Collecting Mechanical BanksNow a highly prized collector's item, mechanical banks were originally created to appeal to children and teach them the importance of saving money. Their popularity caught on quickly among both children and adults, and these banks have remained very collectible since the mid-1800's.
Each bank is designed to perform a specific action when the owner drops in a coin and pulls the lever. The banks often depicted cartoon characters and historical figures. People are most familiar with the cast iron-type bank. A great example of this is Chief Big Moon by the J. & E. Stevens Company from Connecticut. The bank features a male Indian holding a fish in front of a frog. When the bank is activated, the frog leaps up to catch the fish.
The clever cast iron banks were made mainly in the United States and Great Britain. Companies like J. & E. Stevens Company, Hubley Manufactur-ing Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the Kilgore Manufacturing Company of Westerville, Ohio, and Shepard Hardware Company of Buffalo, New York, are some of the most well known manufacturers of the cast iron mechanical banks.
Pressed tin mechanical banks are often overlooked, yet they can be just as collectible. Many were made in Europe and typically came out of Germany. The latter part of the 19th century was the heyday of this type of bank in Europe. One of the best-known companies to make pressed tin mechanical banks was Selhumer & Strauss in Germany. They made a large variety of banks, many with the same general patterns and different characters.
American companies also made pressed tin mechanical banks, although many were made slightly later, in the first quarter of the 20th century. A few companies that were known for their fine chromolithographed tin mechanical toys also made mechanical tin banks. A few great examples are the J. Chein Company of New York City and the Buddy L. Toy Company of East Moline, Illinois.
The characters depicted by these banks range from African-American characters and clowns to more full-figured characters and animals, like monkeys and owls. A recognizable character is quite collectible, including Selhumer & Strauss's bank depicting the ever-popular Mickey Mouse.