MacDaddyRico

American Mettle: Banking On The Race For Space

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"I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieve the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth." ~JFK: May 25, 1961.

This ambitious challenge was presented by our 35th president just 20 days after America successfully launched its first astronaut into space, and a mere three-and-one-half years after the world's first satellite was successfully launched and orbited the Earth. The Race for Space had begun, and the impact on our society and culture, as well as the world, was tremendous!

Countless manufacturers produced various products depicting spacemen, rockets and planets, and everything from toys to oven mitts celebrated space travel. During a period of time between the late 1940's and late '60's/mid '70's, three American companies produced pot-metal mechanical toy banks in honor of the United States' efforts and achievements in the Race for Space. Two were in East Detroit, Michigan: Duro Mold & Mfg., aka, Duro Mold & Pattern, mainly produced household fixtures but found their space age-themed Atomic mechanical bank a hit, and Astro Mfg., which was started by two brothers who quit Duro to strike out on their own in 1957. The third, Vacumet, Inc., operated out of St. Clair, Michigan. The molds were later altered to designate three model types as commemoratives when the first astronauts were named, as well as noting both Alan Shepard's and John Glenn's historic achievements. These manufacturers' intriguing toys have become coveted collector's items today.

Many of these banks were marketed and sold to financial institutions whom then actually gave them away (or sold them at cost) as incentives when parents brought their children in to open up a saving's account. The water-transfer decal labels affixed to these toys proudly displayed the names of these institutions with sayings such as, "Watch your savings soar at...Main Street Bank!" On occasion, private groups would also order a batch and place their label on them. Many of these fragile labels have either partially or fully disintegrated in time, so finding a bank with its complete label is a treat.

Few of these toy banks have survived in never-played-with condition, with all of their pieces, or with the original box. Fewer still survive that were the actual salesman's samples, having a blank label (if they had a label at all), or one simply stating, "Your Institution Here," or something similar. Finding a complete model type in mint condition and with its original box is truly finding a treasure.

During the production periods of both Duro and Astro mechanical banks, the company contracted to apply the various finishes to the toys was Vacumet in St. Clair.

Duro was the first company to close, and Astro acquired the rights to its mechanical banks. Vacumet later acquired the rights to the molds just before Astro closed its doors, and it produced several of the various model types before they themselves ceased productions sometime in the mid 1970's.

My interest in these intriguing banks began in an antique store in the north Georgia foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Not exactly in working condition, the Strato Bank I held had a $128 price on the tag. Having looked as though it had literally fallen off a truck, I quickly set it back in its place on the shelf. But from that moment onward, I've kept a special eye out for these fascinating mechanical banks, and I have amassed quite a collection in my antiquing travels.

Unlike the earlier cast-iron mechanical banks produced overseas and in America during the middle- to late-1800's, whose market had been compromised by the cheap Chinese reproductions and outright fabrications, these white-metal (or "pot" metal) toy banks are not as easily faked. I've seen just one cast-iron reproduction of a Satellite Bank, which is easily recognized as a poor example. On the other hand, the Japanese tin lithograph "copies" of the same era (Strato, Berzac Missile and Plan-It) have become even more coveted by collectors, despite demanding thousands of dollars. Plastic copies of the Mercury, Guided Missile and Satellite Banks have also been produced, and they are somewhat collectible themselves.

One may find these intriguing old pot-metal toy mechanical banks for an average retail price of $75-$185 for the more common model types in near-mint and mint condition and from $300 to $750 for the rarer models. One may potentially double those figures if the original boxes accompany the banks.

Here are the model types and their rarity with values estimated from low to high in condition, and including the original boxes:

The Atomic Bank by Duro, 1949. While most of these didn't seem to have labels at all and came in just one color, silver-grayish, with a red bull's-eye, a few have been seen with banking institution labels. It fires the coin in via a spring-loaded mechanism. The bank measures 8.5 x 4 x 3 inches. It is valued at $75-$190; add $50-$100 for original boxes.

The Mercury Rocket Bank by Duro, 1952. Earlier models employed a simple block as the launch mechanism, which fires with an identical spring-loaded mechanism. This feature was later modified to resemble a small bomb or airplane. This model, like the Atomic Bank, primarily came in a silver-grey matte finish, but I have an elusive and extraordinarily rare silver chromed version, as well as the extremely rare green model, of which I actually own four specimens. These were also produced overseas, the German model being modified with several differences: larger coin trap; absence of the words Mercury or Rocket Bank; an altered emblem omits the star; and the rear end has been hollowed out. It measures 8 x 2.25 x 1.5 inches. Mercury value: $80-$165 for common, $150-$225 for green, and $180-$390 for silver. Original boxes: $50-$150. German model: $200-$400; Original boxes $100-$250.

The Strato Bank by Duro, 1953. This model came most commonly in green with rare appearances in both chromed and matte silver. I've seen one in gold chrome as a commemorative and another in matte gold as a non-commemorative model. I've also seen a couple painted in the orange-and-brown scheme of the Sportsman Bank, but they were from foreign banking institutions. It fires the coin in via an identical mechanism. It measures 8.25 x 3.5 x 2.75 inches. Value: $65-$180 for common: $80-$220 for silver chrome; and $110-$230 for matte gold. Commemoratives: $75-$210 for silver chrome; $90-$260 for matte silver; $110-$295 for green; $130-$350 for gold chrome. Original boxes: $50-$150.

The Flying Saucer Bank by Duro, 1956. The only color I've seen these in is green, but there's also a silver-chromed edition. It has a completely unique firing mechanism, which sends the coin in a semi-circular motion into the bank. It is 4 x 5 inches. Value: green, $300-$850 and silver chrome, $375-$1,000. Original boxes: $100-$450.

The Guided Missile Bank, a Berzac Creation, 1957. First manufactured by Astro Mfg, this was brothers John and Steven Berzac's debut bank after leaving Duro Mold and starting Astro in their garage. The firing mechanism is identical to the others, except it is situated vertically. The bank is 13 x 3.5 inches, including the tapered red rubber nose cone. Common matte and chromed silver, $50-$140; rare gold chrome, $55-$165; and a one-of-a-kind (*) green specimen in the possession of the Berzac Family and not for sale. Original boxes: $50-150.

The Vacumet model, which came bare and ready to be custom painted by its new owner, also came complete with adhesive paper stickers and all rubber pieces. This model lacked Astro's symbol on each side of the upper fuselage. Most were painted white by their new owners to match the accompanying paper stickers. Values are: $75-$185 painted, $95-$215 original bare artifact, less without stickers and rubber pieces, as is the case with all Astro bank models.

The Satellite Bank by Duro, 1958. This model also came later in commemorative types and in most colors but green and blue-gray. Produced primarily by Duro, these were later acquired and produced by Vacumet, though slightly modified (the top lip of the base has a ridge and the windows are filled in, and excluded the marble "satellite.") The firing mechanism is also situated vertically. It is 10.5 x 3.5 inches. For various finishes, $70-$175; commemoratives, $85-$190; original boxes, $50-$150.

The Destination Moon Bank by Duro, 1959. Commonly in chromed silver and somewhat rare in gold chrome (given for new, premium accounts), very rare in matte green, and extremely rare in matte silver. The firing mechanism is situated vertically. First produced with a bare ring, this bank was later modified as a commemorative model* to honor our first astronauts, the honor molded into the metal ring which encircles the Moon and noted: "1st U.S. Direct Hit April 26th-1962" on the inside of the base. Some commemorative rings are marked on both sides, honoring two different occasions, doubling the artifact's collector potential. Another difference between the non-commemorative and the commemorative models include ridge lines on top of the base of the commemorative where the other is smooth. It measures 10.5 x 3.5 x 4.5 inches. Non-commemoratives: silver chrome, $60-$160; gold chrome, $75-$185; green, $110-$350; and matte silver, $150-$385. Commemoratives: add $65 across the board. Original boxes: $50-$150.

The Plan-It Bank by Astro, 1959. Not as mechanical as the rest; consisting of a rotating metal ring of colorful rubber planets around the chromed sun, this bank would simply drop the coin into itself as you slowly turn the ring. Some were made with clear plastic rings (Vacumet) while others were the bluish metal (Astro). The suns were either silver or gold chromed, respectively. These were very educational as the planets' orbital cycles were molded onto the metal ring by each of the celestial bodies (Vacumet's version did not have this on the plastic ring.) The bank measures 4 x 9 inches. Value: $110-$300. Original boxes: $50-$175.

Note: A modification of two of the eight different model types, the Missile-Sphere (modeled after the Destination Moon) and the Rocket-Sphere (modeled after the Strato,) were made in 1961 by a different company, R.M.S. Sales Corp. in East Orange, N.J., to commemorate the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Banks are 10.5 x 3.5 x 4.5 inches and 8 x 3.5 x 3.25 inches and only came only in the chromed-silver finish. The Moons on these highly coveted collector's items have been replaced with the Unisphere, the symbol of the Fair that year. Values: Missile-Sphere, $250-$400 and Rocket-Sphere, $300-$575. Original boxes: $175- $250 and $200-$300, respectively.

As a disabled veteran, I find great pleasure in antiquing and have discovered what I consider to be "sleeper" artifacts (meaning not many people in the antique world are aware of them). My research has led me on a journey which is still unfolding today, beginning in 2007 in North Georgia and taking me to the launch place of America's Space Race: the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2009. I'd even been fortunate to have had opportunities to donate full sets of these intriguing artifacts to four prominent American museums. The Smithsonian is most notable, and the collection can be found on their website in the Air & Space Museum's Social & Cultural Collections; search "Duro Berzac."

Other sets are in the Early Space Exploration Museum at the KSCVC in Cape Canaveral, the Cosmosphere in Kansas, and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. Also in NYC at the Queens Museum of Art is what was my entire NYWF collection, which includes a Missile Sphere.

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This article can also be found in the October 2014 issue of Antique Toy World magazine.

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I had recently commissioned an internationally acclaimed American artist to paint my Vacumet Guided Missile Bank, A Berzac Creation, which was the only model of these banks to have come bare from the factory. Pictured here in the center.

This model was produced in 1975 by Vacumet (after they'd acquired the rights to these and some of the other banks from Astro,) and just in time to commemorate America's Bicentennial.

Most of these types were painted white by their new owners, I would guess because the adhesive stickers which accompanied the banks were printed on white paper.

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attachicon.gifBERZAC CREATIONS MATTE BARE AND CUSTOM 007.JPG

I had recently commissioned an internationally acclaimed American artist to paint my Vacumet Guided Missile Bank, A Berzac Creation, which was the only model of these banks to have come bare from the factory. Pictured here in the center.

This model was produced in 1975 by Vacumet (after they'd acquired the rights to these and some of the other banks from Astro,) and just in time to commemorate America's Bicentennial.

Most of these types were painted white by their new owners, I would guess because the adhesive stickers which accompanied the banks were printed on white paper.

post-1299-0-19408100-1418083187_thumb.jp

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Cool paint job! Has a summer of love feelin' to it.

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Cool paint job! Has a summer of love feelin' to it.

Thanks Andyman!

Yes, it's definitely an unmistakable Peter Max!

The Certificate says it is #1 (of just one)!

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Wow! Thanks for posting. I remember these being available at banks when I was young, and I used to see these a lot at flea markets but not much anymore, probably because most of the flea markets in my area are gone. These are really cool. What a way to save your coins by shooting them into the bank.

Great collection!

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Wow! Thanks for posting. I remember these being available at banks when I was young, and I used to see these a lot at flea markets but not much anymore, probably because most of the flea markets in my area are gone. These are really cool. What a way to save your coins by shooting them into the bank.

Great collection!

Yes; the manufacturers had a brilliant idea modifying the older cast iron mechanical banks as space ships and marketing them to savings institutions.

But what made these historically significant artifacts is the fact that they molded the Mercury Seven Astronauts' names, as well as two historic missions, right into the metal banks..!

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7 minutes ago, MacDaddyRico said:

Astro Mfg first produced the Guided Missile Bank (A Berzac Creation) in the early 1960's (patented 1957,) then Vacumet Finishing later obtained the rights to the molds.

 

The Vacumet version was the only bank of the eight different mechanical bank model types produced by the three companies (Duro Mold, Astro Mfg and Vacumet) to have come from the factory bare of any finish. It was designed to be custom painted by its new owner.

 

This particular version was produced in 1975. Most were painted white to match the paper stickers that came with the bank, which commemorated America's Bicentennial the following year.

 

I soon thought, "Why not have Mr. Peter Max, one of America's prominent Pop Culture Artists, paint my Vacumet model?"

 

Two Peter Max's later I had another thought, "Why not find another American artist to paint another Berzac Bank?" It didn't take long to find Charles Fazzino, famous for his 3-D style...

The Vacumet Berzac Bank Line Up 001.JPG

 

The Vacumet Berzac Bank Line Up 004.JPG

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2 hours ago, MacDaddyRico said:

Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean, the only artist to have travelled to another Celestial Body, greatly admired my Peter Max and Charles Fazzino Berzac Banks!

UPDATE GROUP SHOT 2015 004.JPG

KSCVC 2015 ASF AMMS 013.JPG

 

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Fantastic collection and information, thanks for sharing.

The Peter Max & Fazzino customs are out of sight!  

I'm especially a fan of Max #2.  Congrats :thumbs:

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7 hours ago, Martian Gil said:

Fantastic collection and information, thanks for sharing.

The Peter Max & Fazzino customs are out of sight!  

I'm especially a fan of Max #2.  Congrats :thumbs:

Thank you very much...If you're interested, I'm considering offers on the Peter Max Berzac #2, but it's going to be in the five (at least) figures since it is a one-of-a-kind-in-the-World work of fine art.

 

I have another page here on Alphadrome...pretty much the same subject but a bit more information: 

 

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