SURPRISE BOX ALBUM
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – October, 2012
WONDERMENT, AMAZEMENT, and marvelment may perhaps describe the
indefatigable popularity of "surprise boxes". The Encyclopedia of
American Folk Art credits the endurance of "Jack in the Box" to its
element of surprise.
One of the earliest documented "surprise boxes" was created by a
clockmaker from Nurenberg, Germany, circa 1500's. It was, presumably, a
birthday gift for the son of a local prince. The device was a hand
fashioned musical comb, mounted in an inornate wooden box with a crank
handle. The device played a simple tune and featured a comical popup
devil. When other nobles requested a "Devil In The Box" for their
children, a trend ensued that has continued to this day.
During the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the
"surprise box" reached its height of popularity. This was due to the
ingenuity of manufacturers in Germany. They developed cheaply made, mass
produced toys and "surprise boxes" created from brightly lithographed
paper clad cardboard, wood, cloth and papier-mâché. Such unique hand
crafted items previously affordable to only the wealthy became
accessible to the common masses. Most toys of this type and period were
produced in Saxony or Nurnberg. Germany, then the toy producing capitals
of the world.
The Montgomery Ward and Company toy catalog, circa 1894, and Butler
Bros. and Company catalog, circa 1905 advertised these inexpensive
"surprise boxes", a.k.a. "Jack in the boxes" (refer to Figures 1 and 2).
During this period a "surprise Figures box" was produced that
incorporated a penny savings bank feature. Appropriately titled
"Surprise Box Album Bank" (Figure 3), it is the subject of this article.
To date, no information has surfaced pertaining to patent, catalog,
or manufacturer of "Album Bank". The lone clues as to its genealogy may
possibly be gleaned from the observation of its construction, materials,
and subject matter. Figures 1 and 2 represent early catalog ads offering
"surprise boxes" (but not penny banks), indicating all were manufactured
in Germany. These "surprise boxes" feature several components that are
comparable to "Surprise Box Album Bank" (Figure 3).
Of interest is the fact that, during this period, a primarily metal
"Jack in the box" type mechanical bank was produced within the United
States. Entitled "Zig Zag Bank", it is seen in Figure 4. Thus far, only
one example of "Surprise Box Album Bank" and one example "Zig Zag Bank"
has surfaced, relegating each to the distinguished category referred to
as "very rare and unique".
Action of "Surprise Box Album Bank" is simplistic as well as
entertaining. Initially, the figure is gently pushed downward into the
box. The lid is then closed and latched. When the lid is released,
"Jack" pops up, revealing a coin slot displaying the words "PAY HERE"
(Figure 5). Deposition of a coin is not required to facilitate or to
further its action, thus designating "Album Bank" as "semi-mechanical"
("a penny bank with moving parts, wherein coin deposit is not
instrumental for any of its action").
"Zig Zag Bank", however, is considered a "mechanical bank" The coin
deposited through the hat of the Wizard atop the bank "zig zags" its way
down the facade track, striking an internal latch, which releases the
"Jack in the box" clown from its domicile.
"Album Bank" is constructed of a lithographed paper clad, book
shaped wooden box containing a cloth covered soft spring, pop up figure,
with a highly detailed, hand painted papier-mâché head.
Despite its diminutive size, i.e. Height: 5 inches (to the top of
the figure), 2 inches (closed), Width and Depth: 3-5/8 inches across top
cover, "Surprise Box Album Bank" is a rare, attractive, and desirable
addition to a mechanical bank collection.