4Ground and Great Escape Games present the latest "Feature Building" for the Dead Man's Hand Old West building range: First National Bank
Comes with a new sub-base measuring 20 x 20cm! Weight 1950g for postage purposes. See Customer Service page for details of postage charges. Scenery, furniture, cart and miniatures are shown for scale and are not included.
WHAT YOU GET
This kit includes pre-painted parts with high levels of internal and external detailing also included are two paper coloured options for name boards. Almost all walls are double skinned for strength and to enable detailing inside and out. This is a feature building designed to work with a sub base and boardwalks (both have been included with the kit).
‘FIRST NATIONAL’ BANKS IN NORTH AMERICA
North America’s original ‘first’ national bank was chartered in 1791, lasting for just over 20 years. After the war of 1812 (in 1816) a second (first) national bank was chartered but by the 1830’s this was considered a corrupt institution and in 1836 it did not have it’s charter renewed. With all federal payments having to be made with either gold or silver the economy went into a four year recession. From 1837, without a National Bank for North America, individual States started to charter their own National (State) banking corporations.
With these new chartered National (State) Banks, States had enabled the printing of paper certification (bank promissory notes), rather than other forms of barter/payment. All this enabled better transfer of funds and so enabled renewed commercial growth. Within only a few years there were many hundreds of State chartered banks (the first one chartered in each State would style itself ‘First National Bank’ for that state). This period until 1863 would be remembered as the age of ‘Wildcat Banking’. These State chartered bodies were primarily in business to make wealthy individuals lots and lots of income from handling others’ money and on average ‘wildcat’ banks lasted less than 60 months before closing. In 1863 the federal government again issued federal charters to all good banks (by this time 1,500 banks) within the Federal States of America, though many old ‘First National’ State Banks still retained ‘First National’ as prefix to their name.
J.J. MACKAY BANKING CORPORATION
James, John, Mackay was born in Glasgow, Scotland, during the 1820’s, as a young man he went to university to study mining. In his late twenties, in 1849, Jamie Mackay was just one of the many professional mining engineers who found themselves in North America and heading west along with the masses of wannabe miners hoping to strike it lucky.
Jamie didn’t do too bad mining but he was a born business man and realised there was guaranteed good money to be made supplying wannabe miners with their material needs. He soon became a well respected leading figure in the State’s business community and it was no surprise that he was the first to gain a Banking Charter from the State. The Dead Man’s Hand branch of Mackay’s First National Bank is only one of a dozen or more such branches in towns across the State. It’s hardly surprising this banking corporation does so well offering personal banking and securities when bandits and road agents know J. J. Mackay only hires the services of fellow Glaswegian, Allan Pinkerton’s Detective Agency to protect and regain stolen valuables on deposit with J.J. Mackay’s Bank, after all everyone knows Pinkertons never sleep!
In our study of how banks started in the early West, Doti and I were struck by the fact that virtually all bankers began as “something else.” Few bankers from the east moved past the Mississippi to establish a bank, at least, not before laying the groundwork in other businesses first.
Several prominent bankers had ties to eastern financial firms, such as the Koutze brothers of Nebraska and the Speigelbergs of New Mexico. Yet the first thing these men (there were no female western bank founders before 1900) did when they settled in a frontier town was to open a mercantile establishment—a “general store.” Was there no demand for banks when they arrived? Of course. That wasn’t the point: the future bankers knew that banking in the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s demanded trust and public confidence, which had to be earned. Only by setting up a business that townspeople could rely on could the entrepreneurs later open a bank.
Creating a record of good business sense and reliability in another area of enterprise constituted only one of several requirements for a frontier banker. Another involved personal appearance. Many, if not most, western bankers looked the part. Their dress—and even their girth—was viewed by locals as testimony to their personal prosperity. Bankers had to demonstrate that they, personally, had the wherewithal to support a bank in times of trouble. Expensive dress played as critical a part in the life of a western banker, as do the feather boas on a showgirl, the gold chains on a rapper, or the Armani suits on a Wall Street broker.
Besides demonstrating an affinity for business and personal wealth, the banker had to show the community that he meant business by constructing a building that would symbolically reflect stability, permanence, and safety. The bank buildings were designed by some of the leading architects in the country (although many of the great names in American architecture constructed bank buildings only after 1900).
The buildings were in the dead center of town, with other stores on each side. This left only two walls “open” to blasting without disturbing residents, who tended to sleep above their establishments. The bank front faced into the town, and smashing through it would be obvious. That left the rear wall the most vulnerable. Even then, however, blasting through a wall was no easy (or quiet) chore. Bankers double-reinforced rear walls, and should the robbers get inside, they still had to deal with an iron safe. Safe storage of money was a key to successful banking: one Oklahoma banker kept his cash in a small grated box with rattlesnakes inside; an Arizona banker had a safe, but put his money in a wastebasket covered by a cloth, hoping thieves would take the safe and ignore the rest. Still others slept, literally, with the bank’s assets under their bed.
Eventually, though, early iron safes appeared. Constructed in the “ball-on-a-box” design, they featured a large metal box on legs that held important documents. Actual gold and silver, plus paper money, was stored on top of the box in a large “ball safe,” which proved daunting to separate from the bottom, or, more important, to haul off. Dynamite could break it off from its base, but what does one do with a huge round iron ball? The absence of plastic explosives made surgical entrance difficult, though certainly not impossible. These safes were later abandoned in favor of more conventional Diebold safes, named after the Cincinnati company that supplied many of them. The rectangular safes sported metal doors several inches thick. Again, one could penetrate them given enough time, but that was a luxury most thieves lacked. In short, penetrating a vault or safe constituted a major, difficult undertaking that most robbers avoided. But for our purposes here, the key is that the vault and safe, along with the building itself, made up the “symbols of safety” that reassured depositors their money was safe.
Indeed, many western banks commonly left the vault open during the day to allow customers a full view of the safe. Customers also saw fine wooden counters, excellent brass finishings (sometimes gold), and in banks in larger cities, beautiful chandeliers and marble floors. Ornate and ostentatious materials and furnishings contributed to the overall message of the owner’s wealth, the bank’s permanence, and the institution’s stability and safety. Once regarded as irrelevant or odd, it turns out that the fine interiors had a definite purpose in maintaining the solvency of frontier banks.
Given the difficulty of liberating cash from such buildings, it is not surprising that robbers usually chose the more direct approach. Several gunslingers marching headlong into a bank may have seemed like a good idea to some, and certainly Butch Cassidy’s gang pulled off the successful Telluride robbery in such a mode. His gang had the advantage of Cassidy’s brilliant planning: a shrewd evaluator of horse flesh, Cassidy had stationed (Pony Express-style) horses at exactly the points where he knew his own horses would be wearing out, ensuring that his gang had fresh mounts all the way to their hideout. Even so, one has to search extensively to find bank robberies of even this type. There was one in Nogales, one in California, and perhaps a couple in other locations. But like the rear-wall blasting, the front-door robbery is notoriously absent in western records.
So where did the myth of the western bank robbery arise? Some of it can be traced to Missouri, where the James and Quantrill gangs plundered at will during the Civil War era. Their expeditions ranged as far north as Northfield, Minnesota. But Hollywood is certainly guilty of misrepresentation.
The fact is, under the best circumstances, few gangs could ride into a town where almost every adult male was armed, walk inconspicuously to the building in the middle of town, and escape with everyone shooting at them. Moreover, railroads and stagecoaches made easier targets. Stagecoaches only had a driver and an armed guard, but train schedules were easier to predict. Even then, after a few trains were hit—especially by the Butch Cassidy gang—the railroads hired the Pinkerton detectives to put together a special operations force of crack shots and expert riders who rode in separate cars with their horses, or even separate trains that trailed behind the “target.” The Pinkertons could react rapidly to a robbery, ultimately making it too difficult to consistently hit trains.
Interestingly, at the same time that banks were relatively free from robberies, they became gradually more vulnerable to instability of other types. Following the demise of the Second Bank of United States in 1836, the nation’s banking system was comprised of a network of privately owned banks chartered by the state governments. (A few states themselves created their own monopoly banks, but those collapsed in the Panic of 1837.) All the state-chartered banks could print their own notes, which circulated as money. Beginning in the late 1830s, several states also passed “general incorporation laws,” which, when applied to banks, were known as “free banking laws.” While these had weaknesses, especially in the volatile bonds that some states allowed to be deposited as collateral with the state treasurer, overall the combination of state charters and free banks led to one of the most stable and prosperous periods known in American financial history. During the Panic of 1857, for example, the South—which had branch banking, as opposed to the single-unit banks in the North—had virtually no failures or suspensions. Meanwhile, surprisingly to advocates of government monopoly control of money, competitive bank notes proved remarkably easy to assess: Dillistin’s Bank Note Reporter and other reporters gave fairly current values of notes. Contrary to the predictions of some, when money was taken out of the hands of the government and subjected to a private market, it produced a stable free-market money supply.
The Civil War changed the structure of banking laws, mainly to ensure bond sales to support the war effort. In the National Bank and Currency Acts of 1863-64, the government created a system of federal charters (that were more restrictive than the state charters), and allowed the national banks to issue money. Quickly realizing that privately issued notes would outperform government money, Congress passed a 10 percent tax on all private notes. Without actually banning private money, the government had eliminated all competition in cash.
At the same time, a national financial market gradually took shape, in which local banks, through “correspondent accounts,” deposited some of their money in larger urban institutions that could pay interest. A bank in Colorado suddenly could be affected not only by a local robbery but also by a downturn in the railroad bond market in Chicago. Suddenly, to many people the stability and solvency of the individual local banker no longer provided the reassurance it once had. Bankers themselves were the first to notice that robberies posed less of a threat than a panic or than an unscrupulous banker. Within 20 years most western states, with bankers in the lead, passed new banking laws focused on revealing to the public a bank’s position.
Known as “sunshine laws,” these state regulations required an annual examination of every chartered state and federal bank and the posting of the condition of the bank (as the examiners found it) in the local papers. Despite this regulatory creep, the system still relied on individual consumers to a large extent. The assumption was that if informed, the people could decide on their own if banks were safe. Bank examiners admitted they could do little more than a cursory investigation, and then only (usually) once a year. But the significant facts were that the industry itself took the lead and that the government’s role was restricted to publishing information. Of course, the caveat remains that since banks first were formed in America, going back to the Bank of North America in 1781, state legislatures had regulatory power over them.
Still, even in the age of national banks, banks emphasized physical material symbols of safety as a means to reassure depositors. Ads run in local papers in the late 1800s constantly reaffirmed the soundness of banks, especially their capital. The ads almost universally carried a mention of the size and strength of the bank vault and the ornate beauty of the bank building. Again, these references told depositors that their money was really guaranteed, not by the bank examiner who validated the numbers, but by the actual cash that the bank protected in its vault. And even in the age of national banks, bank robberies remained few and far between.