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
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.