A penny saved is a penny earned, so said Benjamin Franklin more than 200 years ago. It was good advice then and it’s good advice today. With our up-and-down stock market and the shaky economy, financial advisers tell us to save, save, save.

Most of us, at some time in our lives, have promised ourselves we are going to save more or start saving, but something always comes along to upset our plans. Some people put their loose change in a jar or a can and are pleasantly surprised at how quickly it adds up. All of this came to mind when I visited the Historical Museum and admired its display of antique mechanical banks.

The golden age of American cast iron banks lasted from 1869 to 1910. There are two types of these banks — still and mechanical. Still banks are primarily repositories and usually take the form of an animal or human figure with a coin slot. Mechanical banks have moving parts and springs and a sequence of movements can be triggered either by simply depositing a coin or more commonly by depositing a coin and pulling a lever.

John Hall of Watertown, Mass., is credited with the first cast iron mechanical bank. “Hall’s Excelsior” was patented in 1869 and manufactured by J. and E. Stevens and Co. The charm and ingenuity of design made it one of the most successful. One of the most ingenious designers was Charles A. Bailey, who designed his first bank in 1880. His output was so prodigious that he is believed to have been responsible for 20 percent of all cast iron banks, many produced by the J. and E. Stevens Co.

The book I used as a reference had a couple of illustrations of banks. One was “Paddy and his Pig,” which might have been the inspiration for the “Piggy Bank.” Another was a man and his dog. The man was holding a hoop and when a coin was deposited and a lever pulled, the dog jumped through the hoop. We have a cast iron bank in our home. It has a patriotic theme in red, white and blue with the Liberty Bell on top. Drop in a coin, pull a lever, and it rings the Liberty Bell. But it’s no antique. It was made in Taiwan.

I hope you will visit the Vigo County Historical Museum and view its collection of antique mechanical banks. They are in a cabinet in the front entryway under the staircase.

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