DENVER, Pa. – The Stephen and Marilyn Steckbeck collection of mechanical banks will be sold on Oct. 27 by Morphy Auctions. Assembled over a 53-year period, the collection of almost 500 banks could bring between $5 million and $8 million.
“The rarity and condition of the banks is astounding,” said Dan Morphy. “The Steckbecks own many of the finest known examples of quite a few mechanical banks.”
Stephen Steckbeck, a native of Ft. Wayne, Ind., saw his first mechanical bank in 1938. “I was seven years old and was visiting a school friend whose father was president of a large bank in Ft. Wayne. The father was also a friend of Ohio banker Andrew Emerine – one of the very earliest collectors of mechanical banks – who had convinced him to start collecting.”
In 1954, the Steckbecks purchased their first bank: a cast-iron bust of a black man, for $25. Later, the couple had pickers scouring several states. “It started a chain reaction,” Stephen said. “The pickers would give me names of other collectors, and I’d contact them and find out about even more collectors and dealers. Once I started working the circuit, things started to come to me.”
The collection rose to a new level as a result of the Steckbecks’ friendship with the late Edwin H. Mosler Jr., chairman of the board of Mosler Safe Co. and a pioneer collector of mechanical banks. About 25 years ago, Mosler held a private, invitation-only tag sale in his Manhattan office.
“I was the first one he invited,” Stephen said. “The way it worked, he would let me buy all the banks I wanted, then the next person would be allowed to come in and buy. He wanted the banks to go to collectors and didn’t want anyone reselling the banks they bought. That’s all he asked. I said, ‘Why not sell me the whole collection?’ But he didn’t want that. He said he wanted everyone to have a chance to buy from the collection.”
Stephen recalls that he spent the maximum he could afford – $400,000 – on banks from the Mosler collection. The next morning he was supposed to meet Mosler for coffee, but instead it turned out to be a second bank-buying opportunity.
“My wife had said to me, ‘You didn’t buy all the banks you wanted, so why don’t you go back and buy some more, even if you have to borrow the money?’ So I did, and from those two days of buying, I ended up with some of the best banks in my collection.”
While most of the Steckbeck banks are of cast iron, many others are of lithographed tin, white metal, aluminum, wood and other materials. Some are exceedingly rare, like the Presto Coin Disappears (one of three known), the Darky and Watermelon (one of four known), Darky Fisherman (one of two known), a near-mint Jerome Secor Freedman’s Bank, and one of the few all-original examples of the Kyser & Rex Merry-Go-Round.
The Steckbecks’ North Pole bank is one of the finest known, and their Kenton Hardware Mama Katzenjammer, which came straight from the manufacturer’s showroom, is in near-mint condition. Among the collection’s acknowledged “unique” examples are a nickel-plated Chrysler Pig, originally owned by Walter P. Chrysler; a Safe Deposit Tin Elephant; and a stock-market-theme Bull and Bear.
Morphy Auctions will sell the Steckbeck collection at the Adamstown Antique Gallery, 2000 N. Reading Road. The entire collection will be on display beginning Oct. 6.
A catalog is required for in-house bidding. Bids may also be placed by phone, by fax, absentee or live via the Internet through eBay Live Auctions. An audio/visual feed will allow Internet participants to hear and see the auction as it takes place. The hardbound auction catalog is available for $80 postpaid. An electronic version of the catalog may be viewed at www.liveauctioneers.com or www.morphyauctions.com. For additional information, call 717-335-3435 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.