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Money bank - Jolly Nigger

Jolly Nigger

  • Object:

    Money bank

  • Place of origin:

    Buffalo (manufactured)

  • Date:

    1882-1892 (manufactured)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Shepard Hardware Co. (manufacturers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cast iron, painted

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Ida Carroll

  • Museum number:

    B.31-1999

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This bank, based on a racialised cariacture of an African-American male, is one of many that were mass-produced in Buffalo, New York, between 1882-1892 by the Shepard Hardware Company. The bank operates by placing a coin in the right hand of the figure, and pressing a small lever on the back left shoulder which lifts the arm, causing the eyes to comically roll back into the head and the mouth to fall open for the coin to enter.

Physical description

Cast iron money bank in the form of a bust of a cariacatured African-American male, wearing a red button-through shirt with a yellow bow tie. The proper left arm is truncated, with a lever at the back of the shoulder which operates the right arm and hand (depicted in full with the arm bent). On placing a coin in the shovel-like hand and operating the lever, the figure simultaneously raises his hand, opens his mouth and 'swallows' the coin, while rolling his eyes. The back and front of the piece, the base and the right arm are made separately and fastened together with a screw behind each ear and another in the base.

Place of Origin

Buffalo (manufactured)

Date

1882-1892 (manufactured)

Artist/maker

Shepard Hardware Co. (manufacturers)

Materials and Techniques

Cast iron, painted

Marks and inscriptions

JOLLY NIGGER
BANK
PAT MAR 148
back of object; moulding

Dimensions

Height: 17 cm

Object history note

The money bank was donated to the Museum in 1999 as part of a larger bequest after the death of its last known owner, Ida Carroll, in 1995.

Historical context note

The bank is one of many that were mass-produced in Buffalo, New York, between 1882-1892 by the Shepard Hardware Company. The Jolly Nigger bank was one of only fifteen designs to have been patented in the ten years it was manufactured by the company. Shepard Hardware was the first to produce this particular design, of which many variations were later made. The J. & E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, Connecticut, bought the company in 1892. Stevens was the most prominent American manufacturer of mechanical banks during the mid-late nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, and has left a trail of designs. Unlike some manufacturers, Shepard Hardware printed the name and patent number on either the rear or underside of each bank.

The bank was manufactured for forty years by J. & E. Stevens, and was one of only three Shepard designs continued by the company. The Jolly Nigger was the only racialised design by Shepard Hardware, adding to J. & E. Stevens’ large range of racialised banks, many of which were in bust form. Whether it be an African American, Native American, Irish or Chinese character, the company found its niche in producing a vast range of imagery drawing influences from non-white people in America. The Jolly Nigger bank cost $0.95, and was therefore reasonably priced for middle-class families and would have been widely available and distributed throughout its time in production in both companies.

The term ‘nigger’ has been used to describe people of black (sub-Saharan) African heritage. From the 1800s it carried strong derogatory intent. The term is only used here in its original historical context, as the title of the object.

Descriptive line

"Jolly Nigger" cast iron money bank; Shepard Hardware Company, Buffalo, New York, 1882-1892

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

King, Constance Eileen. The Encyclopedia of Toys (New York: Crown Publishers. 1978)
Rogers, Carole. Penny Banks, A History and a Handbook (New York: E. P. Dutton. 1977)
Berenholtz, Bernard. and McClintock, Ines. American Antique Toys (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1977)
Rhodes, Isobel. America’s Mass Production of Race: The Novelty of the ‘Negro’ in the Material Culture of Childhood, 1880-1910 (Unpublished Master’s Degree First Term Essay, Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum, 2016)

Production Note

Cast iron is an alloy 
including carbon, and is melted in a blast furnace before being poured into a mould. It is likely that The Jolly Nigger was produced in a sand mould, which would have had the multiple components of the bank already impressed on it from a mock-up design created in 3-D by a carpenter.

Materials

Cast iron

Techniques

Painted; Casting

Categories

Black History; Currency

Production Type

Mass produced

Collection

Museum of Childhood

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