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Veering off the beaten path- diversifying your collection

By: Sandy Lechtick


If one eye is king in the land of the blind, then the coin-op collector with both eyes open is twice as likely to love his coin-op machines.  If this gear-driven mechanical, video or electro-mechanical coin-operated contraption does not require a penny, nickel, dime, quarter or half dollar to operate, what's there to love? For some, the sun rises and falls on their coin-op treasures.  Yet, interests change and some collectors see elegance and beauty in stuff that displays many of the features of coin-op - but not necessarily coin-activated.  Sometimes, the zig is as much fun as the zag and other collectibles truly enhances your vision and presentation.  


When I started getting more and more ensconced in the world of coin-op machines, thanks in part to guys like Mike Gorski, Steve Grownoski; Fred Able; Ira Warren; Kenny Rubin; John Pappa and Mark Brosso, I pretty much liked everything.  If this had been a plate of food, it would look like a three-foot pyramid.  But soon I gravitated to arcade machines - especially those with athletic overtones, movement or uniqueness.  Fortune Tellers, Diggers and Juke Boxes caught my eye along with strength testers, boxing machines, vibrating chin-up apparatus and related.  While the Cleveland Grandma is one favorite, Mike Gorski's reproductions of early 1900 Roovers: Madam Zita, Puss & Boots and Donkey, are favorites too.  Over the years, I've highlighted several coin-op "Tales of the Hunt" articles in C.O.C.A. magazines.  


About six years ago I met Frank Nix who looked like a train conductor on a railroad with his little hat.  Frank was operating a band organ at a local park in Southern California.  I was intrigued and went over and introduced myself.  As luck would have it, he lived a few blocks from my house and invited me over.  After touring his fantastic collection of orchestrions, player pianos, violanos, exotic music boxes and other mechanical music, I discovered a new world.  He invited me to join the Automatic Music Collectors Association (AMICA).   


On a AMICA tour visiting one prominent collector - Bob McCord in Calabasas, California, I saw a most incredible collection of Polk Cowboy Character Slot Machines, mechanical advertising window displays and "Baranger Motions."  The barangers were jewelry store window displays used in the 1930's to 1950's.  About 160 different barangers were made in batches of 20-30 each.  Over the years some were taken apart and used for new displays.  The company, started by Arch Baranger in Pasadena, California made displays with different themes: watch makers, circus, cowboys, Indians, bands, atomic reactors, space ships, etc.  Until the Baranger company closed in 1959, the barangers were leased to jewelry stores on a monthly basis, returned and replaced by another.  None were for sale.  After the company closed, the baranger building was bought by Burton Burton, the wealthy owner of Casablanca Fans.  To his shock, there were hundreds of boxes of these.  He eventually sold most of the Barangers to John Daniel, a famous magician who wrote the book "Baranger Window Displays in Motion", 2001, one of my favorites.  In time barangers were sold and became collectible.  They kind of fly under the radar.  


As I got to know Bob McCord, owner of one of my all-time favorite restaurants, the famous Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas, he told me he'd let me know if and when he was ready to sell any.  Like most collectors, he loved to buy machines, but not overly excited about selling.  Coincidentally, me and my wife Sumi, were on vacation, driving up the California Coast, we generally stay at Bed & Breakfast places and visit The Antique Annex, a well-known (albeit pricy) antique store in Solvang (has since closed).  At one such visit we saw two barangers for sale.  I liked them, but they were too pricy, so I passed.     


A month or two later, out of the blue, I got a call from Bob McCord asking me if I was still interested in buying a couple barangers.  I said "absolutely" and he said "OK", I need some cash to make payroll at my restaurant!  I'll have a couple brought to your office.  I checked them out and these were the two Barangers I had seen in the antique store in Solvang.  Apparently they were on consignment. We concluded the transaction.  Those were the first two.  Unfortunately, Bob, a most unusual and colorful fellow, died suddenly a couple of years later and all his remaining Barangers, Band Organs, Orchestrions, Player Pianos, Polk Character Figure Slot Machines and other stuff sold at the Bob McCord estate sale.  Most ended up in prominent collections throughout the United States.  Bob had one hell of a collection.   


Since then, I've bought various mechanical advertising window displays and barangers at Chicagoland, auctions, private collectors, even at swap meets.  I've sold and traded a few to get the ones that better fit my tastes.  I'm still hunting for those I don't have.  In addition to Barangers, there are many other unique window displays that add to one’s collection.  


Some late 1800's automatons have actually been converted to coin mech and built into beautiful wood cabinets.  "The Mesmerizer, a Decamps Paris 1910" from the John Daniel collection is one I was able to purchase.  


The moral of the story is that one can discover new worlds by joining new organizations, developing new relationships and visiting the homes of collectors.  There are some areas of collecting that are not coin-operated, but add variety, color and texture to your presentation.  Some even help display your existing coin-op treasure!  As a collector, penny arcade, coin-op machines continue to hold sway, but veering off the beaten path and discovering a new venue has added a new twist and a few more "oohs and ahs"!  


Sandy Lechtick, a penny arcade coin-op collector in Southern California has zigged and zagged his way into the world of barrangers, automatons, mechanical advertising window displays and music machines.  

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