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THE ANTIQUE TRADER, Weekly, Dubuque, Iowa, 52001 — February, 5, 1974
See bottom of this page for OCR text.






Dubuque, Iowa, 52001 — February, 5, 1974


OLD CAST IRON BANKS: Careful Collecting
by Mark E. O'brion


     There is a whole new aspect in the collecting of antiques. While enhancing his home or adding another knick-knack of antique origin to his den, a collector is in most cases compounding more interest on his investment than the largest bank could offer.
     Rather than investing their money in large banks, people with knowledge of antiques are putting their money into small, cast-iron penny banks.
     In more ways than one this type of collecting resembles the stock market. Today, some banks are bringing thousands of dollars, whereas, initially, when they were first sold, they seldom cost more than five dollars. Ever since the collecting boom started, the prices have been constantly skyrocketing. Whether or not this is the result of collectors demand or dealer speculation, or both no one will ever know.
     Back in 1959, the following banks could be bought for the following prices: Clown on Globe bank, $109.00, which is retailing today for $175.00; the Tammany bank retailing today for $65.00, could be purchased back in 1959 for $18.50; The Uncle Sam bank, purchased then for $78.50, retails today for $175.00. The well known Tabby bank, now worth $150.00, could be purchased back in 1959 for $56.50.
     All are investments that collectively could have doubled your money.
     On the market today these same banks can be found, but with a lot more difficulty and for a comparatively shocking price.
     Take note that forgers as well as dealers and collectors are aware of the financial potential and demand for these banks.
     Three types of forgeries can be taken into account. They are: recasts, remakes and fakes. The trio can be described as follows.
—Recast: Molded from a casting of the original.
—Remade: A bank assembled from parts of old toys to make an original looking replica.
—Fakes are those banks assembled by individuals to be sold to unsuspecting dealers or collectors at a high price. Fake bank makers are more apt to produce the more rare varieties. Fakes are the hardest among the forgeries to identify, and when purchasing banks, in particular of the mechanical variety, the best safeguard against fraud would be to trace the bank to its original owner.
     To identify a recast bank it would be wise to first examine the paint. On originals the paint is usually smooth and even, while on replicas it is sometimes made rough to indicate age. Most recast banks are so identified as replicas, but it would take less work for a fake bank maker to alter a recast, than it would take to make a bank from scratch. Secondly, before purchase, it would be wise to partially disassemble the piece in question. On originals the inside should be smooth and have a dull finish, but as a result of modern methods, the inside of recasts has metal that is rough and shiney. Most reputable antique books indicate which banks are being presently reproduced. On old banks the pieces fit together tightly. if you see a bank with uneven, overlapping edges, chances are that it is a forgery.
     But why the scarcity? Why the fuss over these cast-iron toys? They are not choice antiques. It would be hard to find many of these banks dating back any further than the early 1870's.
     Here is what happened. A large number of mechanical banks had more than fifteen pieces to be molded, painted and assembled. With the low cost of labor in the late eighteen and early 1900's, thousands were produced, but as unions and higher wages entered factories, production dwindled and it was necessary to limit it to the manufacture of the simple mechanical or still banks. The last mass produced banks appeared around the time of World War II.
     Many children were once entertained by these banks, but as time went by, the paint chipped off and many were used to a point where they could no longer perform their shows for the money. As a result, many found their way into a dusty box in the corner of the attic and some were even discarded with the rubbish. That is where collecting came in.
     As a rule, along with an estate, the dealer got the junk from the attic, and in sorting this junk, the banks were being found, again getting smiles for their acts. The boom had started.
     In earlier days they were being sold on a scale much like that of depression glass today; Invest a dollar and make three.
     Banks were becoming hot items. You might see one at a rummage sale one day for fifty cents. It would turn up in an antique shop a month later selling for five dollars. It didn't take the public long to catch on and as time went on they became more and more scarce. Today some mechanical banks are worth more than a restored, 1926, Ford Model T Roadster.
     A lot of credit should be given to the former John Hall of Watertown, Mass., the original designer of one of the, if not the, first mechanical bank. It was called Halls Excelsior, and was patented on December the 21st, 1869, a little over one hundred and four years ago. He is also known for the patenting of The Horse Race Bank (retailing today for $500.00) on August 15th, 1871.
     It appears that in the future the sale of these banks will be limited to large city auctions and the small town dealer and collector will have to yield to the demands of museums and wealthy collectors for mechanical banks. Even the still banks are increasing dramatically in value today, although they are still more affordable than mechanicals.
     The collecting of mechanical and still banks goes deeper than the market value of these pieces. The true collector attaches a certain sentiment to each bank and a true collector will probably be reluctant to sell any part of his collection. He purchases a piece of history when he buys a bank, and it becomes an important part of him.

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