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HOBBIES — The Magazine for Collectors — September, 1937

The Toy Bank Collection
of Dr. Arthur E. Corby

WHAT is said to be the largest and most complete collection of penny banks in the United States is housed in a Wall Street office. Many of the 2,700 items are unique pieces. While the collection consists primarily of American banks, it also contains a number of notable Old World specimens.

The earliest types of coin conservers in the collection are of pottery — generally having the form of urns. Some are devoid of decorative detail, while others have painted or engraved on their curved surfaces crude designs of animals or geometric figures. Many of these ancient depositories were baked before the Christian era in Greece, Phoenicia, Egypt and the Near East. If wooden or metal banks were also in vogue at that early epoch, Dr. Corby has found no record of them.

Banks of pottery and porcelain were common at an early period in Western Europe. An English specimen bears the date 1664, the year in which Charles II achieved his most profitable act of piracy, the seizure of New Netherland while England and Holland were legally at peace. In all countries and in all age’s pottery and porcelain seem to have been preferred materials for toy banks; and the commonest forms have been those of familiar animals and the classic urn.

During the latter part of the eighteenth century iron came into use as a material for bank manufacture (tin, somewhat later) and there are rare silver specimens of nineteenth century make. One of the latter, among the unique items of the collection, is a ling-stemmed solid silver chalice with a hinged lid having a staple latch that could be secured by a tiny padlock. Just beneath the lid is a coin slot. Modeled in low relief around the cup appears a peaceful rural scene — a tree — shaded farmhouse and barn, an ox team. beehive, fenced fields and distant hills. A large circular boss flanked by inverted horns of plenty contains the engraved inscription; "Sarah C. Hilliard. From her Father. Dec. 25, 1885." Below, on a rock set in the turf, is engraved the single word "Safe." A garland of oak leaves and acorns surrounds the base, and the same symbolic foliage forms a crest on the lid.

During the eighteenth century New York and New England silversmiths created beautiful tea sets, tankards, punch bowls and other embellishments for table and sideboard; but no example of a silver bank of that period has yet come to light..

Wooden banks are uncommon but not nearly as rare as leather banks of which only one specimen is contained in the collection. On the other hand, there is a large assortment of glass coin savers. Dr. Corby regards his blown glass banks as the best all-round category in the entire collection. Like certain of the pottery and porcelain pieces, they have a decorative value that places them in a class by themselves. Among other fragile materials occasionally utilized by toy bank makers are paper, cardboard and paper-mache. Dr. Corby has a number of these types.

Familiar human types, such as clowns, organ grinders, bear trainers, farmers, bank tellers, beggars, negroes, Irishmen, are common subjects for bank designers. And of course there are plenty of symbolic figures like Uncle Sam, John Bull and Fortuna. But caricatures of individuals are rare. One of these portrays Gen. Benjamin F. Butler with a frog’s body. One hand grasps a wallet full of greenbacks, while the other rests on his chest in an oratorial gesture. His head is thrown back, his mouth agape. Presidential candidate of the Greenback and anti-Monopolist parties in 1884 the General was frequently caricatured during the campaign as a green-backed frog.

Mechanical banks comprise an important major category in Dr. Corby’s collection. These are banks in which some mechanical action must take place before a coin is deposited. Sometimes the action is produced by the mere weight of the coin. More frequently a lever is pushed or a button pressed, causing the coin to be propelled or to slide into the deposit slot.

The earliest patent for a mechanical bank was taken out in 1869, but it is possible that some varieties were marketed at an even earlier date. Distinctively American contrivances, Connecticut claims the honor of being the first to manufacture them. As an illustration of the simpler form of mechanical banks one may cite the Tammany which was being advertised in New York in 1869, the year after the notorious Boss Tweed died in Ludlow Street jail. It represents a corpulent black-mustached ward heeler (one of Tweed’s henchman, no doubt) seated in an armchair. The weight of a coin placed in the hand caused the forearm to swing across the chest. The coin falls into a slot at the breast pocket and striking an interior lever causes the figure’s head to nod.

The action is more complex in the case of Professor Pugfrog’s Great Bicycle Feat. Releasing a spring causes the bicycle-riding frog to make two complete somersaults as he deposits the coin in a basket which a clown holds before him. A minor incident of the Professor’s feat is the discomfiture of Mother Goose whose music rack is kicked in her face causing her tongue to wag. Other examples of the large group of mechanical banks having a carnival theme are Clown Driving Pony, Clown Balanced on Ball, Merry-Go-Round, Punch and Judy and the group of Clown, Harlequin and Columbine.

Bank building, houses, churches and public buildings provide still another division of mechanical and stationary toy banks. In the mechanical varieties generally a man (rarely a woman) takes the coin on a tray or basket balanced on the head and dumps it into a chute. As an after-math of the Civil War and again during the Spanish-American War period military style banks were in vogue. These as a rule portray an artilleryman firing at a fort, or a rifleman shooting at a target, with a coin for ammunition. One popular style of ’98 represents an American cannon firing at a Spanish cruiser.

Humor characterizes a great many, if not the majority of mechanical banks. Typical examples are the Milking cow, Pig in Highchair, Bucking Goat and Hungry Frog, Dentist and Patient, Jonah and the Whale. The satiric spirit is rare, its most striking exemplars being Paddy and his Pig, and Tammany.

While most toy banks were designed to appeal equally to boys and girls, some were intended to specifically for small girls just as the military style naturally appealed to little boys. One of the former, of key-winder type, portrays a small missy skipping rope; another shows a girl seated in a big Victorian armchair holding a dog in her lap; while a third represents a doll’s head emerging from the broken top of an egg.

Banks caricaturing the negro comprise a large category including such popular items as Stump Speaker, Jolly Nigger, ’Spise a Mule, Dinah, Darktown Battery, Mammy and Child, Sambo, and Uncle Remus. Of these the Jolly Nigger with its many variations appears to have been most in demand. Its action is simple. A coin is placed on the figure’s protruding tongue. Pushing a lever causes the tongue to recede. As the coin falls into the depository the Jolly Nigger’s eyes roll appreciatively.

Exposition banks comprise a special group of their own. Starting with the Centennial held at Philadelphia in 1876 national fairs have afforded frequent opportunities to issue toy bank novelties. The Centennial banks for the most part featured the Liberty Bell and the tower of Independence Hall a favorite of the children attending the Columbian Exposition in 1892 was a representation of Columbus greeted by an Indian sachem. Bison banks were popular at the Pan American Exposition held at Buffalo in 1901. Several ingenious types designed for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1935 will some day acquire collector value.

The Iron Safe or Strongbox (a miniature office safe) describes a type of thrift inculcator which has a great many variants. Single or double combination locks guard the contents. One variants is the Key Type in which a key is utilized in place of a combination lock.

Still another category is the Registering Mechanical Bank. Like a shop cash register it records the total contents with each new deposit. The more expensive varieties are little marvels of mechanical ingenuity.


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