Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Field Trip: Kidd's Toy Museum

Reflecting on the past is always a interesting game we play. And while I typically blog about silliness, comic book heroes, and useless pieces of information, I don't want to slip an air of comedy when presenting the next few images of the historic lead banks.

Mechanical lead banks and iron banks were a major craze throughout America from the late 1800s to the early part of the twentieth century. And with many trends, they reflected the sympathies and attitudes of the eras. That isn't to say that all of this country was racist before the Civil Rights Movement, but stereotypical presentations of minorities were much more typical and much less frowned upon.

While we might look at these objects in disgust of a ignorant, bigoted, and less-enlightened era. These "toys" were marvelous little contraptions, sometimes with intricate mechanics. Mouths would open to hold deposited coins and arms would swing. In some of the other banks not shown in this photo series, cannons would fire at targets, opening levers to drop coins in slots; others featured mean chopping wood, women dancing, and a myriad of other motions.

In honesty, to call these novelties "toys" is really misleading. While we think of banks as something for children, these were promotional items, advertising gimmicks, and pieces of political propaganda. A rubber Nixon mask would be the most modern-day counter part to these objects--something comical and playful but not intended for children.

The question whether we have progressed beyond these objects that make us jeer today however still lingers. If you think of people from more contemporary American advertising and the images below, the parallels might bother. Aunt Jemimah and Uncle Ben have somewhat disappeared from popular culture, but the similarities between those caricatures and these banks is too similar to be ignored. they might not be part of advertising any more, but as part of slang, the two names are now part of a growing collection of derogatory terms thrown about when people feel appropriate.

So what's the point? Is the point to rub our collective noses in the past? In a sense, yes. This history is important to know. And if we ignore it and turn our backs to it, who knows how even more ignorant we will become.

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