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American Cast Iron Mechanical Banks

Mechanical Banks

The first mass produced American toy banks were "Still Banks" or banks with no mechanical action. Mechanical banks appeared during the late 1860s when a patent was issued for bank called "Hall's Excelsior". Mechanical banks were toys intended to encourage children to save their pennies by making the process fun.

The heyday of production was the period between 1860 and 1935. Over 400 different distinct types were made and for each there were usually many variations. When one manufacturer produced a popular bank, his competitors were likely to copy it with just enough alterations to skirt any possible suit for patent infringement. One collector has over 1,500 mechanical banks in his collection.

Mechanical Banks are banks in which a coin, when deposited, sets in motion a mechanism or action. In short, you drop in a coin and something happens. Some banks once considered mechanical are now called semi-mechanical. For example in some banks the coin while falling into the ban strikes or rings a bell. Other banks require actions by the depositor to achieve the deposit itself and are not qualifying the bank for mechanical status.

Some mechanical banks reward the child with a piece of candy. However, the toy banks were simply designed to amuse children with their mechanical actions, which could be started by depositing a coin or depressing a lever.

Mechanical banks

Mechanical banks made of cast iron became popular shortly after the Civil War, when several Northern foundries started producing them as a side line to their regular casting business. The J. & E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut was one of the most prominent.

Mechanical banks

Cast Iron Clown on Globe Mechanical Bank Manufactured by J. & E. Stevens and Company

The degree of action varies from bank to bank with the simple closing of a mouth, nod of the head to complex multiple figure actions involving music, acrobatics and sports. To perform stunts like this, cast iron mechanical banks relied on various combinations of levers, springs, wheels and other moving parts. In some the weight of the coin plays an essential role by moving a lever from one position to another.

Rarity, subject matter, complexity of design and action is the primary factor in determining the value of a cast iron mechanical banks.

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