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Old Woman with Broom Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine April, 2007

     What more appropriate choice for discussion, this article, than the mechanical referred to as "Old Woman With Broom Bank". Its theme, that of the physical punishment of a child, has recently sparked worldwide controversy and much debate.
     Throughout the centuries, and in most societies, children were regarded as possessions, to be seen but not heard. Biblical text and wise sages preached the well-known doctrine "spare the rod, spoil the child". Familiar nursery rhymes and fairy tales depicted unruly, misbehaving children being severely punished in order to teach the lesson of obedience.
     The commonly-held belief in punishment of the young appears to have inspired several toy manufacturers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A number of mechanical banks were created, both in this country and abroad that exhibited the consequences experienced by the disobedient or mischievous child. Notable examples include: "Boy Robbing Bird's Nest Bank" (Antique Toy World, June 1991), "Boys Stealing Watermelons Bank" (A.T.W. March 1985), "Old Woman In the Shoe Bank" (A.T.W. November 1988), "Schoolmaster Bank" (A.T.W. August 2004), and "Old Woman With Broom Bank" (Figure 1).
     The mechanical depicts an elderly woman, broom in hand, poised to chastise an unruly and obviously disrespectful lad. The child stands before the woman, to whom he is seen "thumbing his nose". In this instance the lesson in morality is quite evident: punishment will be dealt swiftly and harshly to the child who defies the edict of proper respect for his elders.
     "Old Woman With Broom" (Figure 1) is but one of a series of extremely rare mechanical banks. These are believed to have been produced from 1900 through 1910, and by the Gebruder Bing Tin Works of Nurnberg, Germany. Bing was a renowned European producer of items such as tinplate household goods and toys that included trains, boats, automobiles and steam engines.
     Unfortunately, there is little or no documentation by most German toy manufacturers of the period, including Bing, that pertains to these toys and mechanical banks. The lack of patent information, in particular, is attributed to early twentieth century German patent laws. It was government mandated that "insignificant patents" (i.e. toys) were to be discarded after fifteen years of issuance.
     Had it not been for the fortuitous discovery of the Gebruder Bing catalog (Figure 2), pertinent information relating to "Old Woman With Broom Bank" as well as other Bing creations, would have remained an enigma. Although this mechanical is not pictured in the catalog, visual and structural similarity to other members of its assumed family is undeniable.
     Descriptions and prices of the Bing series of mechanical banks, as indicated in the catalog (Figure 2), are as follows: "Banks-Made of tin, nicely decorated. With lock and movable figures. Supplied in 24 assorted subjects. Prices per item: Mark-57".
     "Old Woman With Broom Bank" is constructed almost entirely of hand painted tinplate, as was all others in the series. The articulated figures of the broom-wielding woman and the little boy are composed of zinc-lead alloy, and both were colorfully and artfully painted.
     Operation of the mechanical is initiated by inserting a coin through the slot provided in the roof of the bank. The old woman's arm, broom in hand, rises, and then lowers as if to strike the disrespectful child (Figure 3). Deposits are removed by opening the key lock, trap door type coin retainer underneath the base.
     I am not aware of the existence of reproduced mechanicals in the Bing series. However, due to their delicate nature there is the possibility of restored or reproduced parts. In such instances, limited professional conservation may be considered acceptable without significantly devaluing the bank.
     Although "Old Woman With Broom Bank" is small in size: Height: 3-1/2 inches, Width: 4 inches, Depth: 2-1/2 inches, its desirability is not diminished. It is an extremely rare, attractive and important addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgements: The fine example "Old Woman With Broom Bank", Figure 1, is from the collection of the Kidd Toy Museum, Frank and Joyce Kidd Proprietors.
     Fellow collectors and historians, Harold and Uli Merklein of Niirnberg, Germany, provided copies of the Bing catalog pages seen in Figure 2.
     Correction: 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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