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Camera Bank
(Semi-Mechanical)
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine October, 2011

     THE "MAGIC" OF projecting a three dimensional image onto a two dimensional or flat surface has fascinated scientists, theologists and the simply curious throughout the ages. The birth of photographic cameras is attributed to the "Camera Obscura", a device dating back to ancient China. A box-like room with a pinhole or lens in one wall was utilized to project an image of an outdoor scene onto a flat interior-viewing surface (Figure 1).
     Various attempts, over the centuries, to create permanent picture, camera-type instruments resulted in unstable images or the requirement of highly complicated procedures. It was the ingenuity of George Eastman that led to major advancements in the field of photography. Eastman pioneered the technique of permanent picture photography when he began manufacturing paper film in Figure 2 1885. Four years hence, in 1889, he replaced this material with celluloid. His first camera, named the "Kodak Camera" (Figure 2), was offered for sale in 1888. Eastman's invention of a simple, easy-to-use, and affordable picture-taking device became an instant success. In less than one year after its introduction, most of America had either owned, experienced taking pictures, or had their pictures taken with the "Kodak".
     It is no great surprise that, as with other popular trends, enterprising individuals hastily produced various types of camera-related merchandise for sale to the public. Toy and penny bank designers were amongst those embracing the then current craze. Thus, the "CAMERA BANK" (Figure 3) was born. Interestingly, the "Camera Bank" is not a representation of Eastman's box camera, but rather a reflection of a professional, "dry plate" studio portrait- type camera, as seen in Figure 4. Unfortunately, to date, neither patent papers nor catalogs have surfaced revealing the bank's designer and/or inventor. All that is factually known is the name of the bank. The words "CAMERA BANK" are printed in raised letters onto its top surface. In the past, several historians had implied they were privy to the bank's manufacturer but offered no hard copy data. Their alleged findings indicated the producer was The Wrightsville Hardware Company of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.
      Action of "Camera Bank" is uncomplicated and apropos to the subject. Operation of the bank requires neither physical nor mechanical deposition of a coin. One needs only to depress the small, handle-shaped lever at the rear. This activates the hidden film carrier to elevate and then recede. The film carrier, seen in Figure 3, is devoid of any photo or picture. Most examples of "Camera Bank" exhibit various full-color lithographed images of Victorian persons or scenes. There is a possibility that the manufacturer allowed for purchasers of this item to insert an image or photograph of choice in order to personalize their new acquisition.
     Worthy of discussion is the designation "semi-mechanical" applied to "Camera Bank". Historically, the term "mechanical bank" implied a toy savings device that required a coin to either initiate its action or that the action of the bank would facilitate deposit of the coin. Our subject, however, requires no coin to either activate or operate its function. Because of the limited and unrelated coin action, the "Camera Bank" is designated "semi-mechanical".
     Due to its design, action, and appealing subject matter, mechanical bank collectors have embraced the "Camera Bank" as a worthy member of its community. Other notable examples of such desirable semi-mechanical banks include the following: "Multiplying Bank", "Lighthouse Bank", "Key Bank", "Safety Locomotive" and "American, Sewing Machine Bank".
     I am not aware of any reproduction of "Camera Bank". Nonetheless, it is prudent to be wary of one of such easily produced, simplistic design, especially if it is accompanied by a high price tag.
     Despite its austere appearance, monochromatic coloration and miniscule size (i.e. Depth: 4 inches. Height: 4-1/4 inches. Width: 1-7/8 inches), "Camera Bank" is an attractive, rare and historically important addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgment: The superb example "Camera Bank" (Figure 3) is in the collection of Bob Weiss.

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