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The Imperial Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine November, 2014

THE FEATURED "GUEST" of this article is a distinguished member of the most prolific category of mechanical banks referred to as "building" banks. "The Imperial Bank", seen in Figure 1, is but one of a multitude of attractive and popular examples which represent a Savings and Loan Institution.
     During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mechanical bank manufacturers within this country as well as abroad created a plethora of architectural mechanicals. Designed to satisfy increased public demand, several notables included "National Bank", "Home Bank", "Magic Bank", "Novelty Bank", "Hall's Liliput Bank", "Hall's Excelsior Bank", "U.S. Bank", "Wireless Bank", and "The Imperial Bank" (Figure 1).
     "The Imperial Bank" was manufactured by James Walker Company of Birmingham, England. To date, neither patent nor catalog information has surfaced. However, the logo embossed upon the bank's facade displays the letters "JWB" Figure a (Figure 2), providing the clue as to its manufacturer and heritage. The construction and material utilized in the creation of "The Imperial Bank" further reveal its history. Most of the mechanical banks produced within the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were created of cast iron. Mechanicals created in Europe, namely Germany and England, were produced of highly detailed, embossed tin plate, utilizing a key lock, trap door-type coin retainer.
     A most interesting aspect of this mechanical bank, as well as others within its category, is its significance in the documentation of the history and customs of the era within which they were produced. During the early portion of the nineteenth century, most of the approximately four thousand private banking institutions in Great Britain closed their doors forever due to gross mismanagement. Following the "Bank Charter Act" of 1833, many of the surviving larger banks, failing to take heed of their insolvent predecessors, also met their demise.
     It was not until the early twentieth century that revival of fortune took place in England with the credibility of Savings and Loan banks restored. Following WWI most of the smaller private banking institutions were absorbed by those that were larger and more financially secure. These were referred to as "imperial banks", the designation intended to falsely imply these banks had "Royal" backing with unlimited funds. The naming of our subject, therefore, reflected this designation as a secure container in which to store the child's savings.
     "The Imperial Bank" is composed entirely of highly detailed, embossed tinplate. Its facade is decorated in a bright gold japanned finish with regal red sides, back, roof and base.
     Action of "Imperial Bank" is initiated by pressing backwards on the small knob on the roof of the bank (Figure 3), exposing the coin slot. Following the deposition of a coin through the slot, the knob is released, thus closing the coin slot and securing the deposit. Monies are reclaimed by opening the key lock, trap door-type coin retainer located underneath the base of the bank (Figure 4).
Despite its modest appearance and minuscule size, i.e. Height: 5 inches. Width: 4-1/4 inches, "The Imperial Bank" is an extremely rare, desirable and attractive addition to a mechanical bank collection.
     Acknowledgment: The superb example "The Imperial Bank" (Figure 1) is within. the Kidd Toy Museum. collection, Frank and Joyce Kidd proprietors.
     My gratitude to fellow collector and historian, Tom Sage Sr., for contributing the historical information pertinent to "The Imperial Bank".

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