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King Aqua Bank
by Sy Schreckinger ANTIQUE TOY WORLD Magazine August, 2005

     Conflict between nations had proven to be a popular theme for nineteenth century mechanical bank designs. Numerous examples, produced both here and abroad, reflect generally recognized historic events. Examples include such notables as "Hold the Fort Bank", "U.S. and Spain", "Artillery Bank", "Creedmoor Bank", "Called Out Bank", "Octagonal Fort Bank", "Tommy Bank", "Grenadier Bank", etc.
     Several other mechanicals, however depict seemingly unfamiliar and obscure events that may be puzzling to all but the astute military historian. Included within this list are "Afghanistan Bank", "Schley Bottling Up Cervera Bank", and the subject of this article, "King Aqua Bank" (Figure 1).
     To date, the identity of both designer and manufacturer of "King Aqua Bank" remain unknown. That it was of German manufacture has been established, however, by the wording cast into the base and back of the bank (Figures 2, 4, and 5). This limited information was helpful in uncovering pertinent facts and a bit of conjecture.
     Although the subject matter of the "King Aqua Bank" appears to be that of racial prejudice, an understanding of circumstances occurring at that time in German colonial history may reveal its actual symbolic intent. In 1884, Germany engaged in a treaty of protection with the tribal chiefs of a region of West Africa, then known as the Cameroons, or "Kamerun". These natives were offered safety and protection from threat of colonization by other European powers.
     From the onset, the peoples of the Kamerun resisted attempts by any who sought to encroach upon their economy and covet their natural resources. As a result of continual German spoilage of their land, the Bakiveri Kamerun natives, in 1891, mounted a fierce armed resistance against the invaders. The ensuing battle resulted in a devastating and humiliating defeat for the well-trained and equipped German forces. Unfortunately, this led to a radical reappraisal of German colonial policy that culminated in a brutal campaign to exterminate the Bakiveri.
     This saga of the Bakiveri military resistance against the Germans is also the remarkable tale of Chief Kuva, whose epic defeat of the German-led forces in 1891 remains one of the most glorious chapters in Cameroon history. Germany never forgave the country for its suffering at the hands of King Kuva. In the following three years an exceptionally savage military offensive was directed at annihilation of all of Kuva's followers. By 1884, King Kuva and his remaining minion went into hiding as Germany strengthened its already iron grip on Kamerun.
     The "King Aqua Bank" (Figure 1), appears to reflect an idealized Germanic recount of that fateful battle between King Kuva and the German military. What is unknown is whether there actually was a Kamerun chieftain by the name of King Aqua and, if so, perhaps the name may have been an uneducated misnomer of King Kuva by the bank's designer. In addition, there appears to be yet another puzzlement surrounding the Kuva legend. As seen in Figure 3, King Aqua is facing a German marksman. Behind him on the back wall of the guardhouse is a small compartment that serves to imprison a native woman (Figure 4). The trapdoor sealing her jail cell bears inscriptions that read: "J,M. Frau, Kingaqua I, Kamerun".
     One may only hypothesize about the identity of these characters and what part they might play in the untold tale this mechanical has yet to reveal. Could the Germans, in their quest to capture the elusive rogue, King Kuva, have kidnapped his wife, "Frau J.C.", and held her as hostage for his surrender? Could this have led to his execution at the hands of a firing squad, resulting in the release of Queen J.C. from her incarceration?
     Action of the "King Aqua" is unique and seemingly appropriate to its legend. Initially, the marksman's rifle is cocked into position and a coin is laid atop the gun's barrel. The shooter's right foot is then depressed. Simultaneously, the coin is then propelled through King Aqua's mouth (Figure 3), striking a pin mechanism, which opens the native Queen's cell door (Figure 4). Deposits are retrieved by opening a round Stevens twist type coin retainer located underneath the base (Figure 2).
     "King Aqua Bank" is extremely rare, with only three known examples in the possession of each one of three fortunate collectors.
     Figure 5 is a base diagram of an original "King Aqua Bank". If a recast was attempted it would appear approximately one-quarter inch shorter in length O.D. than indicated.
     Note: The following is a glossary of the several Germanic words cast into the "King Aqua Bank" (Figures 2, 4, 5) and their English translations: "J.M. Frau, Kingaqua I, Kamerun" (J.M. Wife, King Aqua I, Cameroon); "Africa Spar-Bank" (Africa Savings Bank); "Mustershutz" (Marksman); "Zu" (Close); "Auf' (Open).
     Acknowledgement: The fine, all original "King Aqua Bank" seen in Figure 1 is from the collection of Steve and Marilyn Steckbeck.

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