Everyday Art: Vintage Slot Machines

Post by: Rick Ellis 16 October, 2020

The term "slot machine" dates back to the late 1880s, when became common to find vending machines that involved some game of chance in every little corner store. There were a multitude of styles and functions, but what nearly all of them had in common was that they had a slot on the front or side to insert a coin. But those earliest machines don't resemble what we think of today as slot machines. They often involved featured things like toy horses racing around a small track. Bar patrons would bet on the races using nickels or tokens provided by the bar. Winnings could then be used to purchase beer or other bar items.

The first slot machine that is recognized as being closer to the modern slot machine design was developed in a Brooklyn bar in 1891. It had five spinning drums with ten cards on each drum. It was essentially a mechanized poker machine, but it was near impossible for the machine to make automatic payouts due to the number of possible combinations. A more familiar design came five years later when a Bavarian-born San Franciscan named Charles Fey created the "Liberty Bell." That machine used three spinning drums with the now familiar bells, hearts, spades, diamonds, and horseshoe symbols. The simplicity made gameplay much easier and the machine itself is considered one of the holy grails for collectors. But of the hundreds of machines that he sold, only four are known to have survived the San Francisco Earthquake.

A number of competitors began knocking off versions of Fey's design and the machines became extremely popular, leading a number of cities to impose gambling bans. But machine operators got around most of those laws by shifting the reels to ones that featured fruit. Generally, bar patrons were then able to "win" fruit gum that matched the symbols on the wheel. In 1916, the Mills Novelty Company developed a way for slot machines to automatically return winnings, which made the gameplay much easier. But by 1920, many cities had made the machines illegal. In 1931, Nevada made slot machines completely legal, leading to an explosion of new designs and gameplay.

While many of the older models are wildly collectable, the value of a machine in good shape with original parts can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands. For collectors, the pre-1930 machines are considered antique, while those that are post-1930 are considered contemporary. One reason for that distinction is that the pre-1930 machines are much less likely to have replacement parts, since they generally weren't available for the older machines.

Here are examples of some of our favorites.

One Cent Mills Jockey Trade Simulator

Twenty Cent Mills Black Beauty Slot Machine

Twenty Five Cent Mills Poinsettia Slot Machine

Twenty Five Cent Tic Tac Toe Slot Machine

Twenty Five Cent Watling Blue Seal Jackpot Vendor Slot Machine

Five Cent Callie Little Wonder Coin Flip Cigar Trade

Five Cent Coin Front Roll A Top Slot Machine

Five Cent OD Jennings Chief Slot Machine

Five Cent OD Jennings Standard Chief Slot Machine

Five Cent Paupa & Hochreim Five-Way Poker Trade Simulator

Last modified on Friday, 16 October 2020 19:12

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