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Classic Slot Machines
 The coin-operated machines that provided Victorians and Edwardians with cheap thrills are today very collectable - and far from cheap.

 Slot machines became popular in the late 19th century and had their heyday in the Edwardian period. They were found not only in their traditional seaside home at the end of the pier, but also in high-street shops, known as sideshows, in inland towns.

 The amusement arcades and sideshows of Edwardian England were magnets to young and old alike, especially the holidaymakers and day-trippers in the booming seaside towns, where a turn along the pier usually involved the scandalous pleasures offered by mutoscopes, which pre-dated the first cinema films by a decade and worked on more or less the same principle. The cards above the machine promised a great deal, but were often the sauciest things about the whole experience.

 Many early machines were minor works of art, with ingenious mechanisms housed in beautiful cases. Some free-standing machines in painted and gilded cast iron took their chance with the weather out of doors; others were wall-mounted in veneered cases.

 While most machines were intended for in innocent amusement, others provided the guilty thrills of gambling. The former included mutoscopes - better known as What the Butler Saw machines - and automata. Mutoscopes, patented in 1895, held a sequence of several hundred photographs mounted in a drum turned by a hand crank. They could be viewed as a short motion picture by cranking quickly.

 Lifelike automata - clockwork models were art objects in 18th- and 19th-century Europe. Cruder ones turned up in sideshows, depicting domestic scenes, moral fables and - a particular arcade favourite - Grand Guignol scenes of haunted houses or executions.

 In the earliest gambling machines, the coin or a ball fell through the machine to land, lost, in the cashbox or in a cup that guaranteed a payout. A variation of this, the Pickwick, was developed in 1900 to add a little skill to basic luck. The winning cup could be moved in an attempt to catch the descending ball.

 The Allwin, patented in 1913, became the quintessential British arcade game. A metal ball was propelled up and around a metal track to fall into one of several cups ranged across the machine. Some cups were losers and the others paid out at varying odds. Allwins were still being made in the 1970s.


 Fruit machines, or three-reelers, first appeared in the USA in 1905. An instant success, they later came to symbolize gangsterism and corruption, and were the focus of restrictive legislation ever after. Three-reelers were rarely seen in Britain before the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 legalized public gaming.

 Some other machines, notably shooting galleries and test-your-strength machines had an element of gaming; 'great strength' or perfect shooting returned the player's penny.


 Old amusement arcade machines don't turn up very often. You may occasionally find them in antiques fairs and markets, and in the rare auctions that specialize in fairground antiques, but your best bet is to try one of the very few specialist dealers. It's also worth looking at - and perhaps advertising in - the trade journals aimed at fairground showmen, or approaching arcade owners direct.

 Few genuine early machines survive. They were junked or remodelled to keep up with the fickles of fashion and the government's habit of changing the gaming laws. You'll have better luck concentrating on machines made between the wars. Remember, though, that some early machines, such as the Allwin, have been in continuous production for many years, and that several of the more popular games have been reproduced recently to feed a growing nostalgia market.

 Wooden cases should be in good condition. A fair amount of wear and tear is acceptable, as is sympathetic restoration. Metal pieces should be intact, and retain most of their original enamel or gilt decoration.

 Only buy machines in good working order; play before you buy, and as an extra check, look inside the case (all machines should be sold with a key; if there isn't one, be on your guard). Look for signs of a breakdown waiting to happen - loose pieces, sagging springs and rust on any moving part, for instance - and for evidence of slapdash repair work; bits of string, hairpins and great blobs of solder have no place in a machine.

 Some machines came complete with sound effects, provided by a mechanical bellows. This refinement was most often heard in shooting galleries, where the metal hares, stags or cats that formed the targets gave forth a death cry when hit. If a bellows is included, make sure it works.

 Accessories can be a problem. Mutoscope and fortune-telling cards can be harder to come by than the machines themselves. A final thing to remember, if you're buying an unconverted machine, is to be sure to get in a good supply of the appropriate old coins.

 Electric shock machines tested the nerve and provided the dubious benefits of an 'invigorating' shock. The user held the knob and cranked up the voltage by turning the handle.

Collector's Treasury of Antique Slot Machines from Contemporary Advertising
by Peter Bach, Dan Post; Hardcover

While not pretending to provide exhaustive coverage of the antique slot machine, this 480-page volume does give a superb sampling of the advertising that appeared in The Billboard, a magazine long rated as the number one trade publication of the coin machine industry. Taken from issues dating over a period of 25 years, advertisements for such landmark machines as the 1937 Mills MELON BELL, the BALLY BELL and BALLY DOUBLE BELL of later vintage are included in the book's chronological arrangement, as are some devices that are to be found only in the ads, never having made it into production. 

As an identification guide, this book offers, by far, the most bang for the buck! Described accurately by the author as a "primary source book," the Collector's Treasury of Antique Slot Machines from Contemporary Advertising must be called gigantic---with 480 picture-filled pages. Size: 6.25" x 9.25". 

From the Publisher
It is a trying situation indeed when a publisher must admit that one of its lower-cost books is a best value. But we're sort of old fashioned and still think honesty is the best policy. While the Treasury doesn't have a speck of color ink within its 480 pages, and a good portion of the pictures are coarse and tattered, the thousands of pictures from yesteryear are somewhat redeeming in this age of computers, scanners and high-tech graphics. You'll want all the color picture books, of course, but the Treasury is---by far---the world's best value in slot machine identification books. Period! 

Excerpted from Collector's Treasury of Antique Slot Machines from Contemporary Advertising by Peter Bach. Copyright 1990. Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved.
Introduction: Operating [of slot machines] was an occupation best suited to the stout-hearted, for the professional operator was engaged in walking an endless tightrope. He had always to use safeguards to discourage hijackers from wiping him out. He had to toss through sleepless nights trying to cope with prime locations considering the notion of putting in their own machines. He often had to face head-on the threat of underhanded competition which range from offering his best locations a better percentage to sabotaging his equipment. Overshadowing it all, he had to live with the unspoken fear that local legislation would further erode his open territory.







Collector's Treasury of Antique Slot Machines from Contemporary Advertising
by Peter Bach, Dan Post; Hardcover

Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete; Paperback

Secrets Of Winning Slots by Avery Cardoza; Paperback

Vintage Jukeboxes the Hall of Fame
by Christopher Pearce

The Official Victory Glass Price Guide to Antique Jukeboxes, 1990 Paperback

Johnny's Jukebox Trivia: 1,001 Fantastic Questions from the Golden Age of Rock and Roll
by John Robinson

by Michael Adams, et al

Though they are usually seen today as part of the teenage rock 'n' roll subculture of the 1950s, jukeboxes first attracted a more mature audience devoted to swing and to the big bands of the 1930s and 1940s. 

The name Rock-Ola had nothing to do with music; Rockola was the surname of the firm's founder.