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Light of Asia
by F.H. Griffith - HOBBIES Magazine - October, 1956

56-10.JPG (30118 bytes)

The Light of Asia, a dual purpose mechanical bank, is our choice as No. 49 in the numerical classification of mechanical banks. This bank is not only a child’s savings device, but it also served as a pull toy. A string could be attached to the front of the platform to pull the toy around or it could be pushed around by hand. Two other mechanical banks of similar purpose are known to exist, the Motor Bank and Jumbo. The Motor Bank has already been covered some time ago in the articles and the Jumbo, while very much like Light of Asia, is not nearly as rare.

So far there is no existent information as to who designed or made Light of Asia. It has the distinctive desirable type of so-called heart wheels which were used on a number of the different type animated bell ringing pull toys. However, this does not lead us to any specific manufacturer, as a number of the companies used the heart wheels, including Stevens. Some characteristics of the bank indicate Stevens and others are indicative of Kyser & Rex. There are no markings on the bank, no dates, and no patent papers have turned up so far, nor have any old catalogs been found with information or pictures of the bank. The date of the bank, however, can be pretty well established as during the early 1880’s.

A poem, "The Light of Asia," was written by Sir Edwin Arnold and published in 1879. The poem, "The Light of Asia," also called ‘The Great Renunciation,’ concerned the life and teaching of Gautama, Prince of India and founder of Buddhism. The poem, as told by an imaginary Indian Buddhist, is in verse form. After the publication of his poem Buddhism took quite a hold in our country, and as a matter of fact actually became fashionable in the period of the early 1880’s. In 1885 S.H. Kellogg, D.D., who for a time was Professor at the Western Theological Seminary, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, wrote a book called "The Light of Asia and The Light of the World." This was a comparison of the legend, the doctrine, and the ethics of the Buddha with the story, the doctrine, and the ethics of Christ. According to Kellogg, Arnold presented the Buddha and his religion to the English reading public in such an attractive guise that often, quite unexpectedly to the individuals themselves, they had awakened in their minds a surprising interest in this "venerable religion." Kellogg wrote his Light of Asia, of course, to combat the effects of Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia. Obviously the name of the bank was taken directly from the poem written by Sir Arnold and logically it was made in the period of the poem’s popularity which was the early 1880’s.

It is the writer’s opinion that the Jumbo Bank is a later altered edition of the Light of Asia, the name being changed to Jumbo to coincide with P.T. Barnum and his acquiring Jumbo from the London Zoological Gardens in 1882 for exhibition purposes. It is, of course, possible that both banks were made simultaneously and perhaps some proof one way or the other will turn up in the future.

Another point of interest has to do with the type elephant used on the Light of Asia. This is definitely an Asiatic elephant with the smooth trunk lacking the transverse ridges and grooves always found on the African type. Also it is tuskless which is indicative of Asiatic elephants, and particularly those in Ceylon. The shape of the head, which does not slant down from an arched back like the African elephant, is also definitely Asiatic.

The bank shown was obtained by the writer through the good help of Mr. Rymond F. Long of Pearl, Illinois. Mr. Long in turn had acquired the bank from Mr. G.E. Swope near Kewanee, Illinois. Mr. Swope informed Mr. Long that the bank had been in his family over 70 years which would place it prior to 1885.

The bank is in excellent condition and completely original with no repairs. The elephant is painted a light gray with a red blanket edged in yellow. The name and crescent are painted gold. The ears and portions on the legs are highlighted in pink and the mouth is red. The platform and wheels are overall green with some highlighting of gold on the wheel spokes and edges of the platform.

To operate the bank a coin is inserted in a coin slot in the elephant’s back. This causes the head to move up and down. The head is counterweighted inside the elephant and the coin comes into contact with this counterweight. The elephant is fastened to the platform by means of two bent over pins cast into two of the elephant’s legs, left rear and right front.

This is a very desirable bank and difficult to find, particularly in original condition with wheels. The wheel factor adds greatly to its desirability as well as its scarcity since these would be easily broken by a child. So far there has been only one of these banks found completely original. There are two, possibly three other Light of Asia banks, without wheels or platforms.


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