A fascinating hobby …
In the last ten years many people have become coin-op collectors. Coin machines come in all shapes and sizes, from small counter top vending and game devices to large mechanical orchestra machines.
The most widely collected coin operated device is the ‘slot machine’. This includes the familiar one armed bandit type machine and the Turn of the Century upright or color wheel machine.
Not so many years ago even owning such a machine was a crime in almost every state, although this did not stop avid collectors who operated under cover to carry out their hobby. The California Penal Code was then amended to allow collectors to own antique slot machines. After 1978 collectors could legally own slot machines manufactured prior to 1941, provided they were not used for gambling!
One by one other states started to pass similar legislation. Today, approximately ten years after California was made legal, 28 states allow collecting of antique slot machines, four have unclear laws regarding them, three allow only trade stimulators, and only 15 states still ban them.
These are counter top games, almost identical to a slot machine with one important difference: they do not automatically dispense cash prizes when a player wins. These games come in many forms and were generally used by small merchants to promote sales or attract customers … hence the name “trade stimulator”.
A common type of trade stimulator took the form of a small “wheel of fortune”. These were often used in cigar stores. The player would spin the wheel, usually by inserting a coin, and when it stopped it would indicate the number of cigars he would receive, usually one but occasionally more. This helped the cigar store’s business as many people would buy a cigar by playing the game, hoping to win additional ones.
Wurlitzer seems to be the most collectable jukebox of all the various brands. This is probably due to the innovative cabinet designs of that company’s chief designer during the golden age, Mr. Paul Fuller.
Probably Fuller’s most collectable jukebox is the Wurlitzer model 1015. This machine is the jukebox used today in many television commercials, movies, and on TV. It is characterized by its rounded top, revolving color wheels and bubble tubes.
These amazing machines were made strictly to provide entertainment and amusement, and were found in the penny arcades which flourished from around the turn of the century until recent times.
Arcade machines include fortune tellers, peep shows, and games. Probably the most familiar of these types of machines is the granny fortune teller which consists of a large cabinet, the upper half of which contains a replica of the head and upper half of the body of an old woman ( a fortune teller). When a coin is inserted, a printed card is dispensed containing your fortune. This is often accompanied by a mechanized movement of the mechanical woman’s arms.
Game type arcade machines usually simulated a popular sport or had a gun shooting theme. The rifle gallery machines, popular since the late 1940’s, allowed a player to simulate shooting a rifle at targets behind a glass, thus emulating the popular carnival shooting galleries.
The only coin operated vending machines that have caught on with collectors are the machines that dispensed chewing gum or peanuts. Most of the collectable machines of this type were manufactured between 1910 and 1950.
Most of these machines had containers for the merchandise which allowed viewing, either using a glass “globe” or a square glass sided compartment.
Another type of coin machine, the 50-year-old pinball machine is also popular these days. Pinballs come in many sizes and technical complexities. Some collectors prefer the early machines which were strictly mechanical, some very simple and others with clever mechanisms.
In 1947 came a startling new innovation: the “flipper”, a player-controlled bat-like device which could alter the course of the ball being played. This led to bumpers which could forcibly repel a ball, making an exciting action game out of pinball. This led to the fascinating colorful games of the 1950’s – pinball’s golden age.