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JOHN BULL, GENTLEMAN DOG BANK
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine December, 2012

A SUPERB EXAMPLE of our topic of discussion, this article, is the "John Bull, Gentleman Dog Bank" (Figure 1). The creation of this mechanical was inspired by the infamous John Bull, a character who symbolizes the embodiment of the British Empire.
     Mr. Bull's persona originated more than three hundred years ago with a series of politically motivated booklets entitled "Law Is A Bottomless Pit". The creator of these satirical works was Dr. John Arbuthnot (1667-1735). Bull's guise and garb evolved gradually over the next few centuries. His eventual characterization, the familiar and beloved portly gentleman, resplendent in top hat, wide lapelled coat, vest and oversized bowtie (Figure 2) was attributed to artist-illustrator, Sir John Curruthers Gould. Gould's work was featured in the Westminster Gazette, a popular British periodical published during the latter portion of the nineteenth century. John Bull was often portrayed in the company of an English bulldog. This courageous animal had also become a popular symbol of Great Britain (Figure 3).
     Ever cognizant of fashionable trends and famous personalities, astute nineteenth and twentieth century European toy manufacturers recognized their opportunity to capitalize upon the popularity of one of its national heroes. The images of John Bull and his English bulldog were incorporated into a plethora of toys, novelty items and goods.
     During this time period a mechanical bank was produced in Europe. It featured the image of a "John Bull" bulldog sporting a wide lapelled coat, vest, large bowtie and high top hat (Figure 1). Its composition, i.e. slush-molded, lead-zinc alloy and highly detailed appearance, may possibly attribute to the belief that is of German manufacture. This assumption is based upon similar lead-zinc alloy banks created in Germany during this era. The process of slush casting was brought to its refinement and state of the art in Germany during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
     "Gentleman Dog Bank" is constructed almost entirely of colorfully hand painted, lead-zinc alloy. The exception is its hat, which is a brown leather-encased soft spring, capped with a sheet iron disk.
     Unfortunately, to date, there are no manufacturer-distributor catalogs and/or pertinent wordage imprinted upon "Gentleman Dog Bank" which would serve to, unquestionably, affirm its heritage. It also may be assumed that absence of any patent data was the result of a practice common to nineteenth century German patent law. "Non-essential products", i.e. toys and penny banks, were offered only limited protection. Therefore all related design and registration documents were routinely discarded after fifteen years of their issuance. This legal measure resulted in the present-day lack of information available for mechanical bank collectors and historians.
     Action of "Gentleman Dog Bank" is uncomplicated and amusing. Initially, a coin is placed upon the canine's extended tongue. The top of its hat is then pressed downward; the leather-encased spring acts to provide an accordion-type reaction. This causes the canine's tongue to tilt inward, prompting the money to descend into our subject's body. Deposits are retrieved by opening a key lock coin retainer located underneath its base.
     Despite its diminutive size, i.e. Height: 6-1/4 inches. Width: 5-1/2 inches, "Gentleman Dog Bank" is an extremely rare, attractive and highly desirable addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgment: The sole known example of "Gentleman Dog Bank" (Figure 1) is from the collection of the Kidd Toy Museum, Frank and Joyce Kidd proprietors.

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