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Joe Socko Novelty Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine June, 2010

     TOY AND MECHANICAL bank manufacturers of centuries past derived inspiration for their
wares from a plethora of popular and timely themes. The topic of this article is a mechanical bank whose subject was a prominent comic strip character known as "Joe Palooka" (Figure 1).
     Joe Palooka was the creation of Hammond Edward "Ham" Fisher. As related by Fisher in a Collier's Magazine interview: "In my hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., I devised the character in 1921 after I met a boxer, Pete Latzo, outside a poolroom. Here, made to order was exactly what I had been looking for, a big, good-natured prize fighter who didn't like to fight; a defender of little guys; a gentle knight. I ran back to my office, drew a set of strips and rushed to the newspaper syndicates."
     Although Fisher's proposal was repeatedly rejected, it finally made its newspaper debut on April 19,1930. Joe Palooka quickly rose to the status of becoming the most successful strip of all time. At one point, the cartoon appeared in over 900 newspapers with nearly 50 million avid fans.
     Unsurprisingly, entrepreneurs of the period were only too eager to exploit the "champ" by incorporating its image into salable goods. Palooka's likeness appeared on posters, shirts, miniature boxing gloves, figurines, comic books, chewing gum and tobacco cards, sundry toys and a mechanical bank (Figure 2).
     Confusion exists as to why a likeness of Joe Palooka would have been featured on a mechanical
bank entitled "Joe Socko". At this time, only conjecture can be offered. Both "Joe Socko Bank" (Figure 2) and "Popeye Knockout Bank" (Figure 3) were manufactured and marketed as a pair by the Straits Mfg. Co. of Detroit, Michigan. The two were advertised in a Johnson Smith and Co. novelty catalog, circa 1935 (Figure 4). During this time it was known that King Syndicate, Inc. possessed the proprietary rights to the Popeye character and was a fierce competitor of the McNaught Syndicate who owned usage rights to Joe Palooka. McNaught possibly attempted to dissuade the Straits Mfg. Co. from producing a Popeye bank and may have threatened to withhold its endorsement for a bank bearing the Joe Palooka name. Straits, at that point, perhaps felt that Popeye was a more equitable image for their purposes and, consequently, abandoned the Palooka designation. Their challenge now was to create an alternate bank that would not directly infringe upon the McNaught Palooka franchise, but still appeal and attract a Joe Palooka following, thereby creating the title "Joe Socko".
     "Joe Socko" Bank is constructed almost entirely of heavy gauge tinplate. The articulated figures of "Joe" and his burly opponent are bright nickel-plated. The base, however, is finished in colorful lithography. It portrays silhouetted images of Joe Socko's cheering ringside fans.
     The mechanical was advertised as follows: "20 cents apiece. Each packaged in an individual colored box making it suitable for a gift" (Figure 5).
     Operation of "Joe Socko" is initiated by turning the figure of "Joe" clockwise and snapping it into position. When a coin is deposited within the slot atop the platform "Joe" whirls about, swinging its right arm and glove, thereby causing its opponent to fall backward onto the mat. Deposits are recovered by opening the key-lock coin retainer at the end of the base (Figure 6).
      "Joe Socko" is not considered rare. However, coupled with its "cross collectible" status (i.e. not only appealing to bank collectors but collectors of boxing 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) "Joe Socko" is an attractive and interesting addition to a mechanical bank collection.

 
Acknowledgment: The fine example "Joe Socko" Bank" (Figure 2) is in the collection of Bob Weiss.

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