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Ideal Bureau
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine January, 2012

     MAGIC, IN THE FORM of illusions, slight of hand, and "disappearing" coin tricks have amazed
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 the money 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 line.
     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.

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