Collecting Antique Toy Banks.

Antique iron banks are considered to be one of the most popular collectibles of all American Toys.


Most of these banks are complex in their design, very rare and are in great demand by collectors. Made between the 1860s and 1930ss, vintage cast iron banks can be divided into two categories, Still Banks and Mechanical Banks.

Still, Banks 

Were the first mass-produced American toy banks and did not have any moving parts. A coin was merely dropped in a slot. Buildings, animals and people were the most common design for still banks. One of the earliest was a penny bank made to accommodate the first large copper coin minted in 1793 by the United States Mint.

Mechanical Banks 

Appeared during the late 1800s. A patent for a mechanical bank called Halls Excelsior was filed in 1869. The peak of production of mechanical banks was the period between 1860 and 1940. At least four hundred 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. Mechanical Banks were toys intended to encourage children to save their pennies by making the process fun. In some, the mechanical action rewarded the child with a piece of candy. Essentially the mechanical banks were simply designed for the amusement of children. Their mechanical action would be started by depositing a coin or pressing a lever.

Mechanical banks made of cast iron became popular shortly after the Civil War when several northern foundries started producing them as a sideline to their regular business of casting such items as stoves, plumbing fixtures and tools. The J. & E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, CT was one of the largest. Manufacturers competed to see how complex they could make their banks operate. To perform stunts, mechanical banks relied on various combinations of levers, springs, wheels and other moving parts.

The weight of the coin plays an essential role by moving a lever from one position to another, causing a wheel to rotate activating other parts. The more intricate the outer mechanism of the bank, the more complex the inner mechanism worked. So the sophistication of the mechanism is important. Collectors look for mechanical banks with interesting action as well as historical significance. Yes, political subjects were also popular. During World War I, when the production of cast iron was severely limited, manufacturers began to use tin, wood and other materials for banks. Since the 1940s most mechanical banks are made of plastic.

There is also a flood of reproduction banks on the market. A "repro" as they are called, do not have the same detail, and in most cases are slightly smaller. No paint or poor paint jobs and lighter weights are just three ways to spot an imitation.

By Glyn Farber

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