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Santa's Christmas Savings House
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine December, 2010

     "TWAS THE Night Before Christmas...." and so begins the celebrated poem by Thomas Clement Moore. His poem, entitled "The Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas", as well as the popular illustration of "Father Christmas" (Figure 1) created by Thomas Nast, provided inspiration for a plethora of holiday items during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
     Nast's rendition of Santa Claus appeared on a multitude of products. These included Christmas cards, decorations, clothing, candy and cookie molds, and children's toys and games. Surprisingly, despite the popularity of St. Nicholas and the abundance of toys depicting its image, a mere two mechanical banks were produced during this time which incorporated a likeness of the beloved Christmas legend. The first of these banks was produced in this country. The Shepard Hardware Company in Buffalo, New York created a cast iron mechanical bank entitled, appropriately, "Santa Claus Bank", as seen in Figure 2. The Montgomery Ward and Co., a wholesale toy catalog, featured the
bank in an advertisement (Figure 3), circa 1889. The following is an excerpt of the ad: "Santa Claus
Bank, Price, each  $0.40".
     The second mechanical bank to employ the image of Santa Claus was of European manufacture,
circa 1928, and is the subject of this article (Figure 4). This version was designed and marketed by
Robert Kaden of Saxony, Germany. "The Christmas Savings House With Santa Claus" is one of a series of five known mechanicals of similar design, composition and construction. Each utilizes a carved or turned wood, movable figure adjoining a colorfully lithographed cardboard edifice. Other members of the group include "Easter Bunny Cottage Bank", "Woman Cottage Bank". "Woman With Dog Cottage Bank" and "Ybarra Olive Oil Cottage Bank".
     "Christmas Savings House", as well as its brethren, was produced in Saxony, Germany during the early twentieth century. Its lineage was gleaned from the letters "D.R.G.M. 989429" printed upon the rear section of the bank. Figure 5 is a t copy of an early German Patent Paper indicating our subject's date of registration as "April 27, 1927. Designed by Robert Kaden and Emil Kaden of Saxony, Germany". It also describes the bank as "having a movable figure, and being composed of sturdy cardboard." In addition. the aforementioned patent refers to "an expiration date of June 20, 1930".
     The discovery of an advertisement within an issue of the German newspaper "Der Globus" (Figure 6), circa 1928, was also quite informative. The translation from German into English reads as follows: "Biggest Novelty! Christmas Savings House with Santa Claus! This is the latest and biggest selling hit. My Savings House with automatic coin slot and key lock. D.R.G.M 989429. For sample send 0.90 Mark in stamps. Robert Kaden exclusive manufacturer, Niederneuschonberg, Post Office Olbemhau in Saxony".
     Of interest and worthy of mention is the circumstance that possibly led to the creation of the cottage / house series of mechanicals. During this time, a cottage/home-based industry was flourishing in the Erzgebirge mountain region of Germany. Here, entire families were engaged in the carving, turning and hand painting of small, whimsical wooden figures. These were ultimately supplied to local toy manufacturers and distributors (e.g. Robert Kaden). Because of their simplicity of construction, the cost for figurines was extremely reasonable, enabling distributors and/or manufacturers to incorporate them into their own inexpensive holiday goods and seasonal novelty items. "Christmas Savings House" seen in Figure 4 is an example of one such composite. Represented is an Erzgebirge-carved wooden figure of a snowman, together with a lithographed, cardboard building manufactured by Robert Kaden.
     Operation of "Christmas Savings House" is simplistic and amusing. A coin is placed in the snowman's tin tray. Its added weight causes the figure to rotate towards the right side, resulting in deposition of the coin through the designated slot in the front of the cottage. Monies are recovered by opening a tin, key lock, trap door type coin retainer in the rear of the building.
     "Christmas Savings House with Santa Claus" is considered quite rare. A mere three examples are known to exist. Despite its simplistic, modest construction and miniscule size (Height: 4 inches. Width: 3-3/8 inches. Depth: 2-5/16 inches), "Christmas Savings House" is an extremely attractive and important addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     To conclude. Figure 7 indicates a variation of "Christmas Savings House". In place of the potted Christmas tree seen in Figure 4, a small Erzgebirge-carved wooden dog is positioned alongside the figure of the snowman.
Acknowledgement: Copies of the German Patent Document (Figure 5). the Robert Kaden advertisement (Figure 6A and their translation were generously provided by fellow collectors and historians, Harald and Uli Merklein of Nurnberg, Germany.

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