Published: December 20, 2022
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy RSL Auction Company
WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. – Made by Kyser and Rex Company, Philadelphia, circa 1880s, the Chimpanzee Bank provided the highest deposit, $102,000, at RSL Auction Company’s Crème de la Crème Sale on December 3-4. The sale included toys, still and mechanical banks from the 50-plus-year collections of Frank and Joyce Kidd, Ed and Naomi Singer and Alvin Goldstein.
The Chimpanzee bank, ex-Bill Norman collection, is a terrific representation of a monkey imbued with human attributes; he’s portrayed as a studious bookkeeper. When a coin is pushed through the coin aperture, he leans forward to conscientiously record the deposit in his ledger and a bell sounds. Toy mechanical banks by Kyser and Rex are highly prized for their beautiful compositions and exquisite color schemes, and the catalog states that this specimen is “definitely one of the finest and prettiest in the world.”
Another denizen of the animal kingdom in the cast iron bank world is “Pokey” the Turtle, one of the rarest banks in the hobby due to an early engineering design flaw for the bank made by Kilgore Mfg Company, Westerville, Ohio. When coins are pushed through the slot in Pokey’s shell, his head should move out a tiny bit and then retract immediately. But when “Pokey” emerged in the late 1920s, Kilgore began receiving complaints that if a larger coin, such as a nickel, was pushed with too much force into the bank, it damaged the spring mechanism, and “Pokey” lost his perkiness. Kilgore suspended production for the Turtle Bank shortly after it began, and just a few “Pokey” examples wound up in the hands of Kilgore employees. With just fewer than ten known examples existing, this “Pokey” drew a justifiably strong price of $90,000.
Made for the English market by an unknown German maker, the Gentleman Bull Dog Bank was produced and sold circa 1895. Catalog notes stated, “This is the most charismatic anthropomorphic representation of an animal permeated by human emotion that we have ever seen. Dolled up in a top hat, ruffled shirt, yellow vest and waistcoat, the dog clearly wears the outfit of a banker or businessman. Pennies placed on the dog’s tongue are happily swallowed when the hat is pressed down upon.” It sold for $26,400.
Moving into the human figurative realm, a Chinaman in Boat bank made by Charles Bailey, Cobalt, Conn., circa 1881, and from the Floyd Griffith collection paddled to $66,000. Not politically correct in any way, the toy bank is also quite rare with fewer than ten known examples.
Considered a “Holy Grail” in the cast iron bank collecting community is the Girl Skipping Rope iron mechanical bank, which in this sale brought $33,600. This scarce variant depicts the girl in a blue dress. By the J. & E. Stevens Company, Cromwell, Conn., circa 1880, the complex toy bank (when unassembled, the catalog points out, there are more than 50 separate parts) is set into action when one places a coin between the feet of the small gray mouse and pushes the operating lever to engage the iron flywheels that cause the girl to skip.
Selling for the same price was a Mammy and Child iron mechanical bank in the rare yellow dress version. Made by the Kyser and Rex Company, Frankford, Penn., in the mid-1880s, the bank portrays the intimate bond between mother and her infant child during feeding. The baby is placed carefully in her lap on a small blanket decorated with polka dots. When the lever is pressed, a coin placed on the bowl of her spoon is deposited into the child’s mouth. Like the sale’s top lot, the Chimpanzee bank, this was ex-Bill Norman collection and deemed to be in A+ condition.
Another figural toy that did well was the J. & E. Stevens Company’s General Benjamin Butler from the late 1880s, which realized $24,000. Benjamin Butler was a high-ranking general with the Union Army during the American Civil War. The visual political punning satire is rich here as Butler is depicted as a frog. Frogs have green backs and Butler during his military tenancy was embroiled in a fraudulent recommendation to invest in “Greenback Currency,” a form of paper money that he knew to be valueless.
Architectural, mechanical and still banks of note included the Cupola iron mechanical bank at $28,800 and, on the sale’s second day, the Two-Story Burning Building, which earned $30,000. Designed by Diedrich Dieckmann of New York City and made by the J.& E. Stevens Company Cromwell, Conn., circa mid-1870s, the Cupola bank is arguably the nicest looking architectural mechanical bank ever made. The cupola is actuated by pressing a brass doorknob lever that causes the cupola to pop up, revealing the cashier, who rocks forward to indicate the slot into which the deposit can be made.
Made by F.W. Carpenter & Company. Harrison, N.Y., circa 1890, the Two-Story Burning Building bank is 18 inches tall and 9 inches wide. The iconic child’s toy depicts a building ablaze with a lady in distress on the second floor balcony. A fireman climbs a ladder and a second fireman tries to extinguish the flames that shoot out from the second-story windows with a hose hooked up to a hydrant on the corner. The catalog stated, “This is a dynamic toy with a great deal of exciting action. Very few examples of this toy have ever been discovered in such outstanding complete condition.”
There were more highlights on the sale’s second day, including a Hubley #45 Harley Davidson Hill Climber motorcycle from the 1930s. Ex-Perelman Toy Museum, the scarce and highly sought-after example was in pristine condition and zoomed to $20,400.
Also by Hubley, a 1915 transitional pumper (meaning the transition from horse-drawn to steam-driven vehicle) left the gallery at $18,000. Quite possibly the finest known example, it at one time sat on famed collector Donal P. Markey’s shelves.
Toy plane collectors chased a Vindex Toy Company airplane listed as “Lockheed Speedy Mail Plane,” 1929, to a final price of $13,200.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.rslauctionco.com or 917-991-7352.
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