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Wimbledon Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine November, 2010

     THE CONCLUSION OF the American Civil War, as well as numerous armed battles raging throughout Europe, saw the advent of a growing worldwide pastime. Fascination and a passionate interest in firearms and marksmanship increased dramatically. This love affair with gunnery kindled the establishment of the National Rifle Association of Great Britain in 1860.
     It was in that year the newly formed firearms society held its first shooting match on Wimbledon Common in Great Britain. Interest in the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the annual competition grew rapidly, and by the early 1870's rifle ranges were fully established on the Wimbledon grounds. By 1878 the matches were held for a period of two weeks. They attracted nearly 2,500 competitors, and these housed in temporary barracks set up across the green. By the 1880's, however, the power and range of the rifle had advanced to the extent that shooting in an increasingly populated area was no longer considered safe. The final Wimbledon competition was held in 1889, prior to its movement to Bisley, a village in Surry, England.
     By 1890, awareness and interest in the NRA led to an astounding increase in its American and European membership.
     Entrepreneurs, eager to capitalize upon current and popular trends, were, by this time, marketing objects and playthings relating to armed sportsmanship. Among those opportunists were European and
American mechanical bank manufacturers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several notable examples of their many creations include "Volunteer Bank", "Grenadier Bank", "King Aqua", "Tommy Bank", "Creedmoor Bank", and the "Wimbledon Bank", seen in Figure 1, the subject of this article.
     The "Wimbledon Bank", unsurprisingly, was produced at the height of the national obsession with the Wimbledon shooting competition. Its creator was Great Britain's foremost mechanical bank producer, John Harper and Company, Ltd. of Willenhall, Staffordshire, England. The company received British Registration Number 33821 on September 21, 1885, for its design. That number is cast into the underside of the base.
     Figure 2 represents a copy of a nineteenth century John Harper and Company, Ltd. catalog. In it the "Wimbledon Bank" is offered at "44/6 per dozen. Finished in attractive colors, and packed one in a box."
     The Harper Company was quite prolific. Examples of several of its mechanical bank productions included "Jolly Nigger", "I Always Did 'Spise A Mule", "Speaking Dog", "Tommy", "Volunteer", "Hoop-La", "Football Bank", "Dinah", "Grenadier", "Kiltie", "Giant In Tower", etc. Cast iron toy and bank production took place from the 1880's until the Second World War, when the shortage of ferrous war materials mandated reclamation of all metal goods, forcing the company to cease production.
     Operation of "Wimbledon Bank" is similar to most other cast iron mechanicals incorporating a rifle wielding sharpshooter. Initially, the notched slide atop the rifle is pushed back and clicked into place. This causes the shooter's head to tilt forward, as if taking aim. A coin is then placed atop the rifle directly in front of the slide. A small lever located in its base is then pressed, causing the coin to be propelled into the target. This results in the marksman's head snapping backward as if reacting to the rifle's recoil. Deposits are retrieved by unscrewing the base plate underneath the bank.
     "Wimbledon Bank", as well as several other Harper mechanicals, is quite rare. This is not only attributed to its fragility, limited production, and easily removable parts, resulting in their loss, but by the aforementioned British iron reclamation war effort. Few all-original and/or complete examples have survived. Contemplation of its purchase should include awareness that the cast iron flag atop the target is easily detached, and most had been lost. Good recast flags are available; however. mechanical banks utilizing such copies have a somewhat diminished value and should be priced accordingly.
     To date, I am not aware of any attempt, other than the aforementioned flag, to reproduce "Wimbledon Bank". Figure 3 is a base diagram of an original example. If one was recast it would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter along the base O.D. than indicated.
Acknowledgment: The fine example "Wimbledon Rank", Figure 1. had been photographed when in the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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