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Ask About Antiques Saving Antique Banks

by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.

Metal banks have always intrigued the child and the collector. It was always more fun to save a penny if the penny was eaten by a frog or if it made a pig jump through a hoop. Adults have been just as fascinated with these moving banks as children have been. Books have been written about these banks, and several lists have been compiled showing the rarity and approximate value of examples of these banks. They can be found in the library or can be purchased from bookstores or other vendors.

Primarily, there are mechanical banks, registering banks (those that show the total amount of money deposited on the face of the bank), and still banks. Of course, the top of the line banks are usually mechanical that “do something” when a penny is inserted. Metal banks have been made since 1868 to the present day. Many of the old ones have been reproduced since 1950 in either iron or plastic. The value of a bank today is not determined by its age alone but by its rarity and condition. Some banks made during the 1900s are worth more than some examples produced earlier.

Still banks have become popular, as the prices on mechanical banks have skyrocketed. There were many different kinds of still banks. They can be manufactured from tin, cast iron, white metal, pottery, wood, glass or porcelain, and can be painted or lithographed. Numerous examples will be encountered that are in the form of a bank building or a safe. Again, the rarity and the condition largely determine the value of a still bank. There are literally thousands of different examples. Cast iron still banks top the list of most collectors, but tin and pottery examples are becoming more sought after as well. Advertising banks can fall into this category, especially banks that were issued by local financial institutions. I have two examples that were issued by local banks here in the Waynesboro area that encouraged me as a youngster to save pennies, nickels, and dimes. The market for still banks is not yet as extensive as it is for mechanical banks, but well-preserved examples occasionally demand a premium price. Collectors and reputable dealers often are your best sources of information about these banks. Direct contact with these people will give you a feel for the prices and the rarity of the still banks, or banks of other varieties as well.

Registering banks were made to look like cash registers, or a variety of other things. The amount of money deposited was totaled on the front of the bank. These don’t seem to be as valuable as other types of banks and they are usually not as old. However, as the scarce examples of still and mechanical get out of the reach of the average collector, these more recent examples of banks are being collected more intensely.

Mechanical banks were first produced about 1870. Any bank with moving parts that “does something” when the penny is deposited can be considered a mechanical bank. Examples produced before World War I are, of course, the most desirable. Rarity, condition and the amount of the original paint that is intact will determine the value of these animated banks. Worn paint can lower the value of a bank considerably. You should NEVER repaint an old metal bank. A new paint job destroys the value of the bank completely.

If you were to examine the price variations possible on an example of a certain bank, you would find that condition might have a great impact upon the value of the bank. For example, the Humpty Dumpty 7 3/4" mechanical bank, in working order and in excellent condition with 90% of its original paint intact would probably be valued on the market at about $1200. If it has less paint evident and the paint was generally worn across the surface of the piece, the price could slip to $1000. An extremely worn example might be worth $650 or less. This can help you to see the variations in price due to condition. Rarity also is important in the pricing of a bank and will add an important factor to determining the value of the piece.

Mechanical banks are among the most intriguing products of the Industrial Revolution. They were truly one of the most popular items that were sold in the 1800s. A wide range of manufacturers made these banks. These little toys subtly made statements about the spirit of the times. They mirrored the attitudes of people, their prejudices, the happiness and frivolity of childhood, and displayed everyday events that were both humorous and sometimes serious. The action of these banks was designed to not only delight the young child, but also to make him or her want to save pennies. The most popular were produced from 1868 until 1900.

Auction Action: [Recently sold at Matt Hurley’s Legacy Auction Center, 2800 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle, Pa. 17225]:
* John Bell Pottery Butter Mold, $2600
* John Bell Pottery pitcher with Bennington glaze, $1950
* Blue Staffordshire pitcher, $1800
* Greencastle Foundry cast iron bell, $500
* Brass Steam Engine whistle, $290
* Early bear trap, $160.

Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 100 years. He is an educator, counselor, and avid antique enthusiast as well as a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers. He has been a collector of antique American Art Pottery and has been a dealer for over 20 years. He is familiar with nearly all lines of American Art Pottery, twentieth century glassware, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau categories. If you have a question about antiques or collectibles, you can e-mail him at

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