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Treasure: Grandfather’s Flatiron Building bank

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Many of us have fond memories of the toys we played with as children. John Engebretsen not only has fond memories, but he also is lucky enough to still own one of his favorite childhood playthings into adulthood.

“I thought I would send you some pictures of my still bank that I played with as a small child and still have today thanks to my grandparents for keeping it all these years,” he wrote to Trash or Treasure in an email. “It has a combination dial on the bottom and I still remember the combination. It stands 8.25 inches tall and has never been cleaned or painted. I was told that they were given away at the bank back in the early 1900s. This was my grandfather’s originally, who was born and raised in Gloversville, New York. I’ve looked on the Internet and haven’t been able to find another one like it to find out if it’s valuable or not. The only ones I can find are a lot smaller and only worth a couple hundred dollars. I’ve been told the large ones are very valuable and rare.”

Engebretsen told appraiser Jerry Anderson that he asked for the bank specifically when his grandmother passed away in 2006. “It was always one of my favorite things,” he explained. Anderson said that the toys, which were given out by banks across the country, had ulterior motives. “These were given away to encourage kids to start saving early,” he explained.

Shaped in the form of one of New York’s most famous buildings, the bank resembles the famous 22-story Flatiron Building, which was designed by Daniel Burnham in 1902 and stands on lower Fifth Avenue in New York City. It was made by Kenton Hardware Company in Kenton, Ohio, which was in business from 1890 to 1950, according to the appraiser. Further research on the Ohio Historical Society site, remarkableohio.org, says that the company began as the Kenton Lock Manufacturing and later became one of the world’s largest makers of cast-iron toys. Examples are highly sought after by today’s toy collectors.

Anderson had limited success finding similar toys on the Internet, but did find one that measures 51/4 inches that went for approximately $200. Larger ones, he suspects, could bring closer to $300 or more. A 9-inch one was also found in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which dates it to between 1904 and 1913.

Engebretsen said he found evidence of one of the larger banks like his bringing $1,500 at a Live Auctioneers online auction not long ago. “It was estimated at $3,500 to $5,000 and brought $1,500,” he explained to the appraiser. “That’s possible,” said Anderson, who said auction prices ultimately depend on who shows up that day to bid. “If people think the item is worth that, they’ll bid it up,” he told him.

If they were to auction it, Anderson said he’d put a conservative value on the bank of $200-$300 and be happy if it sold for more. Engebretsen said he was considering putting it on eBay and seeing how it did.

“We just got done paying for our daughter’s wedding and are thinking of taking a vacation,” he explained, hoping that it might bring something more like what the Live Auctioneers’ piece went for. “The money would come in handy.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to trashortreas@aol.com. If chosen, you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About this object

Item: Flatiron Building bank

Owner: John Engebretsen, Lincoln Park

Appraised by: Jerry Anderson, DuMouchelle Art Gallery and Auction House, Detroit

Estimated value: $200-$300 and up