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The Afghanistan Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine September, 1986

     Small, modestly decorated with monochromatic colors, lacking in animation, and commemorating a struggle between England and Russia over an obscure country, appropriately describes the Afghanistan bank. The concept of such a mechanical to be designed for children of the late 19th century appears incongruous, since it would seem highly unlikely that the subject matter would appeal to an eight-year-old.
     "Herat," the name emblazoned across the face of this unpretentious bank, is the city in Afghanistan (Figure 1) which was considered by Great Britain to be the "Key to India." Its great walls guarded their chief trade route south to India and the Arabian Sea. England realized that if Herat fell to the expansionist Russians, eventually English-dominated India would fall under the paw of the "Great Bear." Thus, we can see the significance of the two animal figures positioned upon the Afghanistan mechanical bank, for they represent the mighty English Lion and the great Russian Bear, poised before the massive Gates of Herat.
     Unfortunately, to date, no patent information for this bank has been located, and I, therefore, only offer speculation as to its manufacturer. Various structural and visual similarities exist between it, the " Squirrel and Tree Stump," the "Initiating First Degree," and the "Initiating Second Degree" banks, indicating the possibility that the Afghanistan may have been manufactured by the Mechanical Novelty Works of New Britain, Connecticut. An illustration of the Afghanistan bank does appear in the toy section of a December 1885 sales catalog, which would approximate its date of manufacture.
     There are no casting or color variations. The bank pictured in Figure 2 is painted in the following color scheme: the entire building is a dark black-brown japan finish. The corner stones, archway, lettering on the front door lock, and hinges are painted copper and gold. The figures of the lion and bear are also japanned in dark black-brown. They both have red eyes and a red mouth, and the base is painted bright green, highlighted in gold and copper.
     Operation of the bank is relatively simple, as is the action. A coin is placed into the slot atop the curved section of the roof. There it remains until the lever between the bear and lion is pushed inward, whereupon, simultaneously, the coin drops into the bank and the lion and bear pivot inward, towards the front of the building. These coins are removed by disassembling the bank, which is accomplished by removing a single screw beneath the base.
     The Afghanistan bank can prove quite difficult for the collector to obtain, and I once again offer only speculation as to the reasons for its rarity. Being a lackluster, visually uninteresting bank, it may have suffered poor sales; thus, few were produced. It is also one which requires disassemblement whenever coins were removed. This amount of handling, or mishandling, subjected the bank to possible abuse, resulting in breakage. Most often, when an Afghanistan bank is located, the building may be cracked, and the lever, and/or lion and/or bear may be broken or missing.
     It is surprising that, although the Afghanistan bank is simple in structure, it has never been reproduced. However, with the dramatic increase in auction prices recently for this particular bank, it would seem only a matter of time until duplication is attempted. Figure 3 is a base diagram, indicating the precise size of an original. A bank which exhibits even one-sixteenth of an inch reduction in size should be suspect of being a reproduction.

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