National Antiques Review, October, 1970
MONEY in the BANKS
by Hubert B. Whiting
CERTAINLY "Jonah and the Whale" suggests the sea and all the ramifications of its perils. Not too many years ago, fishermen along the coast of New England, as well as other coastal areas, suffered the perils of the deep, so let us think back for a minute to the time, many years ago, when a cloud coming swiftly, darkening, and accompanied by a sudden roughness of the sea, puts the fisherman' boat in great danger. He hastens from the bank homeward, but before he reaches the bay, his frail masts can hardly weather the gale.
By the most skillful exertions, he skims over the enormous waves until he has neared his landing place, but there he sees the waters leaping upon the shore and falling back in such fury as to threaten his open boat with sinking. He dares not attempt to land. His family stands upon the shore in dismay. The boat is tacked this way and that way, while the frew are pumping and bailing for their lives, and liable to sink at any instant, while the gale increases in fury and the waves toss, dash against, and into the boat so as to make death by drowning inevitable. Then, in a moment of desperation, the captain says, "Men, we shall be drowned if we stay here, and we must take our chances going ashore!"
The boat is now headed for landing. Rapidly she sails either to safety or destruction. Eyes on the shore fill with tears, lips quiver, and in agony, friends and relatives interpret the fearful crisis. There is just one way the only one whereby it is possible for that boat and crew to land in safety, to escape immediate destruction. She must ride upon the shoulders of "three brothers" the wave that will carry her so high upon the shore that the next wave will not reach her, and thus afford afford the crew a moment in which to escape.
"Steady! Steady! Not too fast", says an old sailor on the beach. For if the boat gets too far up on "brothers" shoulders, she will pitch over and be buried in an instant. Neither must the boat lag behind his shoulders, for if she does, the receding wave will swamp her. Her sail is raised or lowered, by a fraction, to keep balanced on that giant wave.
"She rides! She rides!" cries another, while some stand in breathless silence, and the critical instant of life or death hastens the great wave breaks upon the shore amid howling winds the fishermans boat is left there and the crew are saved, while "big brother" retires to the deep like the whale that landed Jonah.
The two Mechanical Banks known as "Jonah and the Whale" and "Jonah and the Whale on a Pedestal" together tell the full story of Jonah as related in the Bible. The more common "Jonah and the Whale" shows jonah being thrown into the mouth of a "great fish."
Now Jonah had been told to go to Niveveh, but not wanting to go there, he fled in a ship going to Tarshish. On the way, a great storm developed and threatened to break the ship in two. All aboard prayed, except Jonah. He was below deck asleep. So it was believed that Jonah had displeased the Lord, and he was cast into the sea so that the waters would cease their raging. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And this is what the bank portrays a sailor from the ship casting Jonah into the mouth of the whale. Many people are of the impression that the sailor represents Jonah, but this is not so. Jonah is under the tray that holds the penny so when the penny is thrown into the whale it simulates Jonah, under the tray, being cast.
"Jonah and the Whale on a Pedestal" has Jonah inside the belly of the whale, and he has been there for "three days and three nights." When the penny is triggered into the bank, Jonah is "vomited out upon the dry land". That part of the dry land that appears on the bank has great detail, showing rocks, shells, a turtle, and sand. Truly a rare mechanical bank and perhaps the most desirable of the cast iron mechanicals.
It is to be noted that the Bible does not say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale but rather by a "big fish". Where and when this big fish was interpreted to mean a whale is not known.