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I Always Spize A Mule Banks, by Bill Norman (second article in this series)


COLLECTORS’ SHOWCASE, Volume 1, Number 4
March/April 1982, pages 27 through 34
by Bill Norman
     Collectors have sought after old mechanical banks for over 50 years. The nostalgic past of our American heritage is reflected in the interesting themes and animated action of these toy savings banks, making them educational and timelessly wonderful objects to behold.
     Mechanical banks began to appear shortly after the end of the American Civil War and the American public was eager to purchase them. This market was generated as a natural outgrowth of the events that occurred during the war years (1862-1865). There was a severe coin shortage during this time, due in part because the public was saving (hoarding) them. In fact, the situation got so bad that postage stamps were often used to make change. Both the Union and Confederate governments began issuing paper notes to supplement their coinage and help relieve this problem. But, as you can well imagine, the public didn’t like paper money. This currency wasn’t trusted. It could become as worthless as last week’s newspaper, especially of the side that would lose the war. However, coins would always retain some metallic value.
     Hence, mechanical banks were a product of the times and their popularity remained strong well into the 20th century. Not only were they fun toys, but parents could effectively use them to teach their children the practical aspects of being thrifty. What a great idea!
     One outstanding and important producer of old mechanical banks was the Shepard Hardware Company of Buffalo, New York, and it is the old Shepard operation and their banks that this article is all about.
The Old Shepard Operation
     Relatively little is known about the Shepard Hardware Company. They were obviously in the business of designing and selling hardware items, as were some of the other producers of cast iron mechanical banks. Much can be learned about their hardware business, by studying the many hardware related design patents they held. There are no remains of the company. So, visiting the original site in Buffalo, New York, will generate little information.
     Walter J. and Charles G. Shepard were apparently the main principals in the business, which can be surmised by the fact that all Shepard bank design patents were owned or assigned to them. I doubt if anyone knows whether they were brothers, father and son, cousins, or what. However, Charles was an inventor. He and Peter Adams co-patented the designs for at least 12 of Shepard’s 15 mechanical banks and, in each case, Mr. Adams assigned his interest over to Walter J. Shepard of the same company.
     I would speculate that Walter was probably more business oriented than Charles and probably tended to administrative matters, while Charles worked on the bank designs with Adams.
     In any event, Shepard entered into the mechanical bank field in about 1882 and available information indicates they sold out their line of toy banks in 1892. The impact Shepard had on the mechanical bank market was astounding when you consider the fact they were able to design, patent, produce, and effectively distribute 15 high quality banks within a time span of only about 10 years.
     It is a generally accepted fact that Shepard originated the full color “trading card” method of advertising mechanical banks. These cards are about 2-1/2" X 5-1/2" in size and were printed on thick paper stock. They were used by Shepard bank dealers to promote the sale of the banks to their customers. Each card shows the retail price at $1.00 each for a bank. Introductory dealer cards also listed the wholesale bank price, which was $8.50 per dozen. This translates to about 70¢ each, for a 30% wholesale discount.
     Old mechanical bank trading cards have become quite collectable and are difficult to find. Examples of Shepard cards are illustrated herein. Wherever possible, the bank operating instructions are directly quoted from an old trading card. It’s interesting to note that Shepard paid little attention to grammatical correctness. I think you will find Shepard’s wording and lack of punctuation nostalgically amusing.
Characteristics of Shepard’s Banks
     Several identifying features are common to Shepard mechanical banks.
     In the first place, their artistic paint jobs were unsurpassed for attention to minute detail. It’s amazing that a high production cast iron toy could contain the incredible craftsmanship that Shepard got from their painters. However, on the negative side, they used no primer coating to prepare the metal for painting, which accounts for why most Shepard banks are found in such poor paint condition. It simply flaked off the bank. But, if you are fortunate enough to have a fine condition Shepard mechanical, you will appreciate the quality of its fine artistic paint job.
     Secondly, each Shepard bank has its name embossed on one of the casting pieces. The name is generally in large bold letters located on the front panel of the bank. Some mechanicals, of the other manufacturers, had no name on them, with the result that many banks are known by names other than the ones originally given them. Shepard mechanicals do not fall into this category.
     And, in the third place, each Shepard mechanical is very heavy for its physical size. It’s almost as if cast iron was free and had no bearing on the production cost of the items. An interesting footnote is the first 8 Shepard banks can be categorized in groups of two. It’s almost like they were designed in pairs.
The 15 Shepard Banks
         Patented March 14, 1882, #12,814.
     “The Coin is placed in the palm of the hand when the Arm is raised automatically by a small projecting thumb-piece behind the left shoulder depositing the coin in the mouth: the tongue falling back and the eyes rolling upwards at the same time.”
     Today, some people might find this characterization offensive. However, the black race was thought of as a happy-go-lucky bunch, which is reflected by the smile on his face. This bank was by far the most popular mechanical theme of all time. It was produced for 10 years by Shepard, which was followed with another 40 years of production by the J. & E. Stevens Company. In addition, many similar banks were made in England, and countless reproductions make it difficult to discern the modern banks from the “old” (Pre-1935) items. (The base length is 5-13/16".)
         Patented June 17, 1884, # 15,085.
    “The Coin is placed in the hand, the arm is then raised by a small projecting thumb piece behind the left shoulder, the Coin being deposited in the mouth, the tongue falling back and the eyes rolling upwards at the same time.” (Same action, different wording, as the JOLLY NIGGER BANK.)
     Humpty Dumpty was a famous and beloved clown of the era, who was portrayed by George L. Fox. In 1975 Mr. Sy Schreckinger (a mechanical bank collector) turned up an old 1878 vintage poster of Mr. Fox, which almost looks as if it could have been used to inspire the bank design. (The base length is 5".)

         Patented July 22, 1884, # 15,155.
     “Judy receives the Coin in the plate. The thumb-piece at the side is pressed upon, and Punch rushes forward brandishing a club when Judy turns quickly and deposits the Coin in the bank.”
     The famous puppet show is fast becoming lost to our young “Sesame Street” generation. However, the term “puppet show” and “Punch & Judy” were almost synonymous for several hundred years.
     There are two common lettering variations; large letters, and small letters. The one illustrated is the small letter variety.

         Circa 1885. This is the only Shepard bank of record that was not covered by a U.S. design patent.
     Give the cashier a coin, pull the lever, and he will turn and place your deposit into the bank. Push on a second lever and the wheel will rotate one notch; displaying a letter, number, and a word/picture.
     A child could learn his alphabet, numbers, and how to spell words on the PICTURE GALLERY BANK. A most practical and novel idea.
     The base plate of the PICTURE GALLERY identifies it as an “Excelsior Series” item. It was Shepard’s first bank to utilize a locking coin trap, and this rectangular locking design became the standard “trap” for almost all succeeding Shepard bank designs. It’s easy to see why they were proud of this item; it was “Excelsior” indeed!
     The PICTURE GALLERY BANK is difficult to find, especially in good paint condition.
         Patented June 2, 1885 by Juleus Mueller of Wilmington, North Carolina (# 16,121). The patent rights were assigned to Charles and Walter Shepard.
     Place a coin in the pony’s mouth, pull the lever, he bows his head and the bottom of the feeding trough opens to receive the deposit.
     The TRICK PONY was Shepard’s first animal theme bank and is their only mechanical of record patented by someone other than Charles Shepard and/or Peter Adams. It also used the rectangular locking coin trap. (The base length is 7-1/6".)
         Patented October 20, 1885, # 328,723.
     “The coin is placed in a plate held by the girl. The thumb piece is pressed upon, when the girl’s arm moves quickly and deposits the coin through a trap door in the bench that opens to receive it. At the same time the dog opens and closes his mouth as if ‘speaking’ and also wags his tail.”
     The SPEAKING DOG BANK was a very popular item, in part, because it appealed to both boys and to girls. It was one of the three Shepard banks whose production was continued by the Stevens Company after 1892. The rectangular locking trap was also used on this item.
         Patented June 8, 1886, # 16,728.
     “A very comical appearance is given to the face, the lower jaw being balanced on pivots and easily kept in motion.
     The coin is placed in the hand, and the small knob on top of box pressed upon, which lowers the arm and opens the satchel to receive the deposit, the lower jaw in the face moving at the same time.”
     Much could be written about the historical significance of Uncle Sam. But, I think it’s sufficient to say that his initials (U.S.) stand for the United States, and every U.S. citizen is well aware of their famous uncle.
     Although the original bank was probably made for not more than 6 years, its popularity had caused many reproductions to follow. In fact, Uncle Sam reproductions are still being made at the time of this writing.
     One unique part of this design is the rectangular locking coin trap located on the back panel of the bank, as opposed to being on the bottom. Therefore, the trap was painted to match the red color of the bank and, while many collectors are not too particular whether a bank contains its respective coin trap, the UNCLE SAM BANK is generally devalued if its trap is either missing or recast. (The base length is 4-15/16".)
         Patented November 16, 1886, # 352,786.
     It’s interesting to note that the bank has a different patent date (June 8, 1886) stamped on its bottom plate. This is the date of the UNCLE SAM patent. Both patent applications were filed on the same day and, for some reason, the U.S. Patent Office delayed granting the STUMP SPEAKER patent for five months. I think it is safe to say that Shepard did not want to delay STUMP SPEAKER production and chose to emboss the UNCLE SAM date on both banks.
     “A very comical appearance is given to the face, the lower jaw being balanced on pivots and easily kept in motion.
     The coin is placed in the hand, and the small knob on the top of the box pressed upon, which lowers the arm and opens the satchel to receive the deposit, the lower jaw in the face moving at the same time.” (The instructions are identical to UNCLE SAM’s.)
     This “Stump Speaker” appears to be a “Carpetbagger.” They were unethical politicians who traveled around the South after the Civil War, taking advantage of the turmoil in that part of the country. Their belongings were carried in a carpet bag and, as you can see, money was also quick to be put into the bag.
     The STUMP SPEAKER BANK has an identical coin trap arrangement as the UNCLE SAM BANK, and similar devaluation can result if the trap is either missing or recast. (The base length is 4-15/16".)
9.      MASON BANK
         Patented February 2, 1887, # 17,108.
     “The comical appearing Hod Carrier receives the Coin in Hod, and throws it forward depositing it in the Bank. The Mason raises & lowers trowel, also brick, while the Hod is moving forward and back.”
     This beautiful bank was undoubtedly appealing to children and to many adults. I would guess that most Masons would have been proud to display a MASON BANK on their shelf. It was labeled as part of the “Excelsior Series” and the bank also contained their standard rectangular locking coin trap. (The base length is 7-3/8".)
           “PAT. JULY 31, 1888” is stamped on its base plate. However, apparently no U.S. design patent was issued on the bank.
     Place a coin in the little dog’s mouth, press the lever and he will jump through the clown’s hoop and drop your deposit into the barrel.
     The TRICK DOG is unique because it is the only bank sold by Shepard that was later produced by someone other than the J. & E. Stevens Company. Two later versions of this item were made by the Hubley Toy Company of Lancaster, Pa.
     The Shepard TRICK DOG BANK utilizes a 6-part base that is held together by two slot-head screws. The side plates are painted red with yellow trim and the bank shows off Shepard’s typical attention to artistic detail. An original wooden box exists that contained a Shepard TRICK DOG. It says, “one complete ‘TRICK DOG’ savings bank Excelsior Series ― S.H. Company. 98¢.” (The original Shepard base plate is 8-11/16" in length.)
 11.      CIRCUS BANK
             Patented September 9, 1888, # 19,618.
     “Place a coin upon the bracket in front of the money receptacle. When the crank is turned the pony goes around the ring and the clown deposits the coin. The pony kicks up the wheels turn and the clowns arm moves up and down making it a very amusing toy.”
     The CIRCUS BANK is the rarest of all Shepard’s mechanicals. There are probably two major reasons for this. In the first place, the clown/pony/cart section was very fragile and could break off the bank. Without these pieces, a CIRCUS BANK would be of little value and probably ended up being discarded. Secondly, the CIRCUS BANK probably didn’t have a high level of production, because it would have been expensive to make. It’s large size (7" x 8-1/2"), heavy weight (5 pounds), and large number of casting pieces (about 24), could make for slim profits, when you consider that CIRCUS banks sold for the same price as the other Shepard mechanicals.
     Like the UNCLE SAM and STUMP SPEAKER banks, the CIRCUS BANK used a locking coin trap that was located on the rear panel rather than on the bottom of the bank. However, this trap is of an irregular size and shape, making it very rare as a spare bank part.
12.      SANTA CLAUS
           Patented October 15, 1889, # 19,356.
     Give a coin to Santa, press the lever and he puts your deposit into the chimney.
     The SANTA CLAUS bank was a real departure from the other Shepard designs. Its small size was unique and its coin trap is long and narrow, requiring a screw driver to remove. In fact, the trap is so narrow that it is very difficult to remove coins from the bank, and it was probably more expedient to take the chimney apart than to fuss with the coin trap. (The base plate length is 4-3/16".)
           Patented July 15, 1890 by Peter Adams, # 20,007. Mr. Adams assigned his interest over to Charles and Walter Shepard.
    Place a coin on Jonah’s head, press the lever and he almost gets tossed overboard. The coin is slung into the whale’s mouth as, unlike the Biblical account, Jonah is pulled back into the boat in preparation to make another deposit. The whale’s lower jaw moves up and down for several seconds after the action takes place. (The base length is 10-1/4".)
           Patented September 9, 1891, # 21,036. The date on the bank is six days different than the actual patent indicates (September 15, 1891).
     Place a coin in the slot at the top of the tree stump. Actuate the lever and one boy “leap frogs” over the other, his hand then makes contact with a second lever which causes your deposit to fall into the stump.
     This is an unusual theme and, when you think about it, a difficult one to design into a mechanical bank. But, the age-old game of leap frog is graphically animated in the LEAP FROG BANK. (The base length is 7-1/2".)
           Patented May 31, 1892, # 21,594.
     “The coin is placed in the cannon (or mortar). The hammer is then pushed back; when the thumb-piece is pressed upon, the coin is fired into the fort or tower. The arm of the artilleryman moves up and down. Paper caps may also be used if desired.” (Taken from an old 1892 newspaper advertisement.)
     There is much interesting information known about the ARTILLERY BANK which is documented in a 16-page full color booklet, available from this author or from the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America (MBCA). (The base length is 8".)
The Sale of Shepard’s Bank Business
     Available evidence indicates that, during the latter part of 1892, Shepard concluded its toy savings bank business by selling to the J. & E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut. It seems logical to assume that it was during this era that the Hubley Toy Company acquired the rights to Shepard’s TRICK DOG BANK.
     Stevens continued production of only three Shepard banks; JOLLY NIGGER, SPEAKING DOG, and the ARTILLERY BANK. At some point in time, after acquiring the Shepard line, Stevens converted the pattern bases to accept their less expensive round twist coin trap. It is therefore possible to determine the maker of one of these banks, by noting the type coin trap used.
     Shepard Hardware remained in business after 1892, which is evidenced by the additional hardware related design patents granted to them after that time.
One Last Shepard Bank
     On July 10, 1897, about 5 years after selling out their bank line to Stevens, Charles Shepard and Peter Adams filed one last toy savings bank patent application. Patent # 27,565 was issued on August 24, 1897 for a mechanical bank that was to be named the EDUCATED PIG BANK and, as always, Peter Adams assigned his interest over to Walter J. Shepard of the same company.
     The bank was apparently not designed to be produced by Shepard Hardware, as the EDUCATED PIG BANK was the sole product of the J. & E. Stevens Company. It is more commonly known today as the PIG IN HIGH CHAIR BANK, and it was a complete departure from the other Shepard/Adams designs.
     The bank was smaller than other Shepard models, except for possibly the SANTA CLAUS BANK. It was lighter weight than their previous banks, had no identifying name embossed on any of its castings, utilized the Stevens round coin trap, and was the only Shepard design to utilize a floral pattern.
     Charles Bailey, the most prolific mechanical bank designer of all time, who was the head designer for Stevens, was noted for the floral patterns on his banks. Since the EDUCATED PIG BANK was apparently made for Stevens, one would wonder if it was Mr. Bailey’s influence that caused Shepard and Adams to make this radical departure in design. I suppose we will never know the reason.
     In any event, the EDUCATED PIG BANK is Shepard design, and it was a very popular part of Stevens line for many years.
     Most reproductions are easy to spot as they are recast using an original bank as a pattern. Since cast iron shrinks as it cools, these recast items will be smaller than the originals. This is the reason I have listed the base plate lengths of each original bank in this article. Simply measure the length of the base plate on a bank in question. A reproduction will measure less than the lengths given herein.
     Reproductions also generally have a rough texture to their castings and the paint jobs are also somewhat crude. A rusted bank, with no paint, is almost a sure sign of a reproduction. Many purchasers have been fooled by believing that since a bank is old and rusty looking, it must be an original. However, original items are almost never found in this all-rusted condition.
     The three Shepard banks that are not known to have been reproduced are; the PICTURE GALLERY, SPEAKING DOG, and CIRCUS banks. In addition, the PIG IN HIGH CHAIR has apparently not been reproduced.
In Closing
     I would like to thank these fellow collectors and authorities, for their valuable assistance toward making this article possible: Mark Haber, Donald Markey, Bob McCumber, Sy Schreckinger, Steve Steckbeck, Greg Zemineck, M.D.
Books and Other Information
     Mechanical Banks, by F. H. Griffith,
          Sea Girt, New Jersey, 1972.
     Old Penny Banks, by John D. Meyer,
          Watkins, New York, Century House 1960.
     The Mechanical Bank Collectors of America (MBCA).
          (Please contact the author at the address listed below.)
     The Toy Collector, by Louis H. Hertz,
          Hawthorne Books, Inc., New York, 1976.
     Toy Bank Reproductions and Fakes, by Robert L. McCumber
          Glastonbury, Connecticut, 1970.
About the Author
     Bill Norman is President of Norman Enterprises, Inc., a manufacturer of electronic flash photographic lighting equipment. Feeling that everyone needs a hobby to escape from the pressure of everyday business, Mr. Norman collects old mechanical banks, and has assembled one of the largest collections in the western United States. He has written several articles on mechanical banks and has completed a comprehensive booklet, for the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America, on the Artillery Bank.
     For additional information, please contact Bill Norman, 2601 Empire Avenue, Burbank, California (213) 843-6811.








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