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by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine August, 2013

OUR SUBJECT this article, "Piano Bank" (Figure 1), incorporates two of the most significant developments in the history of the automated musical appliance, the Music Box and the Player Piano.
     Over the centuries, self operating melodic apparatus such as the music box has entertained and beguiled both young and old. Early examples, however, were created by watch maker artisans and required a great deal of time, effort and expertise. Such representatives were extremely costly to produce, making them affordable to only the very wealthy. It was not until the early twentieth century, and thanks to Charles and Alice Reuge of Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, that a moderately priced pin-drum, steel comb musical movement was utilized within a music box. This ingenious development resulted in the creation of an automated musical commodity affordable by the masses. The easily produced Reuge musical movement eventually led to the manufacture of a plethora of novelty items, toys and mechanical banks.
     It was also during this period, i.e. 1905, that Mr. Edwin Voltey of Detroit, Michigan, invented and manufactured the first automated piano. Aptly entitled "Player Piano", it put to use a similar drum-type mechanism to Reuge's music box; the differences were its larger size and use of a perforated paper roll in place of steel comb. Its popularity was contagious worldwide.
     Mechanical bank designers and manufacturers, such as the E.M. Roche Novelty Company of Newark, New Jersey, were ever mindful of popular trends and exciting new subjects to incorporate into their line of goods. It was sometime during the years 1900-1915 that this firm applied for a patent and produced a player piano mechanical bank (Figure 1) which employed a Reuge musical movement. The patent itself assumedly covered both a still and mechanical version of "Piano Bank".   
     Unfortunately, to date, neither catalogs nor patent information has surfaced to indicate the mechanical's inventor, manufacturer, or dates of sale. However, the manufacturer has been identified by its name cast in raised letters into the base of the bank (refer to Figure 2). The assumption of date of production (circa 1900-1915) is based solely upon the years in which both the music box and player piano enjoyed their height of popularity.   
     Action of "Piano Bank" is appropriate to its subject. Initially, it is necessary to wind the clockworks, music box mechanism. A coin is then nudged into the appropriate slot atop the piano, seen in Figure 3. This This causes activation of the musical movement, rendering one tune for each coin deposit. Monies are recovered by opening the square combination lock coin retainer, located at the back of the piano (Figure 4). 
     "Piano Bank" is almost entirely brightly nickel plated. The exception is its combination lock knob and the two pedals at the bottom (front), which are of brass. 
     "Piano Mechanical Bank" is extremely rare (and costly), with less than a handful of original, operational examples known. As previously mentioned, "Piano Bank" was also produced as a non-mechanical still bank, referring to the fact that, upon deposit of a coin, no music is produced. Since this still bank version is much more common, it is far less costly to purchase than its mechanical brethren. 
     Unfortunately, several years ago, an unscrupulous dealer created "Piano Bank" mechanicals utilizing "Piano" still banks and installing Swiss music box movements into their interiors. These bogus mechanical banks are fairly easy to detect due to superfluous visible external screw heads and features which are not evident on original examples. Figures 3 and 4 represent sections of an "original" example "Piano" mechanical bank. When contemplating a purchase, the top elevation shown in Figure 3 and back seen in Figure 4 should entirely and precisely correspond to these pictures. If not, the example being considered is, more than likely, an altered "Piano" still bank. 
     "Piano Bank" is quite large and impressive in size (Height: 5-3/4 inches; Width: 8 inches; Depth: 4-1/2 inches). Despite its limited action and monochromatic, nickel plated finish, "Piano Bank" is an extremely rare, entertaining and significant asset to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgment: The fine example "Piano Mechanical Bank" (Figure 1) is in the Kidd Toy Museum collection, Frank and Joyce Kidd Proprietors.

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