Monday 19 August 2019

Treasures: On the money

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

The collection of NatWest pigs to attract investors
Mr Money
Daniel O'Connell's jug

Does anyone remember Mr Money? He was a battery-powered, robot-shaped, money box, made by Tomy for Radio Shack in the 1980s. Mr Money was great fun. When you put a coin in his hand and pushed down lightly, his eyes popped open as he tossed the coin into his mouth. Then he chewed, rocking from side to side. When he was finished, he licked his lips.

Now, Mr Money is a collectible. He won't make you rich but, box fresh and complete with packaging, he could fetch up to €150.

Earlier mechanical money banks can be 10 times as valuable. The dog-shaped Bonzo Bank, made in tin and dating from the late 1920s, has a lot in common with Mr Money. The bank is 18cm high with a verse on the front that reads: "Press the lever lightly, Watch my tongue appear, Save a penny nightly, Make your fortune here." It does, pretty much, what it says on the tin. The user places a coin on the dog's outstretched tongue and Bonzo laps it up.

The Bonzo Bank was made by Saalheimer & Strauss in Germany for the American market. It's not the kind of thing that turns up in Ireland on a regular basis, but there's one in Mealy's winter sale, which takes place next Tuesday and Wednesday. The money bank is in full working order and estimated to sell between €1,500 and €2,000.

The Bonzo Bank is what's known as a "cross collectible." That means that it's of interest to people who collect money banks (there are plenty of these in America) but also to collectors of Bonzo memorabilia.

Now almost forgotten, Bonzo was a cartoon character who nearly made it to the big time but was pipped at the post by Mickey Mouse.Bonzo began life in a British magazine around 1918 and was known as 'The Studdy Dog' after his creator, George Ernest Studdy. In 1922, by popular demand, he was renamed Bonzo. Now, he looks a bit creepy. Then, people loved him. In 1997, Sy Schreckinger wrote in Antique Toy World Magazine that Bonzo became "the star of the only fully-animated film series of cartoons produced in Great Britain during the era of silent movies."

One of the first pieces of neon signage in Piccadilly Circus was dedicated to Bonzo.

But Bonzo's fame never spread across the Atlantic. Schreckinger reflects that "perhaps the tremendous competition from Walt Disney's beloved megastar, Mickey Mouse, factored in the obscurity of both the British pup and its creator."

Saalheimer & Strauss, manufacturers of the Bonzo Bank, hedged their bets. In 1928, they acquired the rights from Walt Disney to make one of their tin mechanical banks in the shape of Mickey Mouse. Like any Disney memorabilia, the Mickey Mouse Bank is hugely collectible. This July, one sold at Hake's Americana and Collectibles Auctions for $8,437 (approx. €7,240).

Among collectors, money banks are categorised as mechanical, still, or register banks (the latter indicated the value of the coins deposited). The most ingenious ones were made of tin, lead, or cast iron. Among the most famous manufacturers, the American company J&E Stevens made cast iron banks in Connecticut from the 1870s.

One famous cast iron bank by J&E Stevens, dating from 1879, is made in the shape of a rider sitting on a mule. Put in a coin and press the lever and the mule kicks out, throwing the rider over its head. It's called 'I Always Did 'Spise a Mule'. It's been reproduced many times, but an original would be worth at least €1,000.

Early, pre-20th century, ceramic money boxes can also be valuable but they're rare because most of them had to be broken to get the money out. Many were shaped like pigs, hence the name piggy bank.

Twentieth-century piggy banks are collectible, but often not particularly valuable. Mr Pig ceramic money boxes, for example, made in the 1920s by Ellgreave Pottery in Staffordshire, England, can be worth around €100.

Institutions of finance were quick to cash in on piggy banks. From the 1950s, banks lured in customers with offers of free money boxes, some of which are now collectible.

In 1983, National Westminster Bank in the UK devised a family of (truly revolting) pigs to attract young investors. If you opened an account with £5, you received a baby Woody piggy bank, made in ceramic by Wade of Stoke-on-Trent. In six months' time, if your account contained £25, you received Annabel. And so on until, if you had saved £100 by the end of two years, you were given Sir Nathaniel Westminster. The offer ended in 1988.

According to David Chown of the Wade Collectors Centre, C&S Collectables, Wade produced more than 5 million pigs but, since £100 was a large enough sum at the time, relatively few children managed to complete the set. The rarest, and consequently the most valuable, of the original pigs is not surprisingly Sir Nathaniel Westminster (now worth €70 to €80).

In 1998, a further pig, Cousin Wesley, was introduced to promote a NatWest savings bond for children, which required an investment of £1,000. An authentic Cousin Wesley is now worth between €225 and €280. But beware of fakes - there are a lot of them about.

Mealy's winter sale takes place at their Castlecomer Saleroom, Co Kilkenny, next Tuesday, November 7, and Wednesday, November 8 at 11 am.

In the Salerooms


Somebody must have paid a small fortune for the Irish silver canteen of cutlery (est. €3,500 to €4,500) coming up for sale at JWA's Fine Jewellery & Silver Auction next Tuesday, November 7. "The total weight of silver is seven-and-a-half kilos," Weldon explains. "The downside is that it won't go in the dishwasher."

The canteen was made by Newbridge Silverware in 1996 and has never been unwrapped.

Other highlights of the sale include a diamond single stone pendant (est. €8,000 to €12,000); an antique diamond line brooch (est. €2,000 to €3,000); and two gold coins. One, from 1927, is $20 dollars approx. (est. €800 to €1,200); the other, dated 1894, is $10 dollars approx. (est. €500 to €700).

The auction takes place in Cow's Lane, Temple Bar, D8, at 2pm.


The Irish National Antiques Art & Vintage Fair will take place in the South Court Hotel, Limerick City, on Saturday, November 11, and Sunday, November 12, 11am to 6pm.

Expect more than 100 stands from dealers across the country including vintage fashion and accessories from Eily Henry of Co Waterford; Sharon O'Keeffe from Limerick; and the UK dealer, Cassandra Dorer.

Dealers in jewellery include: JW Weldon; Matthew Weldon, and Marie Curran (all of Dublin); Gerd & Helmut Peters from Germany; and Eddie Moylan from Co Kerry.

Garry McConnell of Galway will be showing a collection of militaria; Lake View Antiques, Co Tipperary, will show Murano glass and chess sets; Charles & Sarah Vivian, Co Cork will bring books; and Denise Sinnott from Dublin will show French Antiques. Organised by Hibernian Antique Fairs, admission is €5.


Daniel O'Connell's jug

Who poured boiling water into Daniel O'Connell's jug? The large (33cm high) flowery jug (pictured) has a bit of a crack to the base and comes with a letter explaining how it happened.

This won't detract from its value though.

Whoever buys a jug that once belonged to The Liberator, also known as The Emancipator, Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847), won't be using it to pour the milk. The jug (est. €2,000 to €3,000), along with documentation regarding its provenance, is coming up for sale in Mealy's next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Other O'Connell-related items in the sale include a large chased silver salver, by Richard Sawyer of Dublin (1839), engraved with the Daniel O'Connell crest (€est. €5,000 to €7,000); and an imposing plaster bust of O'Connell (est. €2,000 to €3,000) after John Hogan (1800-1858).

There is also a portrait of O'Connell, attributed to Nicholas Joseph Crowley (1819-1857), (est. €2,000 to €3,000).

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