Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Penny Saved ...

By: Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections
The holidays are over, it’s a new year and here at the Museum we are already working on preparing for the opening of the 2010 exhibitions in April. The days are getting longer day by day and it seems like time for a fresh start. Undoubtedly that’s one reason many people make Resolutions to do something new, something better, or something different on New Year’s Day.
Many people resolve to be more careful with their money in the New Year, perhaps to save more than they did during the previous year. This idea may seem especially appropriate these days, but it’s an idea with a long history and it’s one that’s tangibly represented in the collections of the Fenimore Art Museum.
“Still banks” or what are commonly called “Piggy Banks” date to antiquity, but in the 19th century new forms were introduced to encourage children to save their pennies. In addition, new mechanical banks appeared in the late 19th century that combined the serious business of saving money with the fun of a toy.
At the same time, the modern celebration of Christmas was developing a special emphasis on children, with wrapped presents under indoor trees delivered by the intrepid Saint Nicholas. So this ceramic bank is particularly appropriate—a snowball topped by the old, thinner model of Santa Claus. Parents could give their children a bank like this on Christmas and encourage them to save their pennies in the coming year.
Or the message could be more direct, as in this still bank in the form of…a bank. A sturdy metal model, this bank was undoubtedly intended to remind one of the full-sized variety, a safe place to deposit one’s funds.

Mechanical and semi-mechanical banks gained in popularity from the end of the 19th century into the 20th. These banks required one to do more than simply drop a coin in a slot. First a coin was placed, then a lever was pulled or a switch turned and the device shot, dropped or slid the coin into the bank.
Mechanical banks reached the height of their popularity in the first half of the 20th century but persisted much longer. The Mercury Rocket Bank shown here brought the concept into the space age—or at least the Buck Rodgers era. To make a deposit in the Rocket Bank, one placed the coin in the slot on top, then pulled back the spring-loaded “spaceman” to fire the coin into the bank. These rocket banks were often bought by banks and given away to customers’ children as promotional items.

With banks like these, maybe keeping that New Year’s resolution to save would be easier!
top: Saint Nicholas Bank. Ceramic, Maker Unidentified, 19th century. N0127.1958
middle: Still Bank. Metal. Maker Unidentifed, 19th Century. N0200.1968
bottom: Semi Mechanical Bank. Metal. Duro Mold and Manufacturing Company, Detroit, Michigan, ca. 1950. N0307.1956a-b.


MacDaddyRico said...

I'd been researching these intriguing rocket ship banks for the past several years, and very much enjoy the journey they've been taking me on! This magazine article tells their story: http://www.go-star.com/antiquing/space-banks.htm

This museum has a complete set: http://airandspace.si.edu/collections/group/social-and-cultural-space-collection?start=0&rows=12&view=grid&q=bank#objects

MacDaddyRico said...

Each year I travel to Cape Canaveral for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's annual Astronaut Autograph & Memorabilia Show, and have been assembling a unique collection of signed specimens.

I hope to auction them one day in the future, but until then I'll keep adding to this one-of-a-kind-in-the-world collection...

Blog Widget by LinkWithin