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