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Collecting Mechanical BanksAuthor: INA HAYWARD BELLOWS
( Article orginally published March 1948 by Hobbies )
When I seriously began collecting penny banks eighteen years ago who would have thought that they would one day be a leading collector’s interest!
“How did you happen to collect penny banks,” I am asked often. In the first place, my family had all been ardent hoarders of our old family pieces. My mother, my grandmother, and my great grandfather all prized things that the ordinary individual called “junk.” Our little old mirror in front of which Richard Faulkinghor, my great grandfather, stood to trim his beard, when he went to play his clarinet before the queen, always hung in my grandmother’s house. The large old painted cupboard which had been his, also, was filled with colored pieces of glass from England, and when I was very small I used to beg my grandmother for just one peek into its cavernous recesses, where I caught glimpses of blue and green goblets, and old-time English vases.
Whether my love blossomed through environment or heredity I do not know.
I remember well the old cherry slant top desk of my grandmother. It had an array of small drawers inside its heavy lid, and grandmother always warned me never to pull down the lid. “It might break off,” she said. But every once in a while I would feign some interest in the parlor, - dusting, or some other excuse, - get on a chair, lift back the lid, and pull open some of the many small drawers inside. In one of the secret drawers my uncle had put a discarded set of false teeth and some old gold crowns! These I would fit into my mouth and say to myself “Some day I’ll wear some of these perhaps.”
Our family, like many other families, told and retold the stories of the courtship’s and marriages and I was so intrigued with the story of grandmother’s romantic life that I decided, after listening to it many, many times, that I must write it.
At a very young age, I wrote the life story. Later on, I rewrote it changing the names, but it was still my grandmother’s life. I called it the “Romance of the Old Boston Rocker,” and dedicated it to her.
I started writing plays and stories for women’s clubs, and later gave this particular story before women’s clubs, in our part of the country. I dressed in my grandmother’s old hoopskirts and gowns, and was introduced by the dancing school pupils who danced the old-fashioned minuet. The old pictures of my family substantiated my story, and it was well received. I judged whether or not I had told the story effectively by whether or not all the elderly ladies of the club cried. If they cried, I had told it well!
My first collection was clocks. Clocks, and more clocks. Grandmother had told me about a particular clock that she had in England, and I was endeavoring to find one like it so that I could describe it accurately in my story, “The Old Boston Rocker.” Our house was small, and I bought so many clocks I had to have shelves made in the garage for them. I fussed with these old case clocks all my spare time, Until one day my husband came home from the office somewhat upset. He informed me that all he could hear coming down the street was the ding! ding!! dong!!! Of those clocks in the garage, and unless I absolutely “got rid” of them at once he was going to leave home!
Not having been married long, and being young and unsophisticated, I was terrified! I thought it all out that night. I would not dare unload all these clocks in my home town. It would flood the market with clocks, - they would not be worth a nickel, I thought. So I drove fifteen miles to a small town where I knew an old man who lived and ran a little second-hand store and upholstery shop.
I went into the store, and said very nonchalantly, “Mr. R., I’m bringing you some clocks to sell.” “How many have you, Mrs. Bellows?” he said. I replied, “Only twenty-six case clocks. I couldn’t get the rest in the car.” “My, my!” he said, “I can’t afford to buy twenty-six clocks from you.” But I answered, “I don’t want you to buy them, I’m giving them to you.” He was quite excited, and said, “You can’t afford to do this,” but I replied, “You don’t know the half of it! My husband is going to leave home unless I get rid of these at once!”
And after consoling me, Mr. R. consented to take the clocks. He had in his place of business several articles which intrigued me, and always had since I had first seen them there. One was an old cast iron money savings device, Uncle Sam with his red and white striped trousers, his tall plug hat, and star-spangled coat. His carpet bag flipped open to catch all the coins placed in his hand. I looked at the date on the bottom, and the thought occurred to me - a “carpet bagger,” - I had been teaching about the carpet baggers after the Civil War. This bank depicted that very thing. So I obtained the first of my mechanical bank collection. Many people laughed at my curious collection - my funny penny banks, my copper lustre, my Milk glass, and other historical items.
When in the early Thirties I exhibited my Mechanical Bank Collection at the antique show in New York City, the press ran pictures of my collection in the daily papers. Then came the radio, and I was asked to talk, later, I was thrilled when my “Milking Cow” was photographed for television!
At the next exhibit, bankers came from here and there to see my banks, and to talk with me. People came who were only vaguely interested at first. But they, too, became enthusiasts, as I later learned.
About this time Mr. Lightner, publisher of HOBBIES, approached me to write a book on the subject. So I started a flowery, “Since the beginning of time the desire to hoard has been one of the characteristics of the human race.” “Bosh with that flowery stuff,” he said. “What the public wants is not a flowery history. They want to know what these banks are, and they want to know the values!” “We’ll just cut out all superfluity on patent rights and history, and give them what they want.” So the little book that started all this furore in the mechanical bank world came out. With the help of good friends there was developed a uniformity of prices and classifications. Keeping in mind that I was only one of many collectors, I ventured to assemble this data with a view of establishing a comprehensive standard. The book now in its second edition proves the great interest in old mechanical banks.