Open Menu
Open Menu

A Penny Saved: Many a young person’s personal savings account started with a four-wheeled bank

Published in

Banthrico’s 1937 Rolls-Royce; image by the author.

Everyone had a piggy bank. Other than being used to store newfound wealth due to a paper route or other part-time job, it was employed to teach us currency and fractional math. Fortunately, not all piggy banks were modeled after the animal. Many a budding auto enthusiast preferred a small stowage unit that came with four wheels, and for that they sought banking institutions that provided “gift” solutions via a contract with Banthrico, Inc.

The Chicago, Illinois, firm started life as Banker’s Thrift Corporation in 1914. Its core product consisted of small, personal home-use coin banks, one of the notable at the time being the small “book” bank. Shaped and bound like books of the period, it could be “hidden” with relative ease in a bookcase. Small-scale versions of everything from famous politicians to household items, as well as animals and buildings, were part of the firm’s catalog by the time it – along with its subsidiary, Stronghart – was purchased in 1931 by Jerome Aronson and Joseph Eisendrath, who promptly created a new business by shortening the original name to Banthrico (the “I” pronounced as a long E).

Known as “The Coin Bank People,” Banthrico’s staff of roughly 75 highly skilled employees, by all accounts, had crafted over 900 varieties of monetary storage molds through the ensuing decades. Within that list were modes of transportation, including the automobile.

As was the case with most of Banthrico’s products, including the 1937 Rolls-Royce we recently discovered, the autos were hand-cast using white metal (95 percent zinc, five percent aluminum and traces of lead, brass and copper). Molds were poured individually; imperfections were later eliminated through a variety of methods before being sealed in a clear lacquer. The most popular finishes were pewter and antique brass, and each featured a keyed trap door and coin slot on the underside.

Those who remember using the coin banks for their intended purpose will likely also recall tales of lost keys and the ensuing methods used to release cash from captivity. Once damaged, these mobile models were discarded, left on a secluded shelf or hidden in a box in the attic.

Banthrico expanded its product line beyond scale banks: trophies, figurines, bookends and lamp parts were part of its portfolio when purchased by Toystalgia – known for small-scale wooden coin banks – in 1985. Auto bank production continued with the same molds still emblazoned with the Banthrico name. Toystalgia was eventually purchased as well, and, in the ensuing years, the remnants of Banthrico survived.

Today, many of the original molds, now without the Banthrico name, are used for continued coin bank production by Cutting Edge Industries of Linden, New Jersey, including 98 varieties of autos. They are made on-demand with a minimum production run of 24 per mold.

As for the original Banthrico auto coin banks, depending upon year of production and condition, they can be found for as little as $10 or as high as a few hundred.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Hemmings Motor News.