraying the influences of the Gypsy began to grace shelves of variety and country stores. Games and toys were amongst the list of goods produced.
     An example of one such toy is our featured subject, the "Fortune Telling Bank", (Figure 1). The mechanical displays no wordage to reveal either its designer or manufacturer. However, the word "GERMANY" is seen on its base, thereby indicating country of origin.
     To date, no patent papers or manufacturer's catalog illustrating "Fortune Telling Bank" have been located. However, many of its overall mechanical and design features are similar to other tin lithographed mechanical banks created by the Saalheimer and Strauss Tin Works of Nurnberg, Germany. It is assumed, therefore, that, in all likelihood, "Fortune Telling Bank" was a product of this company.
     Figure 2 represents an early Saalheimer and Strauss sales flyer, circa 1900-1935, in which is offered several lithographed tin plate mechanicals. Remarkable and undeniable is the similarity between "Fortune Telling Bank" and four of the represented mechanicals, namely "Tin Scotsman", "Tin Minstral", "Bonzo" and "Jolly Joe the Clown".
     Operation of "Fortune Telling Bank" is entertaining and apropos to Gypsy lore. A coin is deposited into the slot atop the bank. As the coin descends, it strikes an internal flywheel. This causes the disk, bearing the likeness of the Gypsy woman on its facade, to spin. As the momentum slows, and eventually ceases, the Gypsy woman's finger can be seen pointing to one of the several fortunes encircling her image (Figure 3). Deposits are recovered by opening a key lock, trapdoor-type coin retainer located underneath the base of the bank.
     To my knowledge, none of the Saalheimer and Strauss mechanicals, including the subject of this article, has been reproduced.
     The "Fortune Telling Bank" is extremely scarce. Despite its tin plate construction and diminutive size (Height: 6-3/4 inches; Width: 2-3/4 inches), it is an extremely desirable and attractive addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     (*) "Roma" is an archaic term used to describe nomadic groups commonly referred to as "Gypsies". Today, only Gypsies refer to themselves as "Roma", or "Rom".
     Acknowledgement: The fine example "Fortune Telling Bank", Figure 1, is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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