Popeye Knockout Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – December, 2009
WHAT MAGIC EXISTS that can
transform cartoon characters into timeless icons? It is the lack of any
specific formula, regardless of subject, that confounds the cartoonist.
When these characters are enthusiastically and lovingly embraced by the
public, it is a certainty their images will be incorporated into a
multitude of manufactured items, including mechanical banks.
Some early 20th century examples worthy of mention are:
"Mamma Katzenjammer Bank" (manufactured by the Kenton Hardware Co.),
"Mickey Mouse Bank" (Saalheimer and Strauss Tin Works), "Buster Brown and
Tigue" (represented as "Shoot the Chute Bank" by J. & E. Stevens Co.), and
that lovable character familiarly known as Popeye, subject of "Popeye
Knockout Bank" (Figure 1).
Popeye the Sailor made his initial debut on January 17,
1929 in a newspaper comic strip created ten years earlier by cartoon
artist Elzie Segar. Until Popeye's appearance the comic strip, entitled
"The Thimble Theatre", revolved around a gangling young woman known as
Olive Oyl (Figure 2) and her dysfunctional friends. Popeye the comical,
muscle bound seaman, was the ideal choice of mate for the spindly, zany
Within a few months fans of the "Thimble Theatre"
demanded more frequent appearances of Olive's new suitor. Eventually,
Popeye and Olive emerged as the principal characters. Images of the two
began to appear on numerous goods, such as shirts, clocks, watches, pens,
pencils, cereal boxes, dolls and toys.
It was during these early years that the Straits
Manufacturing Company of Detroit, Michigan, acquired the rights from King
Syndicate, Inc. to utilize likenesses of Popeye and his cohorts on it
tinplate mechanical bank entitled "Popeye Knockout Bank" (Figure 1). To
date, no patent papers for this mechanical have been located. Had it not
been for the informative printed strip encircling the base of the
mechanical, much of the heritage of "Popeye Knockout" would have been
lost. The strip reads as follows: "Straits Mfg. Co., Detroit U.S.A.
Copyright 1919-29-33-35 King Syndicate, Inc. Pat. App. For. American Made
Toys For American Girls and Boys."
Figure 3 pictures a Johnson Smith and Co. novelty
catalog advertisement, circa 1935, offering two mechanical banks in the
Straits series. These were "Joe Socko Novelty Bank" (to be discussed in a
future article) and "Popeye Knockout Bank" at a price of 25 cents. "Each
bank packed in an individual, colored box" (Figure 4) "making it suitable
for a gift".
"Popeye Knockout Bank" is constructed entirely of heavy
gauge tinplate. The articulated figures of Popeye and his opponent are
bright nickel-plated. The base, however, is finished in colorful
lithography and portrays Popeye's comic strip associates. This odd group
includes the hamburger guzzling "Wimpy" (Figure 5), "Olive Oyl" (Figure
5a), and "Alice the Goon", "The Sea Hag" and Olive's beloved dog "Eugene
the Jeep" (Figure 5b).
Operation of "Popeye Knockout" is initiated by turning
the figure of Popeye clockwise, and snapping it into position. When a coin
is deposited within the slot at the top of the platform, Popeye whirls
about, swinging its right arm and glove, thereby causing the burley
opponent to fall backward onto the mat. Coins are recovered by opening the
key-lock coin retainer at the end of the base (Figure 6).
"Popeye Knockout" is not considered a rare mechanical
bank but, coupled with its "cross collectible" status (i.e. not only
appeals to bank collectors, but collectors of Popeye comic character toys
and memorabilia), one could expect to pay a premium for the privilege of
owning this mechanical.
Despite its diminutive size (Height: 4-1/2 inches;
Width: 3-1/2 inches; Depth: 2-1/4 inches) "Popeye Knockout" is an
attractive and interesting addition to a mechanical bank collection.
To conclude, there does exist a "Popeye Knockout" still
bank (Figure 7). However, in contrast to the mechanical version, this bank
does not employ pugilists.