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William Tell with Crossbow Bank Pattern
An Important new discovery

by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine April, 2010

     THE UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY Of an important "new find" is both exciting as well as surprising. Our topic of discussion, this article, is that of one such hitherto unknown example.
     Collectors and historians of mechanical banks are quite familiar with the toy savings bank in the image of legendary hero, William Tell. Seen in Figure 1, this mechanical was patented on June 23, 1896 by the renowned designer/inventor, Russell Frisbee. It was eventually produced by the J. and E. Stevens Foundry of Cromwell, Connecticut.
     The aforementioned new discovery is a bronze pattern for a mechanical bank, and one that differs markedly from the Frisbee patent in its representation of William Tell (Figure 2). The pattern portrays Tell wielding a crossbow, adhering to the legendary fable. The Frisbee design depicts William Tell brandishing a rifle.
     As the legend relates, William Tell of Burglen was known as an expert marksman with the crossbow. In the year 1307, Tell and his son traveled to Altdorf, Switzerland, a city occupied by the Austrians under Austrian Governor Hermann Gessler. Tell refused to pay homage to Gessler by bowing to the Governor's hat (which had been placed upon a stake in the main square as a symbol of Austria's sovereignty). As his punishment, Gessler ordered Tell to shoot an apple from the boy's head using a crossbow (Figure 3). To the Governor's amazement, Tell succeeded and then threatened that "his next
arrow was destined for Gessler's heart". Tell was imprisoned for insolence, but was able to escape and subsequently slew Gessler in an ambush.
     Five hundred eighty-seven years into the future saw a version of the William Tell legend materialize as Russell Frisbee's design for a mechanical bank, (Figure 4) albeit utilizing a different weapon. The manufactured mechanical (Figure 1) adhered quite faithfully to Frisbee's patent drawings.
     It is not understood why J. and E. Stevens would design an accurate, complete, and working bronze mechanical bank pattern for a crossbow-wielding William Tell figure, but reject it for their historically incorrect cast iron "William Tell" Bank. To date, I am not aware of any cast iron J. and E. Stevens "William Tell" sold to the public that incorporated the "crossbow" motif.
     Action of the bank seen in Figure 1 is aptly described in a J. and E. Stevens catalog (Figure 5), circa 1906. "Place the coin in proper position on the barrel of the rifle. Press the right foot and the rifle shoots the apple from the boy's head. As the coin enters the castle, it strikes a gong bell. It is so arranged that a paper cap may be fired at the same time." The apple is reset by lowering the boy's right arm. The pattern (Figure 2) operates similarly, as described in the 1906 catalog. In this instance the coin is placed in front of the arrow atop William Tell's crossbow.
     In closing, I am of the opinion that it was, aesthetically, an unfortunate choice on the part of J. and E. Stevens to disregard the graceful and authentic crossbow design for a rifle-shooting Tell figure. On the other hand, perhaps the manufacturer's decision may have been governed by economic factors such as complexity of production, difficulty in assembling components, and breakage of materials during distribution. Hopefully, time and further research will offer a viable explanation.

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