Morphy Auctions, Denver, Pennsylvania
Photos courtesy Morphy Auctions
Making connections with consignors has always been a staple of Morphy Auctions’ success. Dan Morphy and his father, Dr. John Morphy, are advanced collectors themselves and have developed many relationships with those having similar passions. When friends and colleagues find it’s time to pare down their collections, it’s only natural to seek out an auction house that is known and trusted.
This was the case when Bob and Judy Brady decided to sell a major portion of the extensive mechanical banks collection amassed by Bob over the past 40 years.
It started innocently enough. One day Bob Brady tagged along with a friend who searched for sleigh bells at auctions and antiques markets. At one of these auctions Brady purchased three Book of Knowledge cast-iron banks to give as gifts to his sister’s three children. That’s all it took.
Soon Brady was buying at local auctions and walking the endless rows of Renninger’s Antique Market, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, on early Sunday mornings searching for cast-iron toys and banks. He would also shop the Shupp’s Grove Antique Market and Black Angus Antique Mall—two other Keystone State staples located in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. Attending toy shows also provided opportunities to buy.
It is only natural that Brady became friends with like-minded collectors during these shopping ventures. He was soon introduced by Russ Harrington to Bernie Ellinghaus, who sponsored him to join the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America, a collecting club where he met, among other people, Dan Morphy and Dr. John Morphy.
As major toy shows began shutting down and Internet sales exploded, Brady did most of his buying of antique toys and banks via auctions. And again, this is where Morphy Auctions came into play. When it was time to downsize, Brady naturally went with who he knew.
Before the February 27 auction of their mechanical bank collection, Morphy had already hosted several other auctions for the Bradys as they downsized their toy, shaving mug, and still bank collections. When it was time to cull their mechanical bank collection, the Bradys again turned to Morphy.
In the sale catalog Brady explained that although he has a great relationship with the three major auction houses that are known for selling such items, he and Judy had tapped Morphy Auctions for the job. They had had great success with Morphy in the past, Dr. Morphy had been the Bradys’ medical advisor for years, and Morphy was well equipped to handle an auction in the current environment with social distancing. Morphy Auctions can accommodate 75 live bidders if they choose to attend. The auction house has ample staffing to handle phone bidders, and multiple live bidding platforms are in place.
“Bob Brady always shared his collection,” stated Sarah Stoltzfus, director of marketing for Morphy Auctions. “People knew what he had and knew he bought the best of what was available as well as variants of similar banks. So, if a figure of a bank, for example, was most commonly seen wearing a red shirt, Bob had an example, but he would also seek out and acquire the more rare variant of the figure wearing a white shirt. His collection was extensive and very highly regarded, which generated great interest and fantastic results.”
Bob Brady explained in the catalog how he wanted this auction to be interesting and appeal to a wide audience. “We decided to build the auction with a range of banks from the most common to the rarest, unusual color variations, tin and spring jaws, and the boxes that went with the banks.”
Brady did keep a small collection of favorites, but the majority crossed the auction block, resulting in a sale total topping the $2 million mark.
Shoot the Chute mechanical bank by J. & E. Stevens Company, Cromwell, Connecticut. Raise the extension until it is fully extended. Press the hook at the base of the chute, and place a coin in the slot. Place Buster Brown’s boat at the top of the chute and release. The boat comes down the chute and knocks the coin into the bank. This example was found in and came with its original box, which is 10½" x 7½" x 3½". It also came with a painted figure, an unpainted figure, and a pattern used to make the cart and figures. One of the top examples known, it has Don Markey provenance, is rated near mint-plus, and sold for $156,000 (est. $80,000/120,000).
Leading the way was the Shoot the Chute mechanical bank by J. & E. Stevens Company, Cromwell, Connecticut, which sold for $156,000 (includes buyer’s premium), well above the $80,000/120,000 estimate. It was found in and sold with its original box. It was operated by raising and extending the chute, placing a coin at the bottom of the chute, and taking Buster Brown in a boat to the top. As the boat traveled down the chute, it knocked the coin into the bank. Condition was key with Bob, and this bank was graded as being near mint-plus.
Girl Skipping Rope mechanical bank by J. & E. Stevens Company. Insert a coin between the squirrel’s paws, use the key to wind the mechanism, then press the lever located next to the girl’s left foot. The rope rotates, the girl moves up and down, and she kicks her legs and turns her head. The coin is then deposited. Measuring 8½" x 8" x 5½", with Wally Tudor and Stephen Steckbeck provenance, and rated near mint, it brought $73,800 (est. $60,000/90,000).
Another near-mint example, Girl Skipping Rope, also by J. & E. Stevens, sold for $73,800 (est. $60,000/90,000). To operate, a coin was placed between the squirrel’s paws, and the bank’s mechanism was wound with a key. Once the lever located next to the girl’s left foot was pressed, the rope rotated, the girl moved up and down, kicked her legs and turned her head, and the coin was deposited.
Merry-Go-Round mechanical bank by Kyser & Rex. When the handle is turned, bells chime, the figures revolve, and the attendant raises the stick and gathers any coins deposited on the stand. It came with the 7½" x 7" x 7" box and is rated near mint. It brought $39,600 (est. $50,000/75,000).
Horse Race/The Race Course mechanical bank with a straight base by J. & E. Stevens Company. Pull the cord to set the spring, place the horses’ heads opposite the star, deposit the coin, and the horses will race around the track. Described as a “stunning example,” it measures 6¾" x 6¾" x 5½", has Covert and Gertrude Hegarty provenance, and is rated as near mint-plus. It sold for $36,000 (est. $40,000/60,000).
In the top-ten sales were two other banks that came with their original boxes—the Kyser & Rex Merry-Go-Round, which sold for $39,600 (est. $50,000/75,000) and the J. & E. Stevens Horse Race with a straight base, which brought $36,000 (est. $40,000/60,000).
Mikado mechanical bank by Kyser & Rex. Place a coin under the right hat and turn the crank clockwise. A bell rings as the crank is turned, and the coin reappears under the left hat, where it will remain until another coin is deposited. When the process is repeated for a second coin, the first coin is then deposited. This is the blue base variation, and the lot included English coins. Measuring 7" x 5½" x 5½", it is rated near mint and sold for $81,000 (est. $80,000/120,000).
Another bank by Kyser & Rex, Frankford, Pennsylvania, that brought a strong final bid was a Mikado bank in the blue base variation, selling for $81,000 (est. $80,000/120,000). Users placed a coin under the right hat, and as the crank turned clockwise, a bell rang, and the coin reappeared under the left hat and stayed there until the process was repeated with another coin, at which time the first coin would be deposited into the bank.
Chimpanzee mechanical bank by Kyser & Rex, Frankford, Pennsylvania. Move the slide piece toward the monkey’s logbook. This causes the coin slot to open, the monkey to lower his arm and head as if logging the deposit into the logbook, and a bell to ding that signifies he has received the deposit. It’s 5½" x 5½" x 6", has Stephen Steckbeck provenance, and is rated near mint-plus. It sold for $63,000 (est. $40,000/60,000).
A Kyser & Rex Chimpanzee mechanical bank sold for $63,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). The coin slot appeared by moving a slide piece toward the monkey’s logbook. This caused the monkey to lower his arm and head as if logging the deposit into the bank as a bell rang to indicate a deposit had been received.
Roller Skating mechanical bank by Kyser & Rex. Place a coin in the slot on the roof and press the lever. The skaters glide to the rear of the rink as the coin falls into the bank, and the man turns as if to present a wreath to the little girl. It measures 4" x 8¾" x 8¾" and is rated near mint. It sold for $43,050 (est. $50,000/80,000).
Rounding out the top ten were a Kyser & Rex Roller Skating bank that sold for $43,050 (est. $50,000/80,000) and a quite rare J. & E. Stevens Darktown Battery white shirt variant that sold for $38,400 (est. $25,000/40,000).
Picture Gallery mechanical bank by Shepard Hardware Company. Place a coin in the figure’s hand and pull the lever on the back of the bank, and the coin is deposited. A second lever is used to move the letter and number display. When the letter is shown in the window, the number that corresponds to the letter’s numerical placement in the alphabet appears in the window above the figure. An object that begins with this letter also appears in the window to the right. Measuring 8½" x 8¼" x 2¾", it has Bill Jones provenance and is rated near mint. It sold for $33,000 (est. $30,000/45,000).
Other mechanical bank manufacturers were also among the top sellers. Picture Gallery by Shepard Hardware Company, Buffalo, New York, sold for $33,000 (est. $30,000/45,000). A Mama Katzenjammer bank manufactured by Kenton Hardware Company, Kenton, Ohio, had been in the Kenton showroom and sold for $31,200 (est. $30,000/50,000).
Mama Katzenjammer mechanical bank by Kenton Hardware Company, Kenton Ohio. Insert a coin in the slot in mama’s back. Her eyes roll up and return to their original position. This is the white face variation. It measures 7" x 4½" x 3½", and its provenance includes the Kenton showroom, Wally Tudor, and Stephen Steckbeck. It is rated near mint and sold for $31,200 (est. $30,000/50,000).
Mickey Mouse Type 1 tin mechanical bank by Saalheimer & Strauss, Germany. Pull Mickey’s ear, and his tongue appears. Place a coin on his tongue and let go of his ear as the coin is deposited into the bank. Measuring 7" x 3½" x 2" and rated near mint, it sold for $28,800 (est. $15,000/20,000).
Mickey Mouse Type 3 tin mechanical bank by Saalheimer & Strauss. Pull Mickey’s ear, and his tongue appears. Place a coin on his tongue and let go of his ear as the coin is deposited into the bank. It’s 7" x 3½" x 2" and rated near mint. It sold for $28,800 (est. $15,000/20,000).
Mickey Mouse Type 4 tin mechanical bank by Saalheimer & Strauss. Pull Mickey’s ear, and his tongue appears. Place a coin on his tongue and let go of his ear as the coin is deposited into the bank. It measures 7" x 3½" x 2" and is rated near mint. It sold for $31,200 (est. $15,000/20,000).
European banks were also part of the Brady collection, with several examples of Mickey Mouse tin mechanical banks manufactured by Saalheimer & Strauss of Germany doing well. The Type 4 variation of Mickey playing a squeeze box sold for $31,200; Type 1 with Mickey holding his hands sold for $28,800, as did Type 3 with Mickey having one hand on his hip and the other hand pointing a finger up. All these banks were activated by pulling Mickey’s ear, which made his tongue appear. A coin placed on his tongue was deposited as one let go of his ear. All had estimates of $15,000/20,000.
“We have offered limited live bidding with appropriate CDC guidelines in place since the pandemic, and the Bob and Judy Brady auction was no different,” Stoltzfus stated. “Our phone lines were heavily used; absentee bidding not as much, but our online and live audience of about 15 to 20 people—those were the most active.”
“Morphy Auctions was honored the Bradys entrusted us with Bob’s collection,” Stoltzfus stated, adding, “Bob was very involved in the process of putting this auction together, which greatly affected the success of the event. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with Bob and Judy.”
For more information, contact Morphy Auctions at 1-877-968-8880 or visit the website (www.morphyauctions.com).
Cupola mechanical bank by J. & E. Stevens Company. Push the doorbell lever, and the top of the cupola pops up, exposing the cashier, who pivots back and returns to his forward position. Insert a coin in the slot. To reset, lower the cupola to its original position. Measuring 8½" x 5¾" and with Don Markey provenance, it is rated near mint. It sold for $28,800 (est. $30,000/40,000).
Darktown Battery—White Uniform mechanical bank by J. & E. Stevens Company. Place a coin in the hand of the pitcher. Press the lever, and the coin is swiftly pitched. As the batter misses, the coin is safely deposited by the catcher. This is an extremely rare white uniform variation. Measuring 7½" x 9½" x 3", it is rated near mint. It sold for $38,400 (est. $25,000/40,000).
Germania Exchange mechanical bank by J. & E. Stevens Company. Place a coin on the goat’s tail and turn the faucet. The goat deposits the money and presents to the depositor a glass of beer. Measuring 7½" x 6" x 3½", with Covert and Gertrude Hegarty provenance, and rated near mint, it sold for $36,000 (est. $30,000/50,000).
Dentist mechanical bank by J. & E. Stevens Company. Place a coin in the left pocket of the dentist, and press the lever located at the feet of the figures. The dentist extracts the tooth and falls backward against the gas bag. At the same time, the patient falls back in his chair and throws up his arms. This rare blue base variation measures 7" x 9½" x 4" and is rated near mint-plus. It brought $33,825 (est. $40,000/60,000).
Boy Robbing Bird’s Nest—Tree mechanical bank by J. & E. Stevens Company, Cromwell, Connecticut. Raise the limb of the tree to position, place the coin in the slot, and press the lever. As the boy falls the coin disappears into the tree. Measuring 8" x 6½" x 3½", with Bill Norman provenance, it is rated near mint-plus and made $33,600 (est. $25,000/40,000).
Hold the Fort—Five Holes mechanical bank. Pull back the ring until the rod is held in position by the lever. Tip the bank, lay the coin on the target, and drop the shot into the cannon. Place a coin into the position of the bull’s eye. Press the trigger, and the ball will shoot the coin and knock it into the bank. Measuring 6½" x 7¼" x 3½", it has Clive Devenish provenance and is rated near mint-plus. It sold for $27,600 (est. $15,000/25,000).
Mason mechanical bank by Shepard Hardware Company, Buffalo, New York. Place a coin in the hod and press the lever. This causes the hod carrier to lean forward and toss the coin into the brick wall. The bricklayer raises his arms as if to receive the coin. This example was found in and came with the original shipping box. The box is 8½" x 8" x 4½". With Don Markey provenance, the bank is rated as near mint-plus, and it sold for $32,400 (est. $25,000/40,000).
Motor Bank mechanical bank by Kyser & Rex. Wind the car with the key. Push a coin in the slot, and the car moves forward as bells chime. One of four or five known, it is all original. The wind-up mechanism works properly. It’s 4½" x 8" x 3" and has F.H. Griffith provenance. Rated excellent-plus/near mint, it sold for $31,200 (est. $30,000/50,000).
Originally published in the May 2021 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2021 Maine Antique Digest