Spotlight on the Dark Town Battery Bank

As the summer intern at the Madsonian Museum, I have been working at organizing and photographing the collection currently in storage. Opening a box reveals a surprising, unique and beautiful design every time. When I unwrapped The Dark Town – Battery bank, it was like getting the present you’ve always wanted. I had to pause on impact.

Lifting it out of the box, I thought it must be from around the 1920’s but it’s actually older than that.  A little research and a stamp on the bottom, reveal that The Dark Town Battery bank was designed and patented in 1875 by James H. Bowen. It was produced in 1888 by the J.&E. Stevens Company in Cromwell, Connecticut.  The company, which produced cast iron tools, became known for their innovative toys and mechanical banks.  This bank happens to be one of their classics.

Not only is it intricately detailed on every side and painted but the moving parts function in unison to create an interactive toy. Three cast iron boys play baseball, they are posed still, and waiting.  With the addition of a coin, the real enjoyment of this toy is expressed. One boy pitches, his thumb-lever grips the coin when you wind back his arm. At the press of a button, the pitcher releases the coin. The coin shoots through the air and the batter swings to hit it but misses. The catcher’s head bobs to look as the coin slips through a trap into the bank below. This exchange happens fast so you have to really watch it. (Or have a lot of coins to play it over and over again)

What fun this must have been for a kid then, and how cool it still is! It is amazing that after all this time the mechanics still function, a testament to its design and construction. As I look at it now, I think of how it communicates a part of the history of America’s pastime, baseball. Stamped out of cast iron, that timeless fun of summer baseball games will keep shining on the shelf of the Madsonian.

Photo by Michael Heeney

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