Personal Effects, Feb. 17

Published 11:26 am Monday, February 19, 2018


Question: Jerry, Could you tell me what the value of this old cast iron “Mammy” bank is? I know that it’s an oldie but I’m not sure how old. Thanks for all your help.

Answer: Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s a reproduction. You know how I can tell? It’s the Philips head screw in the back that gives it away. 

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Early cast iron bank manufacturers didn’t use Philips head screws, they always used slotted screws. The Philips head screw didn’t come out until the early 1930s. 

However, don’t be too down, as it’s fooled many dealers, collectors and appraisers over the years. Readers, don’t be too cocky if your bank has a slotted screw, as they have faked these too.

Your piece is very “aged” and I use that in quotation marks as it’s not a natural aging or a natural patina. It takes decades or even a century of use, handling, playing with and exposure to indoor and outdoor elements to get the real and coveted patina. 

A lot of decorative and painted cast iron has been faked or enhanced for many decades. Things like banks, door stops, hitching posts and toys are some of the most prevalent. Fakers have done terrible things to these still and mechanical banks. 

A bit of clarification — still banks like yours, are just that, still. They don’t have moving parts. Mechanical banks have moving parts, like the dentist pulling a tooth or the girl jumping rope. 

Back to the faking — oldtime dealers used to bury, burn, cover in cow poop, coat them in bacon grease and bake them in ovens for days. I heard that one dealer took banks and stood them on fence post ends, for years and years, to rust and patina them. So in addition to the material and construction, you have to pay careful attention to the aging or patina. 

Now, add something else. Your bank is getting some age on it. Certainly not the age of an original, but I think that your bank dates to the 1960s. So it’s getting some age to it.

Black Americana is a genre hated by some and loved by others. Many African Americans are big ticket buyers. It’s a very collectible theme and originals with the right paint and patina can fetch the world.

There are several variations to the Mammy bank and originals date back as early as the 1870s. One mechanical Mammy bank that shows her feeding her baby, in remarkable condition, at a Bertolia Auction a few years ago, brought over $50,000! 

A bank like yours that’s right and proper, easily sells for $400. Your Mammy bank has a nice country, old timey look to it. We already know that it’s a reproduction and that’s going to effect the value. I think in a antiques mall or country decorators booth it would be priced at about $45. Thanks for sharing it.

Jerry asked that if you only can use one photo, to please use the bank.