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Key Bank

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine March, 2007

     A most unique cast iron penny bank, and one that deviates from those generally discussed in this column, is the semi-mechanical "Key Bank".
     Features such as action, construction, subject matter, design, etc. have contributed to increased acceptability of specific semi-mechanical and still banks by mechanical bank collectors (see Footnote). In addition to "Key Bank", a few notable examples include "General Butler Bank" (refer to Antique Toy World, July 1992), "Lighthouse Bank" (A.T.W., October 1998), and "Safety Locomotive Bank" (A.T.W., January 1993).
     "Key Bank" (Figure 1) was the creation of William J. Sommerville of Cleveland, Ohio. On May 14, 1915, Mr. Sommerville was granted Design Patent Number 47,308 (Figure 2) for his invention.
     Based upon the date of patent and the words `GOLDEN GATE' embossed upon the upper neck of a few examples (Figure 3), many collectors believe "Key Bank" was possibly created and marketed for the San Francisco Pan-Pacific World's Fair of 1915. A momentous occasion in history, the Fair celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and also commemorated the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by the explorer, Balboa. The Fair continued from February 20th through December 4, 1915. The words "Golden Gate" appear to be an obvious reference to the landmark Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
     Figure 4 is a page from The New York Company's Catalog of Novelties, circa 1915-1920. In it is an advertisement for "Key Bank", at a cost of 25 cents each, and $2.75 per dozen.
     Deposits are accomplished by placing a coin into the allocated slot inside the oval head of the key, whereupon it drops, innocuously and without fanfare, into its barrel. Coin removal, however, is unique, and accounts for the bank's semi-mechanical classification. A combination type lock is utilized; but rather than opening a safe door to retrieve monies, it releases a small arrowhead shaped bar in order to expose the coin removal slot (Figures 5a, b).
     Figure 6 represents an original paper hangtag, with complete operating instructions. (A tag accompanied each bank sold). Succinctly describing coin removal, it reads: "To Open the Bank: Hold the Bank upside down, and turn the bottom disc (Figure 7) around to the right three times by stopping the notch at 1 then back to the left to 4. The bar covering the opening can then be pushed back (Figures 5a, b) and the coins easily shaken out."
     There are two design and finish variations of "Key Bank". Figure 1 exhibits the copper electroplated, cast iron version. Figure 3 pictures a "Key Bank" constructed of aluminum with the words "GOLDEN GATE" embossed around its neck. It also displays a heart shaped design to its head, in contrast to the oval shaped head seen in the "Key Bank" pictured in Figure 1.
     Both examples are equally scarce. Both are desirable and attractive additions to a mechanical bank collection.
     To my knowledge, "Key Bank" has not been reproduced. Nonetheless, I am including dimensions solely as an aid for collectors to determine the size and scale: 5-5/8 inches from the top of the key head to bottom of the bank's barrel.
     Footnote: a mechanical bank is defined as a toy savings device that performs function and, in the process, receives a coin.
     A semi-mechanical bank is generally defined as an animated device whose action is totally independent of coin deposit.
     A still bank is a toy savings device that has absolutely no moving parts (other than possibly a key lock or disk shaped, or sliding, coin retainer).
     Acknowledgment: the mint example "Key Bank", Figure 1, and its original instructions (paper hang-tag) are in the collection of Bob Weiss.
     Correction: (from April, 2007) Antique Toy World March, 2007, "Key Bank". Footnote definition of a Mechanical Bank should read: "A toy savings device that performs a mechanical function and, in the process, receives a coin".

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