Collectors have known about the possible existence of an unseen mechanical money bank by J. & E. Stevens of Connecticut for more than half a century. It’s just that one had never turned up – until now.
It was back in 1955 that a dealer in
Americana, rummaging in a second-hand shop in upstate New York,
happened upon an advertisement in Ehrich's Fashion
Quarterly dated 1884. A previously unrecorded 'baby on a
sled' novelty bank was pictured alongside the title Coasting
Bank, the price of 95 cents and the description: Upon
placing the sled at the top of the hill and pulling the string, the
sled swiftly makes a descent until it meets an obstruction that
lands the coaster on his head and deposits the coin in the
An article was promptly written for the
April 1955 issue of Hobbies Magazine that concluded
"this bank is not known to be in any collection and the catalogue
offers us our first information about it".
Discussions and conjecture regarding the
existence or otherwise of the Coasting Bank have
continued since, but events took a turn earlier this year when a
lady, clearing out her mother-in-law's attic in Peebles, Scotland,
took an enigmatic find to the Antiques Roadshow. There the
Coasting Bank (it was titled to the cast-iron slide)
was seen by miscellaneous expert and managing director of Bonhams
Knightsbridge, Jon Baddeley, who hailed its discovery and suggested
it might be a very valuable find.
Of course, valuation on the
Roadshow can be a double-edged sword if you are one of the
specialists like Mr Baddeley. The glow of publicity is always
welcome but - as contracted by the BBC - the expert is not allowed
to sell the discovery on the owner's behalf. Keen to sell, the
owner, when pointed in the direction of other Edinburgh auction
houses as alternatives, plumped for Lyon & Turnbull.
It was not a bad decision given L&T's
transatlantic marketing alliance with
Freeman's of Philadelphia. Freeman's unveiled it, with
much fanfare, at the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America annual
banquet on September 28. And collectors loved it.
The history of the bank still merited
research. Although there is no patent information available for the
Coasting Bank, certain features warrant an attribution to
the illustrious bank designer Charles A. Bailey. Working for J.
& E. Stevens Company from the 1880s to about 1915 when he
established himself as an independent designer and manufacturer, he
was responsible for many great mechanical banks, including the rare
Bismark Pig Bankand the Germania Exchange
Bank, both featured alongside the Coasting
Bank in the Ehrich's Fashion
Bailey had a penchant for utilising a
lead-zinc alloy in his designs and the Coasting
Bank's cast-lead figure, therefore, serves to reaffirm
It's possible, given their similarities in
terms of the action and the overall design, that the
Coaster served as the predecessor to the Shoot
the Chute mechanical bank designed by Charles A. Bailey
for J. & E. Stevens and patented in 1906.
The Coasting Bank featured in
Freeman's American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction on
November 13 in Philadelphia. Quite what it was worth was anyone's
guess but the sensible money was on a price somewhere midway
between the estimate of $30,000-50,000 and the record for a cast
bank (a price in excess of $400,000 paid during the zenith of the
collecting boom). Bringing this remarkable tale to a conclusion, it
sold at $220,000 (£143,790) to a US collector.
The full story will feature in a Christmas
edition of the Antiques Roadshow.