Antique mechanical banks are still popular today.Thank you for bringing in your Jonah and the Whale mechanical bank. It tells a fantastic story of ingenuity and economics.The manufacture of mechanical banks made of iron emerged in the 19th century. Iron was big business and flourished during the Industrial Revolution and in times of war. In the late 19th century, as different metals gained popularity, iron manufacture in the United States began to shift to utilitarian and decorative objects. It was during this period that iron manufacturers realized that there was a new market with mechanical banks. Everyone wanted a bank as it promoted savings and frugality.As demand increased, the banks became more fanciful to appeal to children. The term "mechanical banks" refers to the banks' feature of having moving parts. Fanciful bank designs such as baseball, jumping clowns, rifle shooting and biblical references (like your Jonah and the Whale model) were tools to promote a fun understanding of savings. These mechanical banks were so popular that they are still being made today in the United States and abroad. Reproductions of the antique designs can be purchased for less than $50, but the antique originals are highly sought after collectibles.When purchasing an antique mechanical bank, one needs to be careful to know what they are buying. As the value for antique mechanical banks has skyrocketed, unscrupulous dealers have been faking them.Unfortunately your bank has some missing parts. In perfect condition and with excellent paint, the Jonah and the Whale model can fetch over $10,000. Yours has a broken whale's tale and Jonah is missing; this lowers its value greatly but it retains a wonderful surface. It is difficult to evaluate because, by itself, the market value would be less than $1,000. However, if combined with another "as-is" model for the replacement parts, your bank could be worth $3,000 or more.I would estimate your piece at $1,500 for replacement value based upon its ultimate worth.
This article appears in the October 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine