Mechanical Bank Goes from World’s Fair to World Record

Clad in age-defying cast iron, antique mechanical banks made another bulletproof run across the auction block June 4th at RSL’s 499-lot sale featuring the John Jirkofsky collection. Partner Ray Haradin, along with Steven and Leon Weiss – said the sale held at Opfer Auctions’ gallery attracted around 160 online bidders and another 76 bidders in the gallery and on the phones. Along the way to its $1,073,100 total, the sale set a number of records for prices paid on individual banks.

“Everyone waited with anticipation for the final lot, which was the top lot of the sale – a pristine, multicolored J. & E. Stevens mechanical bank commemorating the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair,” said Haradin. “Only about five of the color variation we offered are known to exist; 99% of those produced were painted gold with silver highlights.” Estimated at $14,000-$18,000, the bank depicting Christopher Columbus sitting on a rock, with the Santa Maria at one side and an Indian chasing a buffalo on the other side, “discovered” its true market value at a record $45,325 (all prices inclusive of 22.5% buyer’s premium).

A Western art enthusiast, the buyer of the World’s Fair bank also lodged the winning bid on a very rare Indian Head bust-style mechanical bank, probably the best of three known examples. Against an estimate of $9,000-$12,000, the coveted money box sold for $19,600.

“Mechanical bank buyers showed no fear. They jumped right in,” said Haradin. “Even in the middle stretch of the sale, the more-common banks were bringing terrific money.” Examples Haradin cited include: Butting Buffalo, $33,075; Chimpanzee, $24,500; Two Frogs, $15,925; Humpty Dumpty, $12,375; ’Spise a Mule bench version, $15,925 and jockey version, $8,270.

Haradin said that the bullish prices paid for banks that are not ordinarily hard to find could be directly related to condition. “To give you an example, the Toad on Stump bank, which previously was part of the Larry Feld collection, had been estimated at $3,500-$4,500. It was in particularly beautiful condition, which brought up the price to a record $11,025. Condition still leads the market.”

A continued interest in German painted spelter banks was evident in the sale, with a circa-1920 Black Boy with Bouquet of Flowers achieving a record price of $9,190. Haradin foresees a long run ahead for this particular still-bank specialty. “Spelter banks were the subject of the main lecture at the still bank convention, and there’s a book coming out on the subject. Those are always good signs.”

Cast-iron American still banks had a successful day at auction, as well. A boxed example by Arcade replicating a Buick Yellow Cab with a flattop roof raced to a record-setting $7,320 against a $4,000-$6,000 estimate.

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