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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 Olive.
     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.

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