WHAT: Cast-iron banks have been a popular collecting category since their origin in the late 19th century. First created as a toy, they were a gimmick, a frequent giveaway to promote savings or businesses.
Original cast-iron banks break down into two categories: still or mechanical. The first type stays motionless wherever placed. Many were molded into the shape of a building, often after the bank that handed them out. A slot for coins signaled their purpose. In contrast, mechanical banks have moving parts with springs or levers. Action made them irresistible to kids of all ages, because inserting coins activated movement.
MORE: Original mechanical banks can bring serious sums. Lesser demand for still banks keeps their values lower, unless they are sought-after because of subject matter or make.
Earlier this season, a near-mint mechanical merry-go-round bank by Philadelphia's Kyser & Rex sold for $55,350, including buyer premium, in a toy and doll auction at Morphy's. Despite signs of wear and areas of missing paint, the bank was considered an outstanding example by the house. Another plus was that it came from a known, prestigious collection.
SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: Cast-iron banks were introduced at about the same time as cast-iron toys. At the time, local foundries churned out a variety of wares, so moving into toys and banks was a logical moneymaker. American firms Kyser & Rex, J & E Stevens and Shepard Hardware Co. were major producers during the early 1900s.
HOT TIP: Condition is paramount in mechanical banks. Original is best, especially in paint. Replacements of mechanical parts are tolerated, provided they are well done and not excessive.
BOTTOM LINE: Smart collectors know that old mechanical banks of value have been copied and reproduced for so long that some older, well-made reproductions now have value. Cheaply made shlock versions can be easily spotted by their uneven surface.