A Tribute to Mike Gorski
September 29, 1930 - September 12, 2017
If one were to throw a small pebble in a lake it might cause a few slight ripples. A huge thousand- pound boulder careening down a steep mountain into that same lake would create a mini tsunami and thunderous explosion. Mike Gorski had that impact on the world of coin-op collecting. I've met hundreds of collectors over the years, and Mike was simply one of a kind.
Few were as beloved and respected as Mike. Even the "purists" who were upset by his replicas, saw him as an engaging, dedicated coin-op extroadinaire. Certainly, he was a tough cookie negiotiator and loved making a buck. Because he was such a "go-to" guy, many, many people reached out to him - either to buy or sell or trade. Bob Sossa, who worked closely with Mike on machines for 40 years and saw him on the day he died, knew him as a passionate consummate collector. Where some advanced collectors do not increase their circle, Bob saw first hand that Mike was someone willing to accommodate newbie's, lend parts to others and spend time with those simply interested in learning about coin-op. He was the ultimate "facilitator".
His death on September 12th was so sad, yet his memory is so vivid. It seems like yesterday, although more than 15 years ago when I was a pretty green collector of coin-op and penny arcade machines. At the first C.O.C.A. convention in Ohio, I was blown away by seeing so many great collections, especially that of Mike. At a subsequent Chicagoland Show, C.O.C.A. dinner, I saw an empty seat next to him and swooped in. I felt like I was sitting next to royalty, like I had just been given front row seats at the World Series. It was clear that he was a major player in the world of coin-op devices. As I eventually got to know most of the most established big-name collectors- Mel Getlin, Ken Rubin, Tim LaGanke, Bob Lenz, Bill Cagle, Allen Sax, Frank De Mayo, Ken Goldman, Steve Gronowski, Rob Raznick, Ira Warren, Jim Grimnade, Frank Zygmont, Greg McLemore, Bob Pelligrini and a few others, Mike always had a special place in my heart.
On one hand, where many specialize in one or two fields, he gave new meaning to the word "eclectic". He had orchestrions, player pianos and band organs.. He had various gambling devices and uprights. He had cool arcade machines and peep shows. He had automatons and unique advertising window displays. He had a great eye and possessed some pristine advertising. While the "stuff" at his house got a bit crowded, he had a great display and nice presentation. He too added to his house as his collection grew. Mike had strong mechanical aptitudes. His work shop in the back of his house was a mini factory. I’m sure his line-up of replicated Roovers Fortune Tellers gave Kenny endless nightmares!
Mike was also a strong collaborator and tapped a few key professionals who had terrific mechanical aptitude - such as Doug Dubena and Bob Sossa.. If anyone could make a buck on designing, building and assembling replicas of arcade or gambling machines, or tracking down the next great find, it was Mile. In fact, even until the end of his life, he was still on the phone following up on leads and doing deals. He couldn’t help himself and bought another machine just a couple months before he died. He was sure he was going to flip it for a nice profit! Mike just loved unearthing something squirreled away in a long- forgotten attic or turning on the charm with a recalcitrant seller. This stuff was in his blood. He was a collector, a dealer, a trickster, an unabashed hustler, a little kid with a sense of humor and an all-around good guy. He simply loved the Art of the Deal. In the world of coin-op, he'd make Trump blush.
Mike spent many years as a fireman and retired as a captain, and he then started and built a successful landscaping business in his spare time at the fire station. Someone left a broken slot machine that he fixed. In time, he was not only fixing slot machines, acquired a bunch of clockwork mechanisms through Ira Warren (traded them for a jukebox) and then built several Clausen Dicers. Years later through another set of circumstances made exquisite replicas of Roovers Fortune Tellers: The Donkey; Madam Zita and Puss n Boots, In fact, when I bought my first one (The Donkey), in the parking lot of Chicagoland Show around 2005, I thought I had gone to heaven. Not only was Mike an artist, and able to replicate coin-op machines, but he was a hell of a promoter. The magnetism of his personality, end-product craftsmanship and overall persona played an important role in increasing the popularity of coin-op machines and put devices into the hands of many who couldn't get the "one of a kind", or spend $80,000 or $90,000 plus the original. Consider that at a Morphy Auction in Las Vegas 18 months ago, an original Zita hammered at $180,000.00 and including juice sold for $215,000.00.
In addition, Mike was not just the apex of coin-op collecting in Ohio, but a very able "picker"who had terrific sources which he cultivated. Once I asked him about someone and his response was "Sandy, as you know, loose lips sink ships"! Mike was quite a businessman, not just because he acquired a fortune in Johnson & Johnson stock, but was a tough, but fair negotiator. When he didn't want to sell, all the tea in China would not make him budge, unless of course, it included the rights to all China trade. Yes, he'd sell, but at His terms.
When I brought fellow collector Ron Gaukel to his house on a collector road trip, about 8 years ago, Mike initiated us both into the "secret world" as he turned off all the lights, put on his cloak, seated us in front of the special table - ending with a loud explosion that scared the bee-gees of us. And then he had a nice barbeque with steaks.
Years later, I reciprocated. When C.O.C.A. had its first California convention, my house was on the tour, but since I was building my arcade, there was tons of construction going on and the machines were in storage, so we simply had a big barbeque. Mike just loved barbeques and especially my wife's sweet corn on the cob.
At the 2017 Ohio C.O.C.A. conference, his mind was still sharp, although his body was breaking down. He was still selling framed pictures (copies)! While I realize that there are some who suggest that copies of an item subvert value, many believe that buying a great looking copy or replica, knowing it is a copy or replica, and paying 1/10th the price, is not a terrible thing. In fact, with Mike Lustig's assistance, I was able to conduct a video interview (Mike’s last) on his thoughts on collecting, the controversy of originals vs. copies and his overall philosophy. It should appear soon on my website: The coinopguy.com.
In closing, Mike was truly a one of a kind. His practical jokes and legendary dry sense of humor was amazing. Bill Howard, another prominent Ohio collector often referred to him as the "Godfather”. To “Timbo the Great" Laganke, he was simply "Mickey", one of his closest friends. Most everyone has a Mike Gorski story. For many, he was a unique individual that played a giant role in promoting, expanding and spiking interest in the world of coin-op machines. He added spice, pizazz. But, more than simply being a top collector and dealer, he was an unusual, gritty, no-nonsense negotiator who could not only make powerful men cringe, but do it with a smile and practical joke. In the world of coin-op, he could give Trump a run for his money.
At the end of the day, he was a trickster, unabashed hustler, shrewd businessman, prankster, practical joker, astute knowledge-broker, and expert facilitator of deals. He was a little kid with a big heart and all around good guy who will be sorely missed. It seems like yeAsterday that he roamed the halls of Chicagoland, schmoozed with other collectors- and tripped over a chord in the early Friday Chicagoland parking lot, messing up his wrist and still found time to sell machines. Hanging out with him and his daughter, LaGanke, Rubin, the Ernsters at incredible Milhause Auction in Florida and trip afterword to Mel and Anne Getlan’s house, was something I’ll never forget.
I will always remember Mike’s huge hands, strong as hell handshake, and twinkle in his eyes as he pleasantly exclaimed, "If you up the offer, I'll think about it!"