First – to be considered a ‘bank’ is has to have a coin slot. This is the primary difference you will see when compared to small household safes which were marketed to store documents and jewelry or a salesman’s sample safe which was a smaller portable version of a product that salesmen used to show off the features of larger items to retailers.
Second – it generally includes manipulation of a lock to access the interior of the bank. The vast majority of safe banks have locks; however the safe banks made by the Regent Manufacturing Company of Chicago are a notable exception. They all have a dial on the front that is set into a fixed door. To access the coins you have to disassemble the bank using the screw on the bottom.
Third – to be considered a ‘safe’ it must be in the form of a safe or strong-box.
Made as toy savings banks, souvenirs or advertising premiums, safe banks can be found in a variety sizes, colors and finishes.
Cast Iron safes banks were produced from 1865 up to World War II. Due to their numerous parts, coupled with the added complexity of a locking mechanism, they have not been reproduced.
It should be noted that the Grey Iron Casting Company did reissue several safe banks in the 1950’s & 60’s; however, they were produced by the original manufacturer with notable changes in their design and construction. I view them more as an updated design than a reproduction. They are easy to identify as the dial is die-cast in white metal in lieu of the original cast iron.
With so many reproduction still or mechanical banks on the market, it is good to know that safe banks can be a ‘safe’ investment as collectors are less likely to purchase a modern reproduction being marketed as an original.