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Bureau or Chest Bank
by F.H. Griffith - HOBBIES Magazine - October, 1970

70-10.JPG (16225 bytes)The Bureau or Chest Bank made of wood, walnut in this case, is our choice as No. 185 in the numerical classification. It has the usual false bottom arrangement in the top drawer and there are many varieties of this bank. The one pictured is particularly well made, has attractive stenciling, and dates in the 1880 to 1895 period. This bank and its many variations all stem from the basic principle of the Serrill’s Patent Bureau of 1869 covered by article from HOBBIES, May, 1967.

The two type Serrill Patent Bureaus, Give Me A Penny, and Freedmen’s Bureau are the four most desirable of the Bureau banks. They are identifiable by name and have definite backgrounds as commercially produced banks. They are more interesting and Give Me A Penny has, for example, added action with the monkey coming out of the top of the chest. (See HOBBIES for May, June and November, 1967, for information on the four banks).

Now back to the Bureau or Chest Bank under discussion. It is not, as are some, a one of a kind handmade item. We are not concerned with one of a kind handmade items. They are not collectible as authentic commercially produced mechanical banks. The Bureau under discussion has evidence of being commercially produced and so do some others similar to it. These vary as to size, shape, and type of wood, but all have the same basic principle of operation and the individual collector can take his choice as to preference. Or if he cares to, he can collect varieties of bureaus, although they are not considered different banks or "type" banks. It is necessary to have only one in a collection of mechanical banks unless the individual chooses to do otherwise. The Bureau Bank pictured and others similar to it have no names thereon, no dates, and no particular background information. And it is difficult with some of them to judge their respective age or if they were commercially produced. In either case where doubt exists we do not recognize them as collectible items in a collection of old mechanical banks.

The bank pictured is in very fine original condition and in the collection of Edwin H. Mosler, Jr. The drawer is pulled open, a coin placed in the drawer, and the drawer closed, when re-opened the coin has disappeared.

Mechanical banks based on this operation have been made for many years, one hundred to date. Various materials, other than wood, have been used. These include tin, cast iron, brass, and in recent times bakelite and plastic. Most all have the same general appearance representing a bureau or chest of drawers. Some have the top drawer only, such as the one under discussion, but in all cases it is the top drawer that operates with the false bottom.

Since the Serrill Patent Bureau is the first known mechanical bank patented in the United States there is no question that the operation originated in our country at least so far as factual records would indicate. This is a point of interest since in recent years most varieties of the Bureau or Chest have turned up in England, rather than in the United States. It has been quite difficult to judge some of these English varieties, particularly as to age and then as to their being a handmade one of a kind bank or not. To repeat, where doubt in judging any one bank it is left in doubtful category until such time that it may be judged otherwise.


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