Blairsville museum display showcases collectible coin banks
Todays's investors may ponder how to portion their funds among stocks and bonds. But an exhibit currently on display at the Historical Society of the Blairsville Area museum hearkens back to a time when many people squirreled away their hard-earned cash in a coin bank.
Banks of all shapes and sizes can be seen in the display, from simple tins with a coin slot to more elaborate cast iron pieces.
The display was the brainchild of Hazel Johnston, vice president of the historical society and chairman of its programs committee.
A bank came in as a donation to the museum and caught her attention, she said: “I thought it was neat and thought people might have some around.”
Joy Fairbanks, who helped put the display together, said she was intrigued by some of the pieces that area residents loaned to the museum.
“They had clever little ways to get people to save money,” Fairbanks noted.
“A dime a day keeps it up to date” is inscribed on a bank that includes a built-in calendar counter. Each time a dime is inserted, the counter flips to the next day, a reminder to put a coin in the bank each day of the year.
Several banks in the display also serve as promotional items. Fairbanks said she and her husband picked up a bear-shaped Shoney's bank from one of that chain's restaurants. Other examples include a bank based on Mr. Peanut, the famous Planters marketing symbol, and a tin bank heralding the name of Hormel's pre-cooked meat product, Spam.
Others were used to advertise local financial institutions, which distributed the coin banks as a way to get their name into a household and to encourage children to save money.
One dated 1814 comes from the First National Bank of Glen Campbell and is on loan from Todd Getty.
Another bank in the shape of a house was produced by Marion Center National Bank with “Save for a Home” printed on the side. The circa 1946 piece was loaned by Getty's mother, Joanne.
Another version, from the Farmers and Miners Bank of Jacksonville/Kent, is shaped like a miner's lunch bucket and was printed with a promotion offering 4 percent interest on savings accounts. The bank belonged to John R. McIntire, Johnston's grandfather, who died a year before her birth.
“I was surprised when I found that one,” she said. “I knew my grandfather had something to do with the bank but didn't know what for sure.”
This past summer, she found paperwork that included stationery printed with her grandfather's name on it, listing him as vice president of that financial institution.
Accompanying some of the coin banks are old photographs of the local savings institutions themselves. The images include the original Blairsville Savings and Trust, which was organized in December 1925 in a new building at Market and North Walnut streets, now the site of the Sheetz convenience store.
Several of the pieces Johnston provided for the display include documentation of when and where she received the bank.
She has a white plastic replica of the U.S. Capitol building, circa 1957, on loan, along with a picture of her at age 4 receiving the bank as a gift.
Many children grew up with piggy banks, — a term derived from pygg clay, an economical orange clay that was often used to make pottery. These pots often were used to store saved money and, by the 18th century, were called “pig” or “piggy” banks. Eventually, the banks began to be produced in the shape of a pig.
One such traditional piggy bank in the display, on loan from Johnston, is among those teacher Hilda Swenk gave as gifts to her third-grade students at the former Third Ward Elementary School in Blairsville.
“I thought that pink pig was a lot bigger when I first got it, but now when I look at it, it's tiny,” Johnston said, noting that pink pigs were given to the girls and blue ones to the boys during her 1961-62 school year.
An older-looking cartoon pig bank is on loan from Judy Graff. A verse written on “The Wise Pig” bank reads: “Save a penny yesterday; Another save today; Tomorrow save another; To keep the wolf away.”
Johnston also is displaying a cartoon pig bank — a Porky Pig look-alike, which she said was brought to her by Santa Claus in the early 1950s.
A circa 1950s bashful-looking ceramic skunk holding a bouquet of flowers — reminiscent of the Flower character from Disney's “Bambi” — was given to Marna Conrad by her sister and now sits in the museum display.
A clear glass bank loaned by Polly Ringler originally belonged to her father, Jack Ringler. The bank is filled over halfway with coins she has picked up on the streets over the years, in the “find a penny, pick it up” sense.
A few examples of tin mechanical banks are on loan from Fairbanks' husband, Bob. On one of the banks an elephant holds the coin in its trunk and rolls it into the slot. On another, a clown sticks out its tongue to grab the coin and pull it into the bank.
Mark Dills loaned an intricate cube-shaped cast iron bank that sports a clock face on it.
Joy Fairbanks noted that, with cast iron banks, it can be difficult to tell whether the piece is an original antique or a modern reproduction.
“They say that the older ones have better fittings — the way the two halves fit together — than some of the newer ones that they did in a hurry to sell,” she said.
A miscellaneous bank item on display is an old plate from the First National Bank in Black Lick that was used to print checks.
“They would just take that plate to the printing press and have all of their checks printed up,” Fairbanks said.
With a genuinely old bank, there's always the possibility it may hold unknown treasure inside — old, collectible coins. But no such lucky discoveries were made while putting together the Blairsville museum display.
“Sometimes you just don't know what might be in there,” Fairbanks said.
The display will be continue at the museum, located at 116 E. Campbell St., Blairsville, through the end of March. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Clocks and timepieces will be showcased in the next museum exhibit. Tying in with that display, Tom Peel will present a program on a restored grandfather clock at the April 2 historical society meeting, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Blairsville Presbyterian Church.
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.