Mechanical banks with historical backgrounds are always of added interest and certainly the Afghanistan Bank, our choice as No. 56 in the numerical classification, is a good example of this category. In addition to the historical angle the bank is quite rare and offers simple but interesting action. It also has an intriguing appearance being quite different than any of the other mechanical banks.
Information as to the historical significance of the bank can logically be determined, however, information as to the background of the bank itself is sadly lacking. There are no patent papers known to exist that cover the bank and there are no markings or definite clues that lead to either the designer or the manufacturer. The writer is fortunate enough to have an old catalog picturing the bank and this does establish the period in which it was made. This catalog is the Ehrichs Fashion Quarterly of December, 1885. Certain features of the bank indicate one of two manufacturers. These are Kyser & Rex, Philadelphia, Pa., and the Mechanical Novelty works, New Britain, Conn.
The bank shown was obtained by the writer some years ago from Mark Haber, of Wethersfield, Conn. It was formerly in the collection of the late James C. Jones. It is in fine condition, completely original, and good paint. It has an overall brown japanned type of finish. Considerable outlining of gold was used and the lettering is in gold. The figures of the lion and bear have red eyes and red mouths. The rounded front and side sections of the base are highlighted in green and gold bronze. As can be seen in the picture the name "Afghanistan Bank" appears in the front and under this the word Herat.
To operate the bank a coin is placed in the provided slot. The lever protruding from the front of the bank is then pressed and as the coin drops in automatically both the lion and the bear move toward the gate. On releasing the lever both animals return to their normal positions.
The historical significance is, of course, of great interest. Herat is the name of a province and city in Afghanistan. It is surrounded by a wall 25' high by 14' thick. Placed around and in the wall itself are five main gates to enter the city. The Mongols and Genghis Khan twice destroyed the city in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 15th century the city became the center of literature and are in the East and noble buildings were then constructed. In the 18th century the Afghan tribes came into the city and took control. Persia tried time and again to take over the city but England joining with the Afghans resisted successfully due to the strategic location of Herat in relation to India. Russia meantime was always a threat to India and Herat was the only serious obstacle to a successful invasion of India from the Northwest. So, to sum up, we have the Russian Bear and the British Lion at the gate of Herat in Afghanistan and the situation is well represented by the bank.
The Afghanistan Bank, while rather small in size, is most certainly large in desirability. It offers a challenge to the mechanical bank collector who does not have one in his collection.