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The Cat and Mouse Bank — Part 2
Fierce, Standing cat Variation

by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – June, 2009

     “The game of cat and mouse” — indeed a well-worn expression — exemplifies the fear and aggressiveness of two of nature's creatures. Multitudes of anecdotes and fables have been written depicting their oppositional relationship.
     In most instances, however, when directed towards entertaining children, such scenarios are presented in a light and humorous manner. An example is an animated cartoon in which the antics of its characters, "Tom and Jerry", have delighted and amused youngsters. Children squeal with anticipation when the cat named Tom, portrayed as a buffoon, pursues the wily mouse known as Jerry. Despite a multitude of precarious situations, Jerry emerges unscathed while Tom is not only unsuccessful, but also totally humiliated.
     The "Cat and Mouse Bank" (Figure 1) may very well be considered the Tom and Jerry of the nineteenth century. Certainly, this similarity can only be attributed to its frolicsome and humorous aspects with no serious threats intended. However, in marked contrast to this version is the fact that, during the final stages of pattern creation at the J. and E. Stevens Company, the bank's manufacturer, a very different version of this mechanical was proposed, one that was grisly and frightening. Evidence revealing the aforementioned was uncovered several years ago, circa 1950, during the dismantling of the defunct J. and E. Stevens Foundry.
     At that time several brass parts for the "Cat and Mouse Bank" were discovered. These particular castings presented an image of a fearsome-appearing cat grasping a captured mouse within its jaws (Figure 2). Understandably, it was decided that this gruesome situation was not suitable for youngsters and should not be utilized in the final production stages of "Cat and Mouse Bank". Instead, the mechanical portrayed a cat dressed as a clown standing on its front paws, holding a mouse and ball between its hind paws (Figure 1). Not surprisingly those castings of the aforementioned "fierce cat" version (Figure 2) fit and operate perfectly within the bases of the actual final production cast iron "Cat and Mouse Bank" seen in Figure 1.
     The "Cat and Mouse Bank" was designed by James H. Bowen of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was issued Patent Number 450,833 on April 21, 1891 (Figure 3). As evidenced by these drawings and the final production bank, J. and E. Stevens adhered closely to Bowen's original design. One may speculate that the fierce cat depiction was an interim idea presented for consideration prior to actual production.
     Upon close inspection of the patent drawings, two final modifications are revealed. One addresses itself to a footed base plate that is shown in the photo of the bank (Figure 1) but omitted from the patent illustration seen in Figure 3. The second modification is mechanical and pertains to the mouse and ball located between the balancing cat's hind legs. The patent drawings indicate that the mouse and ball are movable, so as to rotate upon activation of the bank. As the bank appears in Figure 1, that part was ultimately manufactured as a stationary component.
     Action of both "Cat and Mouse Banks" Figures 1 and 2, may aptly be described as amusing and quite surprising. It is explained in a Marshall Field and Company wholesale toy jobbers catalog advertisement, circa 1892 (Figure 4): "No. 324. Cat and Mouse Bank. Height, 11-1/2 inches; width, 5-1/2 inches; depth, 4 inches. Place a coin in front of the mouse over the cat, press the lever, and as the coin disappears into the bank, the kitten, in fancy dress, appears, turning a somersault, holding the mouse and ball. Handsomely ornamented in fancy colors ... price doz., $8.50". Deposits are recovered by removing the round Stevens-type coin retainer underneath its base.
     The "fierce cat" variation of "Cat and Mouse Bank" (Figure 2) is extremely rare. I am presently aware of merely a handful of examples, and these in the possession of fortunate collectors. Most are post-production marriages consisting of an original production, painted cast iron base combined with a non-factory painted, original brass "fierce cat" casting. One known example may possibly be an all-original, factory assembled, painted specimen, employed solely as an oddity, a display model at the J. and E. Stevens factory showroom. Nonetheless, all examples of the "fierce cat" variation "Cat and Mouse Bank" are extremely rare and most desirable, interesting additions to a mechanical bank collection.
     Reproductions of "Cat and Mouse Bank" (Figure 1) do exist. Figure 5 represents a base diagram of an original example. Reproductions will appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter along the base than indicated.

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