Ironclad Guarantees! No Tellers! No Fees!

Pssst--want to buy a savings bank for $10,000, or less? Sounds ridiculous, even when the feds are peddling thrifts for peanuts. But it's the right price for some 900 mechanical and still banks--penny or piggy banks, to the uninitiated--that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. unloaded on Mar. 13. The government acquired them when Seamen's Bank for Savings was declared insolvent in April, 1990. The haul: $716,045, double the presale estimate, according to auctioneer Christie's.

Real banks should only perform as well as many of the cast-iron mechanical whimsies, some over 100 years old. In one, a trapeze artist does flips for coins: A penny buys one turn; a nickel, two; a quarter, three; a half-dollar, six. Other specimens portray boys stealing watermelons, girls skipping rope, horses racing. Then there's an Uncle Sam, who takes a coin in his right arm, drops it into a carpetbag--and, naturally, laughs.

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