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National Antiques Review, October, 1970

(Web Note: See below for additional information)

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.

70-10 Whiting Jonah photo 1By 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 "brother’s" 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 fisherman’s boat is left there and the crew are saved, while "big brother" retires to the deep like the whale that landed Jonah.

70-10 Whiting Johan photo 2The 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.

Courtesy of Betty & John Feather

     The granddaddy of reference books on still banks was published in 1968 by Hubert B. Whiting, titled "Old Iron Still Banks". The colored photographs of individual banks in his large collection were excellent and each was rated for rarity to fall into classification from A (most common) to E. Bert, as he was known, included clever comments on each still and, in spite of some frustration for lack of alphabetizing, this was the "Bible" for years until finally superseded by more comprehensive reference books.
     Bert also was an avid collector of mechanical banks and enjoyed authoring articles on them for various publications, and could be seen on TV "Antiques" programs telling the public all about our banks.
     In the October, 1970 issue of National Antiques Review, Bert wrote a feature article on both Jonah and the Whales which, in rereading, jogged my memory of his telling at an MBCA convention of how he found only the second known specimen of Jonah Pedestal. (see above)
     It seems a Long Island, N.Y. woman had donated a clothes basket of toys to the local branch of the Salvation Army. Among the discards was a fine, complete specimen of Jonah Pedestal and fortunately the Salvation Army Lieutenant suspected that this interesting cast iron piece was something special. The old adage that "it pays to advertise" once again proved true, for the Lieutenant had seen Bert's ad and called him.
     We all can imagine what crossed Bert's mind during his suspenseful drive from Boston and his speculation at what might be waiting at the end of the rainbow. It was truly a "pot of gold".
     As seems par for the course in our bank world, everyone in the audience could only guess the extent of Bert's contribution to the worthy Salvation Army cause for his acquisition of one of the rarest and most desirable banks in top condition.
     In the article (copied above), is what Bert found at the end of the rainbow.


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