Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Menagerie of Cast Iron Banks

As a sentient being, I am doubtlessly evolved from a magpie! So far, I've shared about two dozen collections with my blogging friends, and today I'll share another — cast iron animal banks.

In the 19th century, cast iron banks were a popular way to encourage children to be thrifty, and so banks were often produced in the form of animals. Sometimes, like the eagle and eaglets below, the banks were mechanical.

I love the fact that this bank has taxidermy eyes. This is a reproduction of a bank that was patented in 1883. One places a coin in the eagle's beak and then turns down the handle on the side.

As the handle is turned down, the eaglets rise slightly, the eagle bends forward, spreading her wings, and the coin drops into a slot in front of the chicks. The entire movement does give the impression that the eaglets get fed.

Here's another bird and reproduction.

This bank is "Nipper," the mascot and logo of RCA Victor. I use it in my studio as a paperweight.
At one point, I had nearly three dozen cast iron banks in the form of animals, many of them reproductions. In a spirit of downsizing, I've narrowed the collection to those I'm sharing today, including the following antiques.

This was one of my first banks; it came from a friend of the family who was ironically a democratic judge who collected elephants.

This Newfoundland dog has both a wonderful patina and a slight sheen; it's obviously been handled often. Wouldn't it be interesting to know all that has transpired around this old object?

Here's another marvelous patina. One is tempted to take these old banks apart, but putting a screwdriver to a bank like this could ruin that beautifully even patina.

With the cock of the head and her stance, this little doe has a natural look of alertness. All of these banks are between 4" and 6" in height.

I've saved my favorite bank for last. I find the design of this fox head unusually elegant — less a child's toy and more an object d'art.


  1. Mark,
    This is a wonderful "cast" of characters! Nipper was immediately recognizable but I think I love the elephant best. I love his solid stance and great detail. Another great collection.

    1. Hi, Steve - Those crescent moons are a great detail. Though barely visible, there is a star above each moon.

  2. Such a wonderful and fun collection, Mark. I also collect antique and vintage cast iron animal pieces: door stoppers, bookends, hitch post finials, etc. Your fox head looks like it could've topped a hitch post.

    1. Hi, Loi,

      Yes, I can definitely see Mr. Fox as a hitching post finial. I would love to see what cast iron pieces you've collected — perhaps a future posting?

  3. Dear Mark - I would love to see how you present all of your interesting collections in your home.
    I do like cast iron and particularly when it has acquired a slightly rusty patination. The fox is very handsome but I think I am veering towards the Newfoundland dog.
    I have quite a lot of cast iron in the garden, some of which came from an old graveyard in France many years ago - parts of broken grave crosses. They had been flung on the rubbish heap along with dead flowers in the corner of the graveyard. We retrieved them, and wrapped them in newspaper, but they were found by French customs when flying home. They opened the newspaper parcels, looked at us rather quizzically, laughed, and then wrapped them up again.

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      Your story of the customs officials finding the graveyard remnants reminds me of my trip back from Florence. While we were there, my friend Sandy found a piece of kitchen flooring about to be thrown out, and — because it had a hand-painted Greek key, it looked like an authentic relic from antiquity! She graciously ceded it to me, and like you, I wrapped up my treasure in newspaper. Customs never looked at it, but I worried whether they might be convinced that it was actually 2000 years old!

  4. Hello Mark,

    Iron banks were my introduction to antiques. When I was small, my aunt and uncle used to spend their summers in Cleveland, and all they wanted to do was go to antique shows to look for banks. We used to have that identical chicken bank, although I have not seen it in years--I wonder if it is still around, perhaps packed in a box.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hello, Jim,

      How is it that all those wonderful childhood treasures seemingly disappear one day without our notice? And the maddening thing is that at some point we realize that their current monetary worth is at least equal to their sentimental value!

      My very first antique purchase — when I was about eight — was from a barn in Maine that was literally filled to the rafters with antiques (this would have been in the mid 1950s). I can still smell the mustiness from carriages in that barn that hadn't been moved in about 50 years! And I bought for a dime apiece several glass slides that had been part of a magic lantern show. I think a spark must have gone off in my head that day, that I was connecting with another child from long ago over something that was pleasing to us both. The glass slides are long gone, but not the ability to be charmed with evidence of the past.

  5. I've always called these piggy banks, but maybe that's because they were in the form of a pig, but even banks made out of other objects have that generic name, (to me anyway).

    You do have an extraordinary collection, nay even a collection of collections. How's that museum wing coming along?!

    1. Dear Columnist,

      I can answer both you and Rosemary by saying that I am in the process of paring down or disposing entirely of most of my collections. Earlier this year I highlighted a collection of antique toy sewing machines:

      and this summer I sold the entire collection. What remains of current collections are items that are small (like daguerreotypes) or items that are flat (like trade cards). These fit into drawers or albums, so not only does the museum not require a new wing, but one might not even know that I was a collector by looking around my house.

  6. Dear Mark, I can't decide which of your Cast Iron Banks I like best. A favorite is the Fox head. It does have an elegant and handsome face.
    But Mark, what are you thinking? You can't dispose of most of your collections. It's like erasing part of your life or am I being too dramatic.

    1. Dear Gina,

      No, you;re not being too dramatic, but if you had seen, as I did, how collections were not only taking up space, but also collecting dust, you'd understand. Which is not to say that I don't still have collections that can go in flats and albums.

      Another thing about clearing out space — whether it be a closet, shelf or drawer — is that the Universe abhors vacuums, and those spaces will likely be refilled. So who knows, perhaps I am simply making room for new collections!

  7. I love your collection, most especially because the banks are fashioned in the images of animals. Of courser my favorite is the Newfoundland dog. :)

    I do understand about dust and downsizing collections since I collect all sorts of things that over the years have piled up and collected their own share of dust. (Nothing really seriously antique like you do, just things that amuse me for whatever reason.)

    I've sold many of my 'collectibles' but you know, Mark, there are a few I will always wish I hadn't sold - I still miss them.

    That's the problem with collecting things you love.

    1. Dear Yvette,

      Another regret can be the items that were passed up. I've been known to deliberate over purchases until someone else snaps them up, and several of those items — going back decades — have remained with me.