Tale of the Hunt
By: Sandy Lechtick
People who know me or have visited my arcade in Southern California know I like penny arcade machines and mechanical advertising displays that are a bit unusual, perhaps a little bizarre or stuff that you don't see too often. When I concluded early on that the really rare machines - especially turn of the century (1890 to 1920's) were either too pricy, impossible to find or already fully ensconced in the hands of collector extraordinaire's (Rubin, Copperfield, Raznick, Getlin, Leganke, Grimwade, Mclemore, Chase, and a few others), I lowered my sights. On the other hand, machines of the 1930's, 40's and 50's and in some cases 60's and 70's are generally more fun to play, have killer visual appeal and are certainly much more reasonably priced.
Being an athlete and competitor most of my life, (table tennis, gymnastics and beach paddle tennis) I have always had a soft spot for coin-op machines that require a bit of strength, skill and physical dexterity. While I really like gun games and Fortune Tellers, two of my favorite machines that are worthy of Tales of Hunt, are not the most elegant, pretty or classy. In fact you could call them down right ugly.
About six years ago, not too long after I got bit by the coin-op bug, a fellow collector was advertising on eBay and as sometimes happens, we established a dialogue. It was determined that he had a punching bag machine I was interested in, and I had a machine he was interested in - an Exhibit Supply Card Vendor: "You can Tell Her Fortune by the Color of Her Hair." We worked out a trade, plus some cash.
With most punching bag machines, you smack the bag and it measures the force of your blow on a dial. I have one of those (a Mills 5 cent) which I like, but the one I traded is an Exhibit Supply "Learn how to Punch the Bag." You put in a nickel, the bag falls down and you demonstrate your pugilistic prowess for 30 seconds, like you were in an athletic gym getting a workout. Then a bell goes off and it pops back up. It stands about eight feet and as you can see is big and bulky. It is my impression there are only a few that survived. As a collector, I have found that sometimes the machines that operators thought took up too much room or didn't generate enough revenue or simply broke down too often were pushed out to pasture. In some cases, only a few were made and the inventory was always low. That might have been the case with the "Learn how to Punch the Bag" and probably the case with the other lonely orphan profiled in this article.
The second athletic machine acquisition is the result of a more common thread which weaves its way into the fabric of the collector - dogged determination. Two years ago, a fellow collector who had visited me happened to make an off hand comment about a machine he owned - big, yellow and red and you do chin-ups. He was actually playing with me and knew I knew what he was talking about and I'd be ultra interested. Did my ears perk up or what? But, he told me he had no intent in selling it and I could drool if I
liked. (Actually I made that up but you get the picture). He told me he would keep me in mind if he changed his mind. I was not holding my breath.
So every time I spoke to him or ran into him or his wife - you got it, I let him know that I not only had some extra cash, but had the absolutely perfect space in my collection - right next to the other big yellow and red machine. And finally, two years later, I caught him in a weak moment and he said "Yes," So now I finally own "Vibrator Muscle Builder." What is even cooler about this strength machine that I did not know - is that when you put in the dime and get ready to do a chin-up, a motor in the top of the machine starts vibrating like crazy making the pull-up action a lot harder that meets the eye. Now I know what the "Vibrator" in the title means. Not many people can do more than two or three within the 20 or 30 seconds. Yep, that's my type of machine! Is there any other related machines. I should try to track down?
As anyone who actively collects knows, relationships are everything and it's not just money. Quite frankly, many collectors, even those who are in the later stage of the collecting cycle - especially those who have significant financial wherewithal and don't need the money, are understandably tougher to pry things loose. When there is an emotional attachment it is even tougher. Sometimes they sell simply because they wake up on a different side of the bed or decide to give you a break. Perhaps they realize that the machine would look a lot better in your arcade than squirreled away in the back of their warehouse or garage collecting layers of dust.
Timing is everything. Bottom line: money is important, but relationships and timing - and a little persistence are the name of the game.
Sandy Lechtick lives in Southern California and collects post 1930 penny arcade machines, automatons, barangers, mechanical advertising and orchestrions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 712-9700