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Antique Mechanical Banks

Updated on October 9, 2010

Antique Mechanical Banks offered by James S. Maxwell, Jr. & Virginia Caputo Antiques

We sell antique mechanical banks, other antique toys, vintage photography, political and sports memorabilia, advertising trade cards, tobacco cards, ephemera and much more. We specialize in antique mechanical banks.

For more information on banks shown on this page and to see what other banks we are offering for sale, visit our website at www.virginiacaputo.com.

How to collect antique mechanical banks. - Some background on this collecting hobby and fifteen tips.

Closeup of the girl from the Girl Skipping Rope Antique Mechanical Bank
Closeup of the girl from the Girl Skipping Rope Antique Mechanical Bank

Antique toy banks can be collected at different price levels including very high price levels. Perhaps it is the connection with money that has made bank collecting a hobby that has appealed to many who were involved in the business of money.

The legendary bank collector Ed Mosler (1918-1982) ran the Mosler Safe Company which was founded by Gustave Mosler in 1867. Ed tried to collect every type of mechanical bank ever made, old and new.

Covert and Gertrude Hegarty were a major toy and bank collecting husband and wife team. Covert (1902-1968) was president of the First National Bank of Coalport, served on the board of directors of the County National Bank at Clearfield, and was involved in a number of other businesses in the Coalport area. Gertrude (1903-2003) and Covert were avid collectors beginning in the 1940s.

Collector Mary Roebling (1905-1994) was the first woman in the United States to be president of a major commercial bank, the Trenton Trust Company. Roebling had a cast iron mechanical bank made that depicted the Trenton Trust with her sitting in front of it.

Many mechanical bank collectors have come from the ranks of company owners and entrepreneurs. Profits from the sale of interior cardboard cylinders of toilet paper rolls paid for the toy and bank collecting habit of Leon Perelman who founded the Perelman Toy Museum in Philadelphia where he displayed his collection.

All of these oldtime collectors competed with each other to get the best and the most rare banks for their collections.

Consequently, with that kind of history in the hobby, bank collectors are used to stiff competition from other collectors when they want to add particularly beautiful and/or rare banks to their collections.

A funny thing about toy banks- they were made to encourage the saving of money by children. Then collecting them became a way for much bigger kids to spend money! And that spending of money can end up making money in some cases but can also lose money in others. If the bank is not what the collector thought it was, then they may well lose money. Possibly a lot of money. But losing money due to a lack of knowledge is unnecessary.

If you are interested in collecting antique banks and toys, one of the first things that you need to do is educate yourself about them. There is nothing wrong with buying or collecting a restored bank or a reproduction or a second casting as long as you know what it is that you are buying. No one likes unpleasant surprises when they learn that their "bargain" purchase was not a bargain at all!

Here are some suggestions on what to look for when collecting cast iron antique banks.

Fifteen Tips

1. Whenever there is an opportunity to look at a quantity of banks, whether at an auction or in a collection, go and look at them in detail. Take the time, even if you know you aren't going to be buying anything right then. Just go and look and look and touch and feel. Challenge yourself to find repairs and to figure out if it is an old original bank or a later casting.

2. Buy reference books on mechanical banks and read them. The best ones are The Bank Book: The Encyclopedia of Mechanical Bank Collecting, 1985, by Bill Norman and Penny Lane: A History of Antique Mechanical Toy Banks, 1987, by Al Davidson. There is also a book of the base tracings of original banks by Robert McCumber. This book may be hard to find but is useful for determining whether a casting is original or a second casting (which may be smaller). (But there can be some exceptions to the general rule.)

3. Learn how to use a black light and carry it with you. Be aware that not everything that shows up under a black light means that there is a restoration. It is a tool for examination (but it is not infallible). Learn how to interpret the results of using a black light.

4. Carry a magnet with you. This is useful for determining whether a bank is made of iron or not and whether there are repairs made of other materials.

5. Look at banks that are confirmed to be reproductions or fakes so that you can see how they differ from old original banks. Examine their surfaces, the paint, and the quality of the casting. Look at how they fit (or don't fit) where the pieces meet.

6. When examining old banks, look for areas in the paint that look uneven and bubbled. A welded break in iron burns off some of the original paint in the area of the weld and is usually touched up with new paint.

7. Compare the paint on different parts of a bank to other parts of the same bank. Does one color look the same on all areas of the bank? If it differs in gloss, texture or hue, ask yourself why it differs.

8. Check to see how tightly the pieces fit together. Old banks generally were made to fit together very well.

9. Look at the small component parts of the bank. The figures, the arms, the legs, the heads. Are they too smooth? Too rough? Or just right? (Like the porridge in the tale of the Three Bears?) Do they match each other in casting and surface quality?

10. If the bank looks dirty, check carefully to see if the dirt is old or has the bank been covered with burnt umber, applied to the surface to create the appearance of old patina.

11. Check for cracks and repairs at any of the points where the bank logically would be most likely to be damaged. (The thinnest parts, the edges and corners.)

12. Look for evidence of the paint having aged naturally. Generally you are looking for fine crazing in the paint. This often easiest to see in the lightest areas. (A small magnifying glass can be helpful to have on hand when looking for natural crazing in paint or small cracks in iron.)

13. Check the interior for repairs to the mechanism. Does anything look new or "too rusty"?

14. Smell the bank and check with a fingernail to see if the paint will take an impression. Old paint does not have the smell of fresh paint and old paint would be dried and not to take an impression.

15. Collect the best banks you can afford and make sure you are getting what you are paying for by becoming well informed.

There is nothing wrong with buying banks that have repairs and restorations or are later castings from original castings or are reproductions. Great looking banks that have well done repairs can be added to a collection for less money than a mint condition bank. But it is not a good thing if a collector buys a bank and doesn't know what it is that he or she is buying.

If you're think you're buying champagne, you don't want it to turn out to be sparkling cider!

Girl Skipping Rope Antique Mechanical Bank

Girl Skipping Rope Antique Mechanical Bank
Girl Skipping Rope Antique Mechanical Bank

Bird on Roof Antique Mechanical Bank

Bird on Roof Antique Mechanical Bank
Bird on Roof Antique Mechanical Bank

Jonah and the Whale Antique Mechanical Bank

Jonah and the Whale Antique Mechanical Bank
Jonah and the Whale Antique Mechanical Bank

Books about collecting mechanical banks. - Education in any field is a key to making wise decisions.

Collecting mechanical banks is a competitive hobby with a long history of passionate collectors. Prices are high. Repairs are hard to spot. Also hard to spot are old forgeries. Educate yourself about collecting banks and spend your money wisely. When you choose to collect mechanical banks, research and knowledge will make you a better collector!

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