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Antique Showcase
Canada's National Antique Magazine, October 1998

(Web Note: Reduced size page scans with OCR text for easier reading below).

Antique Showcase
Canada's National Antique Magazine, October 1998

                       the Stanley P. Sax sale of
                          MECHANICAL BANKS

     If anyone has any doubts about the popularity of mechanical penny bank collecting, then take a look at the recent auction of the Stanley P. Sax collection.
     I was privileged to meet Stan Sax and his wife a few years ago and they graciously let me take a couple of hours to view the collection. I enjoyed every minute of it. Just about every known mechanical bank was represented, and displayed in beautiful showcases around their house. The sale of his collection, therefore, had a special appeal to me.
     The late Stan Sax was the consummate collector who used the passion of a lifetime to build his collection. He purchased not only the rare banks but also examples of all banks in the finest possible condition. Also, he kept careful records of where the banks came from, giving them a provenance seldom found in toy sales. Serious collectors eagerly anticipated the sale because it represented one of the finest collections ever assembled.
      Bill Bertoia Auctions conducted the sale in Philadelphia, April 30 through May 2, 1998. As always with important sales, Bill made a full-coloured catalogue available. This time it was a hard cover catalogue of the banks fully illustrated, together with a description of each bank, its operation and condition. Where available, copies of the patent literature were included. Also, of course, the provenance of each bank was shown. The catalogue has instantly become a reference book in its own right.
      It is impossible to report on all the banks and prices realized, but I think it's fair to say the auction far exceeded its estimate. In this report I have tried to show the more prominent banks and those of special interest. Prices are in U.S. dollars and include the buyer's premium of 15 per cent for successful bids under $50,000 and 10 per cent on amounts in excess of $50,000.
      Not the most expensive bank but in the opinion of most collectors the most desirable;
Freedman's Bank. Wood, metal & cloth with a clockwork mechanism. ca. 1880. $321,500.
      One of only six known examples, the Freedman's Bank is a reference to the Freedman Bank established by Congress to help newly freed slaves returning home from the Civil War. Made by Jerome Secore, the action of this bank is a mechanical marvel. After winding, a penny is set on the desk next to the figure's outstretched arm. When a lever is activated, his left hand sweeps across the desk and deposits the coin in the hole. At the same time he moves his head from side to side. He then raises his right hand, thumbs his nose and wiggles his fingers. Finally he lowers his hand and shakes his head.
     Interestingly, the provenance of this bank was made all the more interesting by including four letters from 1939 documenting the sale of the bank for $8.
     Most expensive bank in the auction;
Old Woman in the Shoe.
Cast iron, Patented 1883. $426,000.
      This is an extremely rare mechanical bank with only two examples known. A highly coloured bank in pristine condition, it uses a nursery rhyme theme to encourage savings. The penny is placed in the boy's arms. When a lever is pushed the old woman raises her stick and the boy leans forward to deposit the coin in the bank. The boy is a replacement but the bank is otherwise in almost perfect condition.
      Black people in mechanical banks;
Facing page: Darkey and Watermelon Bank. Cast iron. Patented 1888. $354,500.
       Many of the mechanical banks depicted black people. Unfortunately they were often in painful situations such as having a tooth pulled or being thrown from a donkey. But this colourful bank shows a rather playful man kicking a small watermelon that contains a coin for deposit into a larger watermelon. One of only three known examples, it is in pristine condition.
     The importance of an original box;
Calamity Bank. Cast iron. Patented 1905. $90,500.
      The Calamity Bank (originally known as the Football Bank) is very prone to paint loss because of the rather violent action of the bank. An example with good paint is very difficult to find. The two players are pulled back into the position shown and the coin placed in a slot in the front. When the lever is pressed the tacklers charge in front of the ball carrier who steps back and allows the coin to drop. Despite all this action the bank shown has almost perfect paint. The extra selling point, however was the original box. It's difficult to say what the bank would have realized without the box, but as both the bank and box are in near mint condition bidders drove it up to the record price.
     The Importance of knowing your subject;
Clown, Harlequin & Columbine Bank.
Cast iron. Patented 1877. $85,000.
      This is another wind-up bank with a charming motion involving three figures. A coin is placed between the Clown and Harlequin. After the lever is pressed, the figures reverse position and the Columbine spins as if performing a dance. The clockwork mechanism and precision timing make this a particularly desirable bank. The illustration shows this bank to be in pristine condition, which goes a long way to explaining its auction price. However, an added factor is that the bank is from the first casting. Another example in the auction from the second casting sold for the modest price of $16,100.
      Banks and social commentary;
Chinaman in a Boat.
Lead. Ca. 1880. $43,700.
      Some of the banks made in America during the 1880s made social commentary directed at minorities in a way that would be completely unacceptable today. This bank is a good example. The influx of Chinese immigrants was felt by many to create a source of cheap labour. This caused open resentment and, for a time, they were even banned from entering the country. The bank shows a Chinaman seated before a table that reads "Cheap Labor Hotel — Dinner One Cent in Advance". The coin is deposited by pulling his queue and the table flips over to reveal a dead rat with the note "Dinner is Ready". Despite the subject matter this is a very desirable bank.
     Other notable banks in the auction included;
• Bank Teller Bank. Cast iron. Patented 1876. Pristine condition. $96,000.
• Clown on Bar Bank. Cast iron. ca. 1880. Pristine condition. $74,000.
• Ding Dong Bell Bank. Tin & wood. Patented 1888. Near mint condition. $74,000
• Germania Exchange Bank. Cast iron. ca. 1884. Pristine condition. $55,200
• Mikado Bank. Cast iron. ca. 1886. Pristine condition. $123,500
• Preacher in the Pulpit Bank. Cast iron. Patented 1876. Pristine condition. $233,500.
• Red Riding Hood Bank. Cast iron. ca. 1880. Pristine condition. $96,000.
• Roller Skating Bank. Cast iron. ca.1890. Pristine condition. $156,500.
• Turtle Bank. Cast iron. ca.1930. Near mint condition. $51,750.
• U.S. and Spain Bank with box. Cast iron. Patented 1898. Near mint condition. $58,600
• Zig Zag Bank. Cast iron, cloth, papier-mβchι, & tin. Patented 1889. Excellent condition. $189,500.
      This amazing sale has obviously set the standard for future values in mechanical bank collecting — an appropriate tribute to the memory of Stan Sax, a fine gentleman.

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