Vintage Banks – Still & Mechanical

One of the more popular collectibles over the years has been banks. Not only were they a way to entice children to save but also – in some cases – provided a means of entertainment encouraging them to do so. Banks basically fall into two (2) categories: Still and Mechanical.

Many different types of banks were produced in each category, in many different materials, and themes.

Some of the more common materials used for manufacturing banks were:

  • Cast iron
  • Tin
  • Pottery
  • Paper-mache
  • Glass
  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Ceramic
  • Mixed materials: metal, wood, tin, etc.

 Still Banks

The first still banks produced – circa 1793 – were commonly referred to as ‘penny banks’. These banks didn’t have any moving parts but rather a child learned to save their pennies by dropping them into a slot. These banks took many forms from buildings to miniature safes to the ‘piggy bank’ we recognize today.



Mechanical Banks

In time, these still banks evolved into the mechanical banks that have become very collectible today – and I might add widely reproduced. These mechanical banks were commercially produced and then sold more as a toy that had the added incentive of causing children to save just to see the action.

In most cases, the movement was activated by either the use of a lever or the weight of the coin. A very few banks are known to be operated by the turning of a crank. The internal action of some banks was operated by a clockwork mechanism where the key, crank or knob would wind up the inside spring. Then when the lever was pushed/pulled/turned a spring would activate the bank. In this case, these banks would return to their original position once the action had been completed.

There were other banks that used simple springs. These banks were not clockwork and were more basic using tension and retensioning to cause the action. Once the action had been triggered, the part that moved would have to be returned to its original position, i.e., reset by the user before action could be taken again.

There were also a few mechanical banks that used timing to create the movement. In other words, one action would lead to another, and another, and so on in a progression that resulted in the coin being deposited into the bank. There were also a few banks that were musical mechanicals like Little Jocko.

In addition to the typical action bank we think of when someone says ‘mechanical’ there were other types of ‘moving’ banks produced. Some of these were:

  • Trick Drawer
  • Battery-operated
  • Wind-up
  • Gum & Candy Dispensers

Little Jocko

While the collecting of old banks is one of the more interesting collectibles out there, you may find it one of the more difficult collectibles to go after. However, if you decide to start collecting old banks there are two things to focus on particularly with reference to mechanical banks – action and rarity.

Rarity can be due to limited production, perhaps the bank did not sell well originally and few are available, or it may have been too delicate and was easily broken and discarded. A reference used and accepted by most collectors is the rating system developed by Mr. F. H. Griffith of New Jersey. In his system each bank is given a number rating based on its rarity and mechanical action. When you add the two numbers together you get a general idea of the bank’s value. The lower the number the more valuable the bank. To see more vintage banks visit this link.

And for some excellent reference guides, check out these books available on


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