Standing in the corner beside our front door and to be honest never liked by me, but being heirloom (one keeps certain objects), this object to most visitors, is thought of as a lovely item. It never stole my heart, as to me it exploits racial stereotypes, exhibits racial caricatures.
When we redid the necessary works at our house we were very much surprised at the end of the works, that all the workmen, gathered their pennies and put them in a box, which was symbolically embedded in the concrete of our doorstep. There it lies hidden, unseen, but given as a token of good luck by every workmen that worked at our house. What a beautiful gift for us, knowing it is there. And that is the spot where I put this item.
I know that collecting odd, old, mechanical coin banks seems to have become one of the most fascinating and entertaining of hobbies, as “yesterday” mechanical banks were plentiful, and now they are gone!
Simply put a coin in the cupped hand, push a lever on the back, which tilts the arm, and the penny drops into the person’s mouth and down into the bank’s solid cast iron mar.
Children were aimed at, with these mechanical banks, to trick them into seeing saving as an exciting sport. Could children fall for the reproduction of racism and class-based oppression through various cultural media, including toys and games, or will objects, such as this one, give them an idea of the sociocultural movements emerging in history? Could these objects reflect existing beliefs and behavioral systems of a weird super (by the way non-existing) white race? Do toys or objects suggest and reinforce norms of behavior, one wonders…
I was raised with the belief of equality and when one day I showed up with a young man called “Sunday”, whom I met on the train going to school, a young African university student, wanting to see our country, he was received at home as a welcome guest and my dad showed him Bruges and Antwerp and typical Belgian sites. That’s how it went in my childhood home, always a seat and a plate free for a guest, no matter who he or she was. I met my American friend Maggie whilst both on our very own hitchhiking tour through England, invited her over to my country, which she did and it became a long lasting friendship.
I understand this object (so called memorabilia, very popular between the 1880’s when the Union troops withdrew from the South and the outbreak of the second world war) is scarce, as they were once banished from the consumer market, as during the Civil Rights movement, African-Americans felt these objects showed a painful stigma.
A wide variety of products were sold in the US using these images. It wasn’t until celebrities started buying them and even some African-Americans, that the object and the history of abuse and so called vision behind them, became known worldwide. Luckily we nowadays have enough books and films showing the horror of what happened to people, just because they were judged minor not having the appropriate “colour” by a certain amount of people.
It always makes me sad, so many violent stories of the past, but I believe one has to know them, tell about them, to just give respect to the victims of this sad part of human history!
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (one of the USA’s oldest black organisations), criticized the trade in racist memorabilia, but I do understand that history can’t be forgotten as then it will be erased… Some lessons have to be learned from the past, still now.
Because of the limitations of cast iron, these money banks never became over-elaborate in design. The names you find for them on the internet, don’t appeal to me at all: “Jolly nigger bank ??? /Americana negro money bank / Black Americana jolly negro mechanical bank cast …. “ And believe me they are worth some money apparently.
Mechanical toys were found in tombs of the Pharaohs and the Caesars. Some writers say Archimedes once amused himself by constructing them. They were operated by springs, and triggers, and balancing devices.
I love the French word for an object to collect money in: “tirelire” and to me a money bank is a childhood memory and traditional gift of my parents for every newborn baby. Even the idea that circulates on the net, to save per week a certain amount of money in a jar and ending up with a lovely sum at the end of the year, I think is great.
My euro coin collector always amazes people, I used it driving from Belgium to France (easy for paying the road tax “péage”) and people always tell me how handy it is. Well better than keeping your small pennies in a jar somewhere in the house and never use it (my husband doesn’t even dream of paying a small object in pennies), although every shopkeeper will tell you they need pennies!
For me one basic rule: no judging, no one is better than anybody else and as my wise husband always says: “You can learn a wise lesson from anybody you meet on the street, no matter what they look like, what job they do!”
Yes, saving is good but instead of using items enforcing stereotypes, why not learn from different races/people and take along their wisdom on our path?
Just this Apache blessing on its own, assures me that this is the right way:
May the sun bring you new energy by day.
May the moon softly restore you by night.
May the rain wash away your worries.
May the breeze blow new strength into your being.
May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.