DALLAS, TEXAS: When mechanical banks were first produced in the mid-nineteenth century, it was with the intention that these cutting-edge toys would teach children the importance of thrift. Over the years, these clever cast-iron treasures have become collector's items, prized by those who value them as important pieces of Americana.
" Mechanical banks were produced as early as the 1860s," said Tom Slater, Director of Americana auctions for Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries. "The J&E Stevens Company of Cromwell, CT, estimated to have produced about a third of all known mechanical banks, began making iron toys, such as cook stoves, pots and pans, toy cannons and toy tool chests soon after the company's founding in 1843, and produced their first mechanical cast iron bank, the 'Hall's Excelsior,' in 1869 and continued well through the turn of the century, with some later examples dating from the 1920s and 1930s."
"One of the finest collections of these intriguing toys I've ever seen is that of William Esser," Slater said. "Esser began collecting mechanical banks in the mid-1980s, after buying a few examples at a local antique show. As he expanded his holdings, Esser focused on banks that intrigued him, especially those that were particularly colorful or had unusual actions. Esser also looked at all potential purchases with a sharp eye towards condition. The result is a fine collection of banks, numbering well over 100 pieces, virtually all in exceptional shape."
Slater continued, "One of Esser's favorites was the football-themed 'Calamity' bank. Made by the J&E Stevens Company in 1904, this bank features a fullback, who carries the coin, and two tackles. When a lever is pressed the tackles collide with the fullback, dropping the coin into the bank. Calamity, indeed! It's a great example of the two things that drove Esser's interest, great color and exceptional action. Not surprisingly, it's also one of the most collectible banks in the field, bringing five-figure results on the rare occasion it comes up for auction."
"Another favorite," Slater said, " was the 'Picture Gallery' bank, circa 1885 and made by the Shepard Hardware Co. of Buffalo, NY. This is, without a doubt, one of the most unusual pieces in the hobby. The coin is placed in the hand of a man sitting in the window of this round red and green bank. When a lever on the back is pulled, the coin is deposited. A second lever moves the letter display to the figure's right, as well as the number display above (the number corresponds to the letter's position in the alphabet). At the same time, the picture window, to the figure's left, shows an object that begins with that letter. For example, if the letter O is shown, the number is 15, and the picture is of an owl, D, #4, is a duck, G, #7, a gun, and so on. This is a beautiful, and very unusual, bank."
"'Girl Skipping Rope,' another favorite, was a key-wound bank," Slater said. "When the mechanism was wound and a lever pressed, a charming young girl demonstrated her skill at jumping rope. Meanwhile, a friendly squirrel made sure your coin was safely deposited. This is a beautiful, colorful bank with an elaborate mechanism that has long been a favorite with collectors."
"This auction marks a spectacular opportunity for collectors of mechanical banks to acquire some of these magnificent specimens," Slater said. "I'd invite everyone with any interest in popular Americana to visit our website at www.HA.com , where they'll be treated to full-color enlargeable images of each and every lot in he auction, complete with our informative catalog descriptions. They'll even have the opportunity to place their bids online. This is going to be an extremely exciting auction, and that's a promise you can bank on."
The William Esser Collection of Mechanical Banks will be offered in Heritage Auction Galleries' upcoming Political Memorabilia & Americana auction, to be held on November 12 & 13 in Dallas, TX.
For more information about Heritage's auctions, and a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit www.HA.com
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