PINGAMES (AND COLLECTORS) AT THE 1984 FUN FAIR
By Russ Jensen
First, let me start out by saying how pleased I am to be writing for the all new Coin Slot. The first issue was tremendous, to say the least. It certainly was the best coin-op collectable magazine issue ever produced. If the Coin Slot stays on its current path I believe this magazine will continue to thrive and retain its position as the best coin-op collectables magazine ever.
Now to the 1984 Fun Fair. For the past three years (with the exception of last year) I have been reporting annually on the pingames which appeared at each of the Loose Change Fun Fairs. Last year, for several reasons, I did not produce such an article; so this year, in addition to reporting on the 1984 Fun Fair, I will also mention some of the pingames which showed up in 1983.
Regarding the past shows, 1982 was the best as far as pins were concerned, boasting some 12 pingames in the 1931 - 1970 era. I generally don't say much about games made after 1970 as, in general, I don't consider them really 'collectable.' This is beginning to change, however, but for the time being my articles will primarily deal with machines from the earlier years of pinball.
The 1984 Fun Fair was again held at the Pasadena Exhibit Center in Pasadena, CA; this time on Saturday and Sunday, September 15th and 16th, a bit earlier than previous shows. Some people seemed to think that there were more visitors/exhibitors there this time than last year, while others thought the opposite. It seemed to me that things were about the same as last year (maybe a few less visitors), but, as far as pingames were concerned, things were about the same. In fact, many of the pins shown this year were also at last year's show.
Before we get into the actual games, a word about the pinball collectors who were present. Each year the pinball collectors who visit the show usually meet in small groups to discuss their collections and show photos of their games to each other. This year was no exception.
This time, however, one of the collectors, Richard Conger, decided it would be a good idea to take a group photo of all the pin collectors he could locate, and this was done.
The collectors included in this photo were, from left to right: Dan Kramer (with some 15 pins, including many 1960's classics); Jon Norris (with a collection of some 50 or so games, including many classics of the 50's and 60's); Sam Harvey (with over 100 games, specializing in 1960's pins); myself (with a small collection of 18 machines); Richard Conger (boasting a collection of over 200 pins of all vintages); and last, but not least, Daine Smallwood, the "bingo king", with a large collection specializing in bingo pinballs, but also including other types as well. Incidentally, I should like to mention that Sam Harvey is the excellent pinball photographer who has been responsible for many of the photos appearing in my past articles, and all the game photos in this one. Thank you Sam!
Other collectors who we found out later were at the show, but who did not get in the picture, were Dick Graves of Oakland, CA, whose collection of a wide variety of coin machines includes quite a few pins, and Kirk Beasley of Washington State who also collects pins. The photo, incidentally, was taken by a new collector, Gary Crawford of San Jose, CA. There were most likely other pin collectors there as well but I either did not know them, or if I did, never ran into them on Saturday.
The earliest pingame at the show was a small, well built, counter top game, which at the time of the show was a mystery to me because the marquee at the top of the game was blank - the name of the game had been removed. The style and construction of this small machine was, however, very similar to a game that was at the 1983 Fun Fair, Genco's MONTE CARLO. That game was the second game to be produced by Genco, a company which was to become one of the major pingame manufacturers of the 1930's and 1940's.
A search of my files at home the next week revealed that Genco's first game, produced in December 1931, was a game called BUSTER BALL which appeared to be identical to the game at this Fun Fair. So it appears that the mystery was solved, the game was apparently BUSTER BALL, Genco's first pingame.
This machine was a small counter-top machine which gave the player 5 balls for a penny. The game was made entirely of metal, including a cast aluminum painted playfield. The field had only 8 scoring holes, plus an 'out hole', and was dotted with 'pins' which were actually part of the playfield casting. It also had a rudimentary 'score totalizer'. The balls, after dropping in a hole, rolled to the front of the machine where they were visible in slots, each with the number of points indicated above it. All in all, it was a very nice piece of early pinball history. This game, incidentally, was purchased and now resides in the formidable Richard Conger collection of well over 200 pingames.
The next game in the chronology of Fun Fair pins was a game called VICTORY BALL by the O.D. Jennings Co. That outfit was better known for their slots but also produced around 25 pingame models in the years between 1932 and 1938. VICTORY BALL was Jennings' second pin and came out around may of 1932. Their first pin was called JAY BALL and appeared some three months earlier.
The game was a simple 'pin and ball' game of the type prevalent in early 1932 and was superbly constructed. It could be used either as a counter-top game or set on a metal stand. The playfield consisted of numbered holes (with score values between 50 and 500 indicated above them) and was studded with metal pins.
As was typical of many games of that era, it had a hole labeled "Free Play" near the bottom of the playfield. That meant that any ball dropping into it could be shot again, which I guess had the advantage of letting the player try again for the higher scoring holes above it on the playfield. It also had a "Victory Ball" hole at the top of the playfield which presumably doubled the score of the other balls.
VICTORY BALL was on display in the booth of Metal Form Products of North Hollywood CA. That outfit also had a list of other machines (including several more pins) which they had for sale at what I consider reasonable prices. I understand that they brought in another pingame on Sunday which was quickly sold, but I was unable to discover the name of it.
The last of the 1932 vintage pingames at the show was Rockola's JUGGLE BALL which came out around October of that year. Rockola was of course better known as a jukebox manufacturer but they also produced about 40 pingame models from 1932 to 1938. These included many fine classic pins such as the mechanical marvels WORLD SERIES and JIGSAW (both of which were seen at previous Fun Fairs) and TOTALITE, the first game to have a score totalizer which displayed scores by means of lighted number 'panels' on the backglass. This was to be the primary score indicating method used on most pins up through the 1950's.
JUGGLE BALL appears to be the first pingame from Rockola. This same machine was also shown at last years Fun Fair. Probably the most interesting feature of this game is a player controlled 'stick', the handle of which protruded from the front of the game, with which the player could influence the ball in play. As an original ad for this game proclaimed, "the player, by means of a control lever which he holds, juggles and battles with the ball."
This game was certainly one of the first pingames in which the player could influence the ball in play, other than by shaking the cabinet. It came out about the same time as another game with a ball influencing feature, DOUBLE SHUFFLE by Hercules Novelty, which was at last years show and will be discussed later. A few such ball control devices were tried in the early days, but it was really not until the invention of the 'flipper' in 1947 that player control really became a standard pingame feature.
A special play feature of JUGGLE BALL was that the player could try to double his score by getting balls in all the holes marked with the letters J-U-G-G-L-E. This was similar to the 'spell name' features used many years later on pins. The JUGGLE BALL at the show was in 'mint' condition and was a truly fine example of early pingame design.
The pins at this Fun Fair next made a chronological skip from 1932 to 1935. By this time in pinball history the strictly mechanical games had almost completely given way to games with battery operated 'kickers' and 'guns', and even some with simple electric lights, thanks to the introduction of electricity into pingame design by Harry Williams with his CONTACT in late 1933.
The first of two 1935 machines at the show was IMPACT by Mills Novelty Co. (another well known slot manufacturer who also made pins in the Thirties) which came out around February of that year. This machine, by the way, also appeared at last years show.
IMPACT was made to be a 'counter game', rather than one which stood on legs like most other games of the period. In fact, Mills stressed this in their ads with such comments as "Mills' IMPACT is a new type of counter pin game - built especially for the top of the cigar counter, showcase or bar." They further stated "not a baby, not a miniature - IMPACT is a man size game." They were referring to the fact that this game was large compared to most counter type games, measuring 15 by 30 inches.
The main feature of the game was four cannon type ball 'projectors', two near the center at each side and two near the bottom of the playfield. A ball landing in one of these could be shot out (by means of an electric solenoid kicker) toward the top of the playfield. The two side ball projectors would shoot the ball into "auxiliary" playfield areas (one on each side) which contained higher scoring holes than did the central playfield area. The two projectors near the bottom of the field shot the balls directly toward the top of the playfield.
This game was beautifully constructed and in excellent condition. It was a fine example of the numerous "electric action" pingames of the mid Thirties.
Another 1935 pin at the show was TEN GRAND, also made by Mills. This was a fine example of the many payout pinballs so prevalent in the mid Thirties. TEN GRAND, however, was not just an ordinary payout. This machine internally contained a full (less reels) Mills 'Silent Bell' slot machine mechanism, with a slot machine type handle on the side of the massive cabinet.
The machine worked like this. The player would insert a coin and pull the handle. The hidden bell mechanism would operate, just as in a standard slot machine, but no reels were used. The result of the 'stopping position' of the bell mechanism was reflected in a number indicated by lighted panels in the center of the pinball playfield. This number represented the amount of "free games" which would be awarded if the player could score 10,000 points during pinball play. The "free games" in this instance were of course actually nickles payed out. If, as would happen most often, the spin of the bell resulted in a 'losing combination' the player would still have the opportunity of winning 3 "free games" by obtaining a pinball score of at least 5000 points. Incidentally, the player was only allowed two balls for pinball play in either case.
Mills, in their advertising of TEN GRAND, compared its earnings to that of bell slot machines using statements such as, "TEN GRAND is the first table to use the marvelous money-making superiority of the bell, an earning power that has never been matched by anything in the pin table field." They further stated, "TEN GRAND not only employs all the bell's sure-fire money-making ability but combines it with a clever, unusual and interesting playing panel based completely on skill."
As you can see from this description, TEN GRAND is certainly a classic in the field of payout pinballs and could even be called a "pin-bell machine."
Pamco's PALOOKA was the other payout pin at this years Fun Fair. It was manufactured in early 1936 by Pacific Amusement Manufacturing Co. of Los Angeles, otherwise known as "PAMCO". This, incidentally, was the same company that a few years before made Harry Williams' classic, CONTACT, referred to earlier. By 1936 PAMCO was a well established pingame manufacturer, but this only lasted until mid 1937 when they produced their final pingame.
PALOOKA, like many other PAMCO pins of the time, was a payout with a novel play theme. It was essentially a horse racing game in which the player would 'bet' on one of six horses by inserting a coin in one of six coin chutes at the front of the machine. The player would then shoot a ball into a circular playfield, similar to a Roulette Wheel, with 25 holes all numbered between 1 and 6. If the number of the hole in which the ball finally landed corresponded to the number 'bet' by the player he would win. The number of coins payed for a win would depend on an odds indicator on the short backglass, which would change with each play, indicating the payout amounts for each of the six 'horses'.
This machine, like many payout pins of its time, was beautifully constructed in a massive wooden cabinet and colorfully decorated. While maybe not strictly a pingame in the truest sense of the word, it is indeed a fine game typical of the 'pin format' gambling machines of the mid 1930's.
A game that has been at the Fun Fair for the past three years was Mills' SPINNING REELS, which came out around 1940. This year, however, there were two! Both were on display at the booth of Fallitech Enterprises. One was the restored machine which has been present in past years. The second was unrestored but in very good condition.
As many of you probably know, SPINNING REELS was a later version of Mills' very popular game "1-2-3" which came out a couple of years before. That game was so popular that it was advertised in the trade papers for about two years! Both games featured a stainless steel playfield containing three sets of colored bumpers, each set corresponding to one of the slot machine type reels behind the backglass. Balls hitting the bumpers advanced the corresponding reel, one symbol at a time. At the conclusion of the game, the symbol combination on the backboard determined the payout - a real 'pinball slot machine'.
In addition to the early pins mentioned above, there was one other electro-mechanical pingame at the Fun Fair. It was Williams' "OXO" from 1974. Games from the period between 1937 and the beginning of the "solid state era" have been fairly rare at past Fun Fairs. This machine was owned by my good friend, ace jukebox collector and restorer Ron Tyler who is also into pins (in fact, he started out with pins and later converted to jukes). The machine seemed to bring quite a bit of interest and was sold quite early in the show.
OXO is a very interesting game and, as you might infer from its name, has a Tic-Tac-Toe theme. The lower center of the playfield has a light-up replica of a Tic-Tac-Toe game which can display either X's or O's in each of its nine squares. Various rollovers on the playfield light the various squares with either an 'X' or an 'O' depending on other game conditions. Achieving a line of three of either symbol will of course reward the player with replays. All in all, it is a very fascinating game to play and probably ranks with the top pinballs of the early seventies.
SOLID STATE PINS
In addition to the older games at the show there were, as their have been in all the past Fun Fairs, several of the modern "solid state" electronic pinballs. All but one were offered by the same dealer. The games offered for sale were: WORLD CUP (one of the very early electronic pins of 1977), JUNGLE LORD, JOKER POKER, FLASH, FIREPOWER, MELODY LANE, and BLACK KNIGHT. The latter game was even a "talking pinball" that actually speaks to the player using a limited electronic vocabulary. In addition, it has one of the new 'multi-level' playfields.
While the collectability of solid state pins may still be somewhat in question, I feel they will be collected in the future, if not already by some collectors. Games such as FLASH (which has some outstanding visual and audible effects) and BLACK KNIGHT will certainly be prime candidates for solid state pin collections.
A LOOK BACK TO LAST YEAR
Before concluding I think it might be in order to describe some of the early pins that were at last year's show and which have not already been mentioned.
Certainly the most historically significant of those was Bally's ROCKET which came out around October of 1933. This game competes with Harry Williams' CONTACT as the earliest 'electric' pinball machine, however, the use of battery power in these two machines was for quite different purposes. CONTACT was the first pingame to use electricity to provide playfield 'action', whereas ROCKET used its power only to operate an automatic coin payout mechanism. As such, however, ROCKET was the first of many electric automatic payout pingames which were extremely popular during the rest of the Thirties and even into the Forties. ROCKET was a well constructed, durable looking, machine and certainly one of the classic Bally pingames of all time.
As I mentioned earlier, another game at last year's show was DOUBLE SHUFFLE by Hercules Novelty Co., which came out in September of 1932. This game, like Rockola's JUGGLE BALL, was an early example of a game in which the player could exercise some control over the ball in play. In fact, DOUBLE SHUFFLE could be considered the first 'flipper game' as its action was similar to that of the 'flippers' which were to come some fifteen years later.
There were four "flipper like" devices on each side of the playfield. Each set of four was controlled by a separate lever in front of the playfield. As each ball was released it started out on the 'flipper' at the lower left hand side of the playfield. The player would then attempt to flip it to the first one on the right by operating the left hand lever. He would then try to advance the ball toward the top of the field, by using the flipper devices, first on one side and then on the other. Painted arrows on the playfield indicated the path which would lead to the top.
The playfield contained a series of scoring holes, some of which were partially protected by metal pins. The highest scoring holes were of course at the top of the playfield, requiring much 'flipper skill' to advance the ball to those heights. This machine was indeed novel in two senses. First, it had no plunger to propel the ball (only the 'flippers') and second, of course, were the 'flippers' themselves (a "premonition" of things to come). This game was a novel historical piece and would make a fine addition to any early pingame collection.
Other pins at the 1983 Fun Fair, which were not at this year's show, included Bally BONUS, a 1936 payout; Genco's MONTE CARLO, which was mentioned earlier; and a game called ZIG ZAG. This later machine is another 'mystery' game as it appeared not to have any manufacturer's name on it, and I can find no reference to it. It was a medium size, all mechanical 'pin and ball game' with a playfield painted mostly green. A legend at the bottom of the playfield proclaimed "Not A Gambling Device." The date was probably 3932 (or early 1933 at the latest).
This concludes my description of the pinball games which were offered for sale at the 1984 Fun Fair, as well as a look back to the 1983 show. The price range appeared to fall into two groups; those with asking prices around $300, and those with price tags of $1000 or more. There were also a few smaller machines in the $100-$200 price range. Since prices of pingames have not really stabilized, its hard to say what is a fair price, but the old law of "supply and demand" should eventually establish pin prices at whatever the average collector is willing to pay. After all, that's really what determines prices of anything, especially antique items. So for now we'll have to wait and see what 'pin games appear at next year's show.
Use back to return to prior web page