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"The Forty Niner" (49'r) Gaming Device, American, circa 1897


"The Forty Niner" item is American and was originally intended to be a mechanical bank, as is attested to by the revelations in the United States patent papers 579,630 dated March 30, 1897 (See copy in images). It was designed by Edward Zimmerman and James A. Reed in Buffalo, New York. Before it was manufactured, it is stated in the patent papers, that a coin was to be inserted at the top, which would have fallen through the body of the donkey into the cup below him, and from there, into the base. On the way, either the ears or the tail would have moved from interaction with the coin. In line 70 (see image) the patent also covered another item, other then a coin to be deposited "when a nickel or OTHER ARTICLE is dropped into the opening" etc. etc. etc. I do believe, as other bank aficionados do, that the device never was produced as a bank because the coin never was able to "drop" properly through the donkey into the base. Consequently, I believe a few were distributed as toys or gaming devices with the 50 50 chance of either the ears or tail moving as a result of a small marble being dropped into the opening in the top (heads or tails). The marbles or steel ball would have been removed by unscrewing the donkey. Nevertheless, it is a highly collectible item for bank collectors, or collectors of gaming items, or toys, simply by virtue of it's rarity and subject matter. There are only a handful extant; there are a few reproductions and altered or conversion pieces. They are recognizable by their rougher casting, repaint, seam separation, or in the case of where an original was used, a slot would have been placed in the base plinth; the slot is a little rough. Some original examples were converted to cigar cutters in the early 1900s. They are legitimate items, albeit conversions. Embossed in the side is "Pat. October 1, 1849", not there to deceive, and not actually attesting to its actual genesis, but rather to go along with the theme of "Forty Niner". The "Forty Niner" is made completely of cast iron and is hand painted; and is in all original condition with no alterations. Dimensions: 7 1/4" long x 2 1/2" wide x 8 1/4" high Provenance: This "bank" or gaming device originally came from the well known Seaman's Bank Collection in New York City, which was dispersed between 1989 and 1991. The marking of a number 155 painted in white over a small painted brown rectangle is how almost all of their banks were identified (see image of underneath).


  • Condition
  • Dimensions

    H 8.25 in. x W 2.5 in. x D 7.25 in.

    H 20.96 cm x W 6.35 cm x D 18.42 cm

  • Seller location
    Incline Village, NV
  • Reference number

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About the Seller

1stdibs seller since 2013
Typical response time: 2 hrs
Located in Incline Village, NV
Art Dealers Association of America
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