by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – January, 2012
THE FORM of illusions, slight of hand, and "disappearing" coin tricks
and fascinated young and old alike. Nineteenth and early twentieth
century designers and manufacturers of novelty items, including
mechanical banks, were well aware of the public's beguilement. This
became evident by their introduction of various "magical" apparatus.
Amongst these items was the "trick drawer, disappearing coin" box, a
popular illusionary device that became commonplace in sundry shops and
country stores of the period. Several classic examples of mechanical
banks reflecting this particular theme included: "Automatic Surprise
Money Box", "Trick Savings Bank", "Chandlers Bank", "Child's Bank", "Darkey
In the Chimney", "Bureau Bank, Serrill's Patent", "Freedman's Bureau",
"Give Me A Penny", "Model Savings Bank", "Presto Bank" and our subject,
"Ideal Bureau", seen in Figure 1.
Activation and action are identical for each of the aforementioned
mechanicals: open the drawer (Figure 1), place a coin therein; close the
drawer (Figure 2), at which point the bottom of the drawer tilts
downward, allowing the coin to fall into the bank. Upon reopening the
drawer, its bottom flips up, minus the coin, creating the illusion that
has "magically" disappeared.
Several mechanical bank reference books and related articles have, and
perhaps inaccurately, attributed the tin-plate design of "Ideal Bureau"
to Harvey Dunn of Groton, Connecticut, U.S.A. It is my contention this
mechanical was, in fact, a tin-plate product of early twentieth century
German manufacture. Dunn's patent number
800,558 (Figure 3), which shows
patent illustrations picturing a bank composed
of thick walls, is indicative of a product planned to be produced of
heavy gauge wood or cast iron. However, patent illustrations featuring
tin-plate construction generally portray the item with a single thin
Another feature of "Ideal Bureau" that leads me to believe it is of
German heritage is its key-lock mechanism installed within the hinged
coin-retaining door located beneath the bank's trick drawer. Key-locks
such as this are rarely a component of American- manufactured tin-plate
toys. They are, however, a commonly utilized aspect of early German
tin-plate mechanical and vending banks.
Unfortunately, "Ideal Bureau" exhibits no wordage to reveal its country
of origin, which may, perhaps, further support my supposition of the
bank's lineage. Regrettably, it is doubtful that any German patent will
ever surface indicating its inventor or manufacturer. This assumption is
based upon late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries German patent
laws, declaring patent papers covering "nonessential objects of
insignificant social or industrial importance", e.g. mechanical banks,
were to be routinely discarded fifteen years after issuance. Destruction
of such patent documents has proven to be a hindrance in attempting to
establish or to trace a bank's ancestry.
"Ideal Bureau" is extremely rare, with less than a handful known to
reside in collections. This is not surprising when one considers its
fragile tin-plate construction. In addition, there was the likelihood of
loss of its key, resulting in a purposefully destructive method of
accessing coin deposits. Despite its modest size, i.e. Height: 4-3/4 inches. Width: 3-3/4 inches
(measured at its center). Depth: 1-7/8 inches (measured at its center),
as well as its
simplistic appearance, "Ideal Bureau" is a desirable, attractive and
welcome addition to a mechanical bank collection.
Note: Of historical interest is the fact that the first patented
(January 26, 1869), mechanical bank, seen in Figure 4, was the creation
of James A. Serrill. It was a trick drawer hank constructed entirely of
wood, as were most mechanicals of this genre. The exceptions were
"Chandlers Bank" (cast iron), "Presto Bank" (cast iron), "Model Savings
Bank" (tin-plate), and "Ideal Bureau" (tin-plate).
Acknowledgment: The superb, all original and complete Figure 2 example
"Ideal Bureau" (Figure 1) is within the collection of Bob Weiss.