BY SY SCHRECKINGER
GYPSIES, PROGNOSTICATORS and sorcerers were once said to possess magical and mystifying powers. In a world where superstition prevailed, these self-proclaimed prophets were believed capable of foretelling future events. Modern day forecasters are the psychics, tarot readers and crystal ball gazers.
Throughout the centuries enterprising individuals realized great profits by catering to the public’s fascination with the unknown. A plethora of fortune telling novelty items were created that were intended to entertain and amuse and, perhaps, to offer a glimpse into one’s future. Examples of such items produced by manufacturers during the nineteenth century include children’s playthings and mechanical banks. Several notable representatives of the latter category are
Witch “Fortune Telling Bank”, Fortune Horse Race “Savings Bank”, “Lucky Wheel Money Box”, “Automatic Coin Savings Bank”, and the subject of this article, “Fortune Teller Savings Bank.”
On February 19, 1901 Mr. Aaron Kaufman of Baltimore, Maryland was granted Patent Number 668,579 (Figure 2) for his “Fortune Telling Toy Penny Bank”. The words “ Pat. Feb. 19, 1901” that were cast into the bottom of the bank facilitated location of these patent papers. Mr. Kaufman’s invention was offered for sale, as seen in a Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog advertisement circa 1903. The ad read: “Fortune Teller Savings Bank…Our price each, only 90¢.”.
Operation of “Fortune Teller Savings Bank” is noncomplex and appropriate to the subject. It is aptly described in an attractive, multi-colored, lithographed paper label affixed by the manufacturer to the rear of only certain examples. It reads: “Directions – Drop the coin in the slot of the lever. Then push the lever back hard and quick. This will spin the wheel of fortune. When the wheel stops, pull the lever forward as far as possible and your true fortune will appear at the window every time.” Across the bottom of this “Directions” label are the words: “Mfg’d. by Baumgarten & Co., Baltimore, U.S.A.”