So, what’s been happening in the world of coin-op?
By: Sandy Lechtick
Someone once told me that getting older is like a roll of toilet paper - it goes a lot faster the closer it gets to the end. Months and years fly by.
In the last five years, the roll of life has moved far too quickly and abruptly for many in our world of coin-op. Many who are no longer with us were not only terrific individuals, but major contributors to our slice of heaven.
Ken Rubin, one of the world's top coin-op collectors and author of "Drop Coin Here" and I were eating a healthy sandwich at Portello's at a recent Chicoland Coin-op Show. We were reflecting on the state of the coin-op would and some of those people who are now footnotes in history. We both got a bit nostalgic about fallen comrades. Some were giants and others played major supporting roles.
The sudden demise of Susan Pall was shocking. She fell down in her kitchen, hit her head and died soon after. She was Alan Pall's wife and caregiver while he was suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinson's. She wrote many articles in coin-op magazines and was the publicist on Alan’s advertisements. Those two were unquestionably one of the most colorful and engaging couples. Alan had for three decades been a major dealer of high end arcade and gambling machines. Susan was the only coin-op person who religiously worked out in the exercise gym at Pheasant Run during Chicagoland. She always got there before me. Roughly two years ago we lost another Alan Sax, who was a pillar in the world of coin-op - especially in gambling devices, three reelers, etc. Alan was one of the biggest and most prolific dealers. He also had a great collection- and his house was on the C.O.C.A. tour a few years ago. During the Chicagoland Antique Show, Alan always invited people to his house- and generally did a lot a business then. While he was a successful businessman, he was a low key and gracious fellow.
On the other hand, Frank Zygmunt, was more colorful- and a hellova story-teller. (Tim Laganke is a close-second!) Frank . who passed away about five years ago, was also also part of a COCA tour several years ago. He had a spectacular collection and one of the most elegant oak back bars I’ve ever seen. Frank and Alan were by far the largest dealers of three-reelers and other gambling devices. Frank also was the top dealer of Wurlitzer jukeboxes. Both had the biggest booths at Chicagoland- and not only very good friends- but were major, major "impact players". Frank’s son Frank Jr. has taken over for his father, but it’s not quite the same.
While Bob Pelligrini, who died about two years ago was a bit contankerous and certainly not a dealer, he was a major buyer of high end coin-op arcade and mechanical music and one of those who kept prices (for good or bad) at a high level. He also opened up his New York apartment on the New York C.O.C.A. tour and he too had a superb collection. I bought his Dave Ramey "Banjo -Orchestra from his estate at a recent Morphy Auction. Six years, Bob McCord, owner of The Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas, Ca., and a major buyer of Polk Character Slot Machines, orchestrions, player pianos and Baranger Motions died. He also played a strong role in enhancing robust prices- to the point of a bit irrational. In fact, he and Michael Pollack of Arizona - along with Chris Davis of Orange County, California almost single handedly pushed prices sky-high for Polk Figures. McCord also overbid on Baranger Motions along with Pollack- and pushed prices higher. McCord was the fellow who got me started in collecting Barangers.
Some people suggest that it is getting tougher to find the stuff we like. The dealers and pickers continue to play a big role. Some dealers have come and gone. Steve Gronowski, another very colorful character, was a founder of Chicagoland, and for many years had the biggest booth strategically located in the center- packed with great arcade machines. I am told he had a lot of great "Pickers: and was a mecca for coin-op.
John Papa, who has been a top dealer for many years, in a sense replaced Gronowski, and became the "go-to" guy for arcade machines and expert maintenance for penny arcade machines and many jukeboxes.. He and his team designed and built some outstanding replicas of highly sought after arcade machines. I certainly miss John Papa's great display year after year of arcade machines and the excitement he generated when he unveiled his latest “wonder”- extremely well made "Electricity of Life", “Dr. Vibrator," "The Submarine Lung Tester" and others. One of my friends, I believe, has virtually every machine John and his team ever made!
Many ask: "Are prices rising of falling?" Clearly, prices are based on supply and demand. Demand for certain machines has suffered, yet for others prices are strong. Yet, people often exclaim that it's getting tougher to find good stuff. On the other hand, many collectors are getting older, already have superb collections, and not actively collecting and searching. Yet, many are not selling either. So where is the stuff? Significant amount ensconced in fewer hands? Most of the good stuff- at least complete collections, seem to be popping up in auctions? By the time this is published, Morphy Auctions, which acquired Victorian Casino Auctions (Las Vegas) will have completed one of the most significant gambling machine collection auctions in history- selling the Barry Goldfarb Collection.
So back to the toilet paper roll, there may be less paper at the end and the roll spins quicker, but the fact remains that collecting and adding to one’s collection is still a kick. I for one don’t have any room left for arcade machines in a 2000+ sq. foot arcade, but that’s OK since Baranger Motions and other mechanical advertising window displays have captured my fancy. While I’ve been fortunate to acquire some pretty cool ones, there are still almost a dozen that I’d like to buy. In short, who’s complaining about nothing good to go after. Timing they say is everything.
So, whether one is an advanced collector, beginner- or in between, the operative word is selective acquisition. Focusing on what you really like- and can afford- that fits your vision, makes sense. In some cases, you buy, but recognize that at some point you will trade or sell- and replace it with a better example or more rare machine. I’ve always believed that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link! My friend Ira always knew he could get under my skin when he brought up my “restaurant” machines- those that I had bought in my early, less sophisticated days when I thought quantity was as important as quality. Needless to say, the restaurant machines are long gone- except one!
The hunt is still a lot of fun and the endorphin rush still a kick. Having people over to my house and seeing their smiles is fun. Even when I walk in my arcade, turn on all the lights and neons and ragtime music pervading the room, I get that warm glow- a sense of accomplishment, wonder and awe. When I look at the overall display- and where I put what machine where- and at what angle to reflect the lighting, I think, “Wow, sandy, that looks pretty cool!” While I am in my mid 60's and competitive table tennis at a national level (practice five days a week) now front and center, the collecting bug is still there. I for one am not thinking of any "exit strategy"- although I have on occasion sold off a few pieces to make room for new ones- that I have been pursuing for many years.
So, the takeaway my friends. Collect what you like, don't worry what others think and enjoy the journey. It is the friendships and adventures, the tales of the hunt and the whole mosaic of experience along the way that you will treasure. Owning the stuff is icing on the cake.
Sandy Lechtick is based in So. California and known for his colorful display of 1930's to 1970's penny arcade machines, baranger motions, mechanical advertising window displays, orchestrions and other automated mechanical music. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 712-9700, ex. 14.