Bruce Roberts

Mechanical banks began appearing shortly after the end of the American Civil War. These toy savings bank were made primarily of cast iron, with one or more moving parts. Distribution of mechanical banks hit its stride during the 1880s, continued strong throughout the 1890s, then fell off sharply after the turn of the century - thus paralleling the distribution of trade cards.

Trade cards that advertise mechanical banks are the most coveted (and expensive) of all trade cards. Several factors converge to make this so.

First off, there is the enormous collecting interest in the banks themselves. With many banks bringing solid five-figure prices, it's not surprising to see a coattail effect on bank trade cards.

Another thing that mechanical bank cards have going for them is that most of them are absolutely terrific trade cards from any objective graphics standpoint. The care lavished on their design may have been tied to the relatively high cost of mechanical banks. The fact that banks retailed for between $ .50 and $1.00 made them pretty expensive toys for their day, and manufacturers and distributors may have felt it worthwhile issuing particularly colorful, well-printed trade cards to advertise them.

Finally, mechanical bank trade cards are truly rare. Since mechanical banks were sold in limited quantities, only minimal numbers of trade cards to promote them were warranted. This means that today, there are very few of these highly-sought, top-quality trade cards available.

Full-color trade cards are known for sixteen mechanical banks:

American Eagle

Picture Gallery

Bad Accident

Punch and Judy

Base Ball

Speaking Dog


Stump Speaker

French's Automatic Toy

Trick Dog

Humpty Dumpty

Trick Pony

Jolly Nigger

Uncle Sam


Watch Dog Safe

There is also a full-color trade card for the Safe Deposit still bank (still banks, unlike mechanical banks, do not have moving parts).

To view any of these cards, click on its link shown above. Or, if you prefer, these cards can be viewed sequentially as a Slideshow.

The Trade Card Place