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The Light of Asia Bank
by Sy Schreckinger – ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine – November, 1991

      The late nineteenth century was a spectacular era for the great American circuses. It was also a period in which fierce rivalry erupted between their owners. Competition ensued between P.T. Barnum, the undisputed giant of all circuses, and Adam Forepaugh an entrepreneur with an enormous ego. Barnum's Circus exhibited "Jumbo," claiming it to be, and in actuality it was, the "Largest Living Quadruped on Earth" (Figure I). This did not daunt Forepaugh, for he proceeded to advertise one of his elephants, namely "Bolivar," as the "Largest and Heaviest Elephant in the World." (Figure II).
     Subsequent to the tragic death of Jumbo on September 16, 1886, P.T. Barnum attempted to recreate the notoriety and glamour formerly surrounding the pachyderm by conception of another enigma of the animal kingdom. His idea took the form of a rare new discovery: Toung Taloung, the "Sacred White Elephant of Burma." Purchased several years earlier at a cost of $75,000., Toung Taloung, the "Pure White" Elephant, proved to be a tremendous flop since, in appearance, it was the same gray color as most elephants except for a few pinkish spots around its ears. Barnum's disappointment turned out to be Forepaugh's opportunity. He secretly whitewashed one of his own elephants a pure white color and billed it as the "Genuine Sacred White Elephant," "Light of Asia" (Figure III). Adding insult to injury, he referred to Barnum's elephant as an outright fraud.
     The notorious "battle of the white elephants" gave J. and E. Stevens Company of Cromwell, CT, an opportunity to capitalize on the situation. The company incorporated the likeness of "Light of Asia" into a mechanical bank, as shown in Figure IV.
     Worthy of mention is the fact that "Light of Asia" mechanical bank and the "Jumbo" me­chanical bank (Antique Toy World article dated December, 1987), both products of the J. and E. Stevens Co., utilize the same exact castings for their heads and their four-wheeled bases. They differ only in the castings of their bodies and the colors in which they were painted. To date, no patent papers for either the "Jumbo" bank or "Light of Asia" have been located. Perhaps the reason Stevens may never have applied for a "regular" patent on either bank is that the action so closely resembled that of the "Tammany" bank, whereby a coin is inserted and the head nods, that no need was felt to further protect the two banks. However, this is merely conjecture in the absence of more plausible, or factual, information.
     The action of the "Light of Asia" bank can only be described as simplistic. Placing a coin into the slot atop the elephant's back causes its head to nod up and down. Coin removal, on the other hand, was more complicated. The bank needed to be disassembled, which was accomplished by removing the large screw securing both halves of its body.
     "Light of Asia" is considered quite scarce, and possibly for the following reasons: since it was also designed as a pull toy, it is likely that the bank experience rough handling. Unfortunately, its small size and delicate casting were not intended to withstand this type of treatment. Combined with the complexity of coin removal, it is fortunate any intact examples exist today. One must also take into account that "Light of Asia" might have enjoyed only a very short period of production, ending when Adam Forepaugh's "faux pas" was exposed.
     There are no casting or color variations of "Light of Asia." The colors of the bank pictured in Figure IV are as follows: the entire elephant is painted light gray. Its ears and portions of its legs are highlighted in pink. It has white eyes with black pupils, and a red mouth. Its blanket is bright red, with a yellow braided border. The words "Light of Asia" and the crescent moon design are painted gold. The platform and wheels upon which the elephant stands are bright green with gold accents.
     I am not aware of any reproductions of the "Light of Asia." Nevertheless, Figure V is a wheel diagram which should help determine the size and scale of the bank. A recast would appear approximately one-sixteenth of an inch smaller than indicated.
     Correction: It was erroneously stated in the December 1987 Antique Toy World article, "The Jumbo Bank," that the J. and E. Stevens Co. also manufactured the "Elephant with Tusks on Wheels" bank. Discovery of new evidence indicates the likelihood of Kyser and Rex Co. of Frankford, PA, as its manufacturer. Further elaboration will be contained within a future article in this magazine.

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