create increasingly elaborate banks. Encouraged by the
strategic placement of a penny, gaily painted figures performed all kinds of actions.
There were ball players, clowns, dancers, performing animals. There were also
commemorative banks and others which reflected the political and social conditions of the
It may be of
interest here to name a few of them and describe their actions:
CHIEF BIG MOON Seated in front of his teepee. The placing of a penny causes a
large frog before him to pop up from a puddle, causing the penny to sink.
ROPE A remarkable bank.
(Not successful, as it retailed for $2.50, when the greater number sold for $1.00). Has a
spring mechanism. It is wound, a coin placed in the slot and the lever sprung. This causes
the girl to skip rope. She clears the ground each time the rope passes under her feet,
turning her head from side to side.
The pitcher tosses
a penny across the bank. Batter turns and swings, misses penny. Catcher moves his head
forward - he misses. The coin then drops into a slot in the catchers body.
THE MONKEY AND
THE COCONUT BANK
An intricate mechanism, composed of 20 parts. A penny is inserted between the thumb and fingers of right hand, action
lever is depressed, causing the left hand to
lift the top half of the coconut, the lower jaw falls, eyelids raise, right thumb pulls
back to release the penny, which drops into the coconut and down into a box in base of
EAGLE AND EAGLETS
Baby eagles lift
heads, open beaks, mother leans toward them, raises her wings. Inside is a small bellows
Of the many designers of these banks two names stand out that of Charles A.
Bailey and Dr. James H. Bowen. Dr. Bowen of Philadelphia, Pa., designed many of the finest
of the Stevens line, including GIRL SKIPPING ROPE, THE MONKEY AND THE COCONUT and DARKTOWN
BATTERY. His work was superior in every way. However, the man considered most talented, as
well as the most prolific, was Charles A. Bailey. Born in Cobalt, Conn. in 1848, he did
his earliest work at his Cobalt home. He later opened an office in Middletown, where he
provided a variety of services, which included pattern making of cast iron banks. About
1890 he entered the employ of the J. & E. Stevens Co. and worked as their chief
designer and pattern maker for over 25 years, maintaining quarters on the second floor of
the office building.
The company also produced a steady succession of still banks. Edwin Warman defines
these banks as "Banks usually cast of metal in the shape of animals, buildings, men
or other figures, in which a slot is provided for inserting coins". The first safe
(still) banks carried a decoration of stenciling. The later ones were of embossed cast
iron. While most were comparatively simple, some were elaborate, having separate drawers
or compartments. The banks might have a lock and key or, in some cases, combinations. Many
were given appropriate names, such as NATIONAL SAFE, etc.
In addition, a great variety of other toys were produced and are listed in various
catalogs issued by the company, the last dated July 1928. To mention a few toy
cannon, available in ten sizes; stoves, large and small, equipped with pots and pans, and
some with boilers; a superior steam engine, developed by Russell Frisbie.
The factory supplied much-needed income to Cromwell families for a century. Many men
and women worked here throughout their entire lives. Of these the name of
Kate Ralph stands out. Starting here as a girl of 16, she remained with the company for 63
years. She walked to work, three miles each way, and only missed six weeks for illness
during all that time. The companys payroll records for 1874 lists the women who
painted the banks, many of whose descendants are still living in this town: Josephine
Bond, Hattie and Nellie Cannon, Annie Drayer, Mary Murphy, Rosa Eager, Lucinda Ralph, Kate
Wilson, Emma Becker, Julia Craw, Eliza Murphy, Mrs. M. Baisden, Mary Weidemeier, Mrs.
Budde, Lizzy Rose, Mary J. Cosgrove, Annie Gleason, W. Mansfield, Kate FitzPatrick, Eliza
Selker, Mary Meyers, Mary Franklin, Mary Ralph, Kate Hayes, Kate Bond, Kate Ralph, Mary
Bacon, Mary Batzner and Emma Decker.
Lastly we come to the manufacture of cast iron cap pistols. The company catalog of 1859
lists "Fire Cracker Pistols". As the firm expanded in the mid-nineteenth century
it produced more elaborate models. There were given names. There were also novelty
pistols. In the 1890s Stevens made a cap pistol shaped like a sea serpent with a
cap-exploding jaw. Another had a monkey who, at the press of the trigger, banged a coconut
down on the cap. These fine early pistols are collectors items today.
In later years Russell A. Frisbie (grandson of Russell) and Herman Lorentz designed toy
pistols. A 1921 newspaper item states "Herman Lorentz of the J. & E. Stevens Co.
has invented a new type cap pistol on which he has been granted a patent. The pistol
differs from the ones that have been turned out by the Stevens Co., inasmuch as it is made
of sheet metal and the parts are stamped out by a press. They are much neater in finish
than the cast iron ones."
After 1928 the company devoted itself exclusively to the manufacture of cap pistols.
For some years the factory prospered under the able direction of the late Russell A.
Frisbie. At one time he stated he felt his masterpiece to be a repeating cap pistol in
which the caps were fed through a slot in the hammer rather than through the fixed parts
of the toy.
As late as 1940 the demand for cap pistols was so great it took six tons of metal a day
to maintain the production of this single foundry, where one hundred men made them.
However, with the onset of World War II the fires were cooled and the factory closed by
the decision of Russell A. Frisbie, because of the governments need for iron and
labor difficulties experienced at the plant. The business was sold to Buckley Brothers, of
New York, who continued to make cap pistols there until 1950.
Several buildings remain today in the hollow at the foot of the hill. They are occupied
by Horton Brasses, The Shipping Crate and others. The cupola still sits atop the old
office building, but its bell took a short trip up the hill to Holy Apostles College. Its
sound can be heard by those living close by. The waterwheel, which furnished power for two
buildings, was removed from the rear of the assembly room building and brought to
Middletown a few years ago. Cromwell is