Although the first coin banks ever made stood still, those that move have become huge collector’s item. Mechanical banks usually have a button to press and several things on them move helping to insert coins into the bank. Most are made of cast iron. People have come to adore mechanical banks because of the variety of movement and fun ideas people have created in making them work.
The most valuable ones were made between 1860 and 1935 although lots of reproductions are still around today. The purpose was to encourage children to save their pennies. Some early ones even rewarded children by releasing a piece of candy. I have yet to come across any of those but I am often amused by many of the creations.
Some early mechanical banks were not cast iron, but often tin or metal. They featured a variety of people and animals whose jaws dropped upon insertion of a coin.
In 1890 J.H. Bowen of Philadelphia made a cast iron bank of a girl skipping rope. It required intricate casting to make it work and is a very desirable cast iron bank.
Also in 1890 a clown sitting on a globe bank was made by several companies. It is very common and often the clown will perform a handstand. Once one company made a specific bank, it was very common for several other companies to make a similar bank, changing the style just a bit.
Another interesting bank is from 1906. A Pantomime character dances around a clown and her partner. It was made by Harlequin and is quite cute.
An 1890 bank portraying the biblical tale of the great whale is very rare. It chokes up Jonah when a coin is inserted.
Another rare bank is also a Black Americana collector item. It features a black bank teller who thumbs their nose at you when taking coins. It was done post civil war by the Freedman Company and is very comical.
Circus themes and merry go rounds are quite a common theme. An 1890 bank portrays a ticket man standing by the coin slot. When you insert the coin, the animals circle around. Children especially like this one.
The William Tell bank is a very popular collectible. You put a penny on Tell’s gun. When you press the button, the gun shoots the penny into the castle behind the boy with the apple over his head. Several versions of this cast iron bank were made.
Another shooting bank is one that has a bird that flies up on a string when the gun shoots the coin into a hole.
Sport themed mechanical banks are very big collectors. One is a golfer hitting a coin into a hole. A person at the other end picks up the flag as the coin rolls into the hole.
Dark Town Battery is a very old cast iron bank in which a pitcher throws a penny into the catcher’s chest. The batter swings and misses. Many versions of this bank are also Black Americana collectibles.
A football bank known as the Calamity Bank features three players who move in different directions when the coin is dropped.
A newer sports tennis bank features Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King. King hits the ball to Riggs who misses and the coin falls into the hole.
Several vintage banks featured famous figures. There is a Betsy Ross bank that makes Ross turn her sewing basket when pressed. President Theodore Roosevelt has his own bank as well. He is hunting and fires a penny into a tree trunk which makes a bear pop out. Many people do not even realize this is supposed to be Roosevelt.
You may see banks that make fun of or stereotype certain ethnicities. Although considered crude if made today, the old ones are very valuable. Some feature, the Chinese as lazy, Irish figures with liquor and people of color with watermelons.
Dog tricks are also very popular. You put a penny in a dog’s mouth. When the lever is pressed he jumps through a hoop and deposits the coin in a barrel. It is very adorable. A lot of reproductions of this bank has been made but every collector seems to want one.
Newer banks have included television shows such as Big Bird from Sesame Street. An Uncle Sam bank is very popular and reproductions are constantly being made.
Today many companies are making reproductions of these types of banks in plastic as well as cast iron. Only unusual plastic ones are sought after by collectors, so keep an eye out for something you may have never seen before.
Some cast iron banks are known to sell for as high as $14,000 in auctions but the average price of a good vintage or antique bank is usually in the hundreds of dollars.
Be sure to check out the condition of banks. A lot of cast iron banks have been restored and repainted. The value of these is not as high as original painted banks. You can often tell if they are restored if cheap metal materials seem to make them work and can break easily. Many also are missing the bottoms and coins come right out. However, those are usually a very easy fix.
If you find a bank that is not in good condition and you still like, don’t hesitate to grab it. Collecting is all about fun.
Source: Encyclopedia of Collecting