Fortune Teller Savings Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – February, 2011
PROGNOSTICATORS and sorcerers were once said to possess magical and
powers. In a world where superstition prevailed, these self-proclaimed
prophets were believed capable of foretelling future events. Modern day
forecasters are the psychics, tarot readers and crystal ball gazers.
Throughout the centuries enterprising individuals realized great profits
by catering to the public's fascination with the unknown. A plethora of
fortune telling novelty items were created that were intended to
entertain and amuse and, perhaps, to offer a glimpse into one's future.
Examples of such items produced by manufacturers during the nineteenth
century include children's playthings and mechanical banks. Several
notable representatives of the latter category are Witch "Fortune
Telling Bank", Fortune Horse Race "Savings Bank", "Lucky Wheel Money
Box", "Automatic Coin Savings Bank", and the subject of this article,
"Fortune Teller Savings Bank" (Figure 1).
On February 19, 1901 Mr. Aaron Kaufman of Baltimore, Maryland was
granted Patent Number 668,579 (Figure 2) for his "Fortune Telling Toy
Penny Bank". The words " Pat. Feb. 19, 1901" that
were cast into the bottom of the bank facilitated location of these
patent papers. Mr. Kaufman's invention was offered for sale, as seen in
Figure 3 (a Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog advertisement circa 1903). The
ad read: "Fortune Teller Savings Bank...Our price each, only 90¢.".
Operation of "Fortune Teller Savings Bank" is noncomplex and appropriate
to the subject. It is aptly described in an attractive, multi-colored,
lithographed paper label (Figure 4) affixed by the manufacturer to the
rear of only certain examples. It reads: "Directions — Drop the coin in
the slot of the lever. Then push the lever back hard and quick. This
will spin the wheel of fortune. When the wheel stops, pull the lever
forward as far as possible and your true fortune will appear at the
window every time." Across the bottom of this "Directions" label are the
words: "Mfg'd. by Baumgarten & Co., Baltimore, U.S.A."
Note — the window which enables viewing of one's fortune is positioned
at the top of the bank. For reasons yet unknown, the bank's
manufacturer, i.e. Baumgarten and Company, relocated its position from
the front of the bank, as indicated in the patent drawings (Figure 2) to
the top section of the mechanical (refer to the addendum).
Of interest is the fact that there are thirteen fortunes imprinted upon
the wheel. They appear in sections of red, green, yellow, blue and
black. The following is an abbreviated sampling:
"When you get what you are looking for, see that you take care of it."
"Look well through all written matter you may
receive for there is news coming to you".
"You must be more firm when
"NO", stick to it."
"Do not take the trip you will be asked to take, as there will be no
good come of it."
"A cloud surrounds you dark and dreary, keep up your heart and never
Coin removal is described on a small paper
hangtag (Figure 5) that was originally supplied at time of purchase with
each "Fortune Teller Savings Bank". It directs "TO UNLOCK Place bank on
a level surface. Turn the knob around twice to the right — then turn the
knob until the index rotates to figure 3. Then turn to the left to
"Fortune Teller Savings Bank" is considered to be quite scarce, with
only a handful of extremely fine, complete and un-restored examples
residing in collections. Despite its lackluster, achromatic appearance,
as well as its miniscule size (i.e. Height: 5-1/2 inches. Width: 4-1/2
inches. Depth: 4-3/8 inches), "Fortune Teller Savings Bank" is an
extremely interesting and important addition to a mechanical bank
To conclude, and to my knowledge, this mechanical bank has not been
Addendum: One known example "Fortune Teller
Swings Bank" does exist that exhibits the fortune
window on its front façade, as illustrated in the patent 1,5 drawings
Acknowledgment: The superb example "Fortune Teller Savings Bank"
(Figure 1) with its original instructional hangtag (Figure 5) is in the
collection of Bob Weiss.