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Mechanical Bank Ramblings
by F.H. Griffith - HOBBIES Magazine - September, 1962

Judging by the writer’s recent correspondence there exists considerable confusion and misunderstanding concerning certain mechanical banks. In particular there has been an increasing number of letters about the Jolly Nigger (Moves Ears), Dinah, and the Tin Monkey made by J. Chein Company. This confusion seems so widespread that it warrants attention and, therefore, the writer decided to reach all interested parties in this fashion rather than attempting to repeatedly write individual letters on the same subjects.

The bank most often questioned, increasingly so in recent times, is the Jolly Nigger (Moves Ears). This is an English bank which is not necessarily a Jolly Nigger, that is to say this name does not appear on the bank itself. However, all bust type banks of this general appearance are referred to as Jolly Niggers unless some specific name appears on the bank. There were many different types of negro bust banks made in England and some have names thereon and some do not. A man by the name of Starkie designed the original Jolly Nigger (Moves Ears) and his name ‘Starkie’s Pat’ appears across the back of the originals as produced under his Registered Design. The ears on his banks are located forward near the eyes on each side of the face. Some were made with a high hat and all were made of aluminum. Now these are the old valuable type of Jolly Nigger (Moves Ears), and only a few originals have been found to date. In 1948 to 1950 a member of the Starkie family registered another type of Jolly Nigger which moves its ears. This bank is quite different than the old type although it too is made of aluminum. It has a waffle like base plate and the initials ‘TAD’ are cast on this part. This is the easiest way to identify it. The name Starkie does not appear across the back, the ears are centered between the front and back half of the head and not forward by the eyes. This is easily determined by anyone looking at the bank. These recent types with movable ears do not have value as collector’s items and it will undoubtedly be some years before they do.

In all cases where people have written to the writer thinking they have a valuable bank they have had the modern type of Jolly Nigger with moving ears. So caution is advised to anyone who is offered a bank of this type. Please let it be understood that there is nothing wrong about any of this situation as both type banks are authentic, the only wrong that can happen is if an individual knowingly offers one of the modern type as an old one. And there is nothing anyone can do to control a circumstance of this kind.

Now another factor enters the picture here, and this has to do with exaggerated values placed on the old original Jolly Nigger (Moves Ears). This has occurred in recent years through the issuing of value lists on mechanical banks by some individuals who know nothing about mechanical banks or their value. They just publish something and some degree of authenticity is obtained merely by the fact that it is published. This misleading information does harm and no good to the hobby. As example, an inflated value will be placed on the Jolly Nigger (Moves Ears), and some really much more valuable bank will be listed at a lesser value. This helps no one, collector or dealer alike. Please understand that the old Jolly Nigger (Moves Ears) is a good mechanical bank and commands a fair price, however, along with some of the other mechanical banks certain spurious value lists have placed them beyond their present day worth. Transversely others are valued below their present day worth. Unfortunately this may sound confusing and it is, particularly to those not too well versed on the subject of mechanical banks such as new collectors or dealers who come into the field.

Generally speaking, mechanical banks as to price have been pretty much a hush-hush proposition for years, especially so with the very desirable rare banks. In years past some rather accurate price value lists have been published, however, these have become outdated within a relative short period of their publication. Some of these lists of a few years back do have value as a guidepost, but they are no longer obtainable. After all, when all is said and done, the buyer and seller, plus supply and demand, establish prices, and mechanical banks, along with paperweights, coins, and some other collectibles have advanced rapidly in price, particularly in the past fifteen years or so. And all indications are that they will continue to advance if we are to judge by past performances.

Now briefly to Dinah, another English bank. The type with the cast iron arm or "flowing sleeve" is somewhat more desirable than the later type pressed steel arm. The Dinah Bank is one of the only mechanicals which has come down in price. This is due to the fact that persistent effort in seeking banks in England has resulted in quite a few Dinahs turning up in recent years. One must remember that the bust type of bank was an English specialty and they were very popular in their day. The Jolly Nigger (High Hat) is another mechanical that has leveled off in price along with Dinah, which is against the trend, but with a definite reason. Numbers have turned up and thus a proper level of value has been established. This does not lessen their desirability, only their price. Also this does not affect other of the rare desirable English banks as they just don’t turn up. These banks have continued to increase in value and desirability. Dinah, Jolly Nigger (High Hat), and some of the other Jolly Nigger busts are simply re-establishing their price level in a proper area compared to the rest of the mechanical banks.

As to the tin Monkey Bank made by J. Chein where a deposited coin causes the monkey to tip his hat, this was made in the 1940’s. It cannot be considered as an antique collectible bank, and while they have been offered for sale by some antique dealers, this has not changed the facts. Most certainly at some time in the future the bank will probably be listed and have a collector’s value, but it is of too recent manufacture to be listed at this time. This also applies to the Uncle Wiggily and Clown Bust made by Chein in the same period.


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