PINGAMES AT THE 1985 FUN FAIR
By Russ Jensen
Well, here it is time to report on the pinballs that put in an appearance at another Loose Change Fun Fair. As in the past several years, this year's show was held at the Pasadena Exhibit Center in Pasadena, CA. This time it occurred on the weekend of October 12 and 13. The size of the show, both in exhibitors and visitors, appeared to be about the same as last year, at least there were no empty booths and the aisles were still fairly crowded. There was, however, one thing that I, and several others I talked to, were disappointed in. That was the fact that this year the show's producers did not provide a program listing the exhibitors and where they were located. Your were therefore "on your own" when it came to finding your favorite exhibitors.
As far as pinballs were concerned there were eleven games that I made note of, and which will be described here, plus one other interesting non-pinball. The years of manufacture ran the gamut from 1932 to 1976 with no games from the 1940's, only one from the Fifties, one from the Sixties, and three from the Seventies. This year there were no "solid state" electronic pinballs. A few machines were 'repeats' from previous shows, and there were three, or possibly four, machines that I consider "classics."
Several pin collectors were at the show and met and discussed their collections and traded info and "small pinball world stories." As in the past, the show was a good meeting place for these folks, including myself, even though there were not a large number of pingames to be seen. This year we did not get a group photo of pin collectors, but we almost did.
There were four pingames at the show from the 1932 era. One of the early ones was a game called ZIG ZAG. This game had been at the 1983 show also and still remains a mystery to me as far as its manufacturer is concerned. Hopefully Dick Bueschel can come up with the missing information one of these days. This game was larger than many 1932 era machines. It was a standard "pin-and- ball" game of the period with a mostly green playfield. The game was somewhat reminiscent of another 1932 pin, DUTCH POOL by Abt.
Another 1932 era pingame at the show was a "classic" game called BALLYHOO. This little counter top game was not only responsible for much of the pingame frenzy which began in 1932, but was also responsible for a great company getting its corporate name. When coin machine entrepreneur Ray Maloney designed this little game late in 1931 he needed a name for it. Well, he finally decided to name it after a very popular satire magazine of the day called "Ballyhoo", a magazine which was somewhat similar to "Mad" magazine today. I also understand that the playfield design of BALLYHOO was taken from a cover design of one issue of that magazine. When he later decided to form a new company he called it "Bally" after BALLYHOO, and the rest is history.
The BALLYHOO at the show was in near 'mint' Condition, one of the nicest ones I've seen. This early "pin-and-ball" game was extremely popular and it has been reported that over 50,000 were sold, making this first Ballygame one of the most popular games in pingame history.
Another 1932 vintage game which was "brought" to the show was FIGURE 8, made by Butler Speciality Co. of Chicago. That outfit was apparently one of the myriad of small manufacturers who put out one or two machines at the start of the pinball craze in 1932 but quickly faded from the scene. As far as I can tell this was the only pingame to be made by butler.
The reason I said "brought" to the show was that this, and one other game, were actually sold before the show officially started. As many of you probably know, the night before any show of this kind is used for the exhibitors to set up their booths, and during this time much buying and selling between dealers takes place. Well, at this show buyers were also allowed in at this opportune time if they were willing to pay a "bonus" for this early admission. As a result of this, my good friend and fellow collector Richard Conger purchased FIGURE 8 and DROP KICK (to be described shortly) on Friday night before the general public was admitted. He was kind enough, however, to let us photograph these machines.
FIGURE 8 was a counter-top pingame whose playfield was divided into two circular sections with a small opening between them, hence the name. Each playfield section contained a center scoring hole and other holes located around it. Hedges of metal pins were used to 'guard' the higher scoring holes in the fashion typical of all the "pin-and-ball" games of this era. This machine was in excellent physical condition, a worthy addition to any collection of early pins.
The other 1932 pingame at this show was Genco's MONTE CARLO. This same machine had been shown at the 1983 Fun Fair. It was the second pingame to be put out by Genco. Genco's first pin, BUSTER BALL, was sold at last year's show. MONTE CARLO was a very compact counter-top pingame with a painted cast aluminum playfield. The playfield contained numerous scoring holes and deflecting 'pins' which were actually part of the playfield casting, an extremely well built little game. This little game, by the way, gave the player 5 balls for a penny and had its coin slot in a very unusual place, in the center of the right hand "side rail" of the machine's cabinet.
The other game purchased before the show actually opened was a game called DROP KICK put out by Exhibit Supply in the later part of 1934. The ad for this game boasted of "live power" due to the use of an electric 'kicker' mechanism, a popular pingame accessory since the introduction of electric action to pingames by Harry Williams about one year earlier.
DROP KICK'S action feature was extremely clever. During the game, anywhere from 1 to 8 balls could be shot by the player into a channel near the top of the right hand side of the playfield. this channel, called the "Drop Post Gateway", held those balls until the player succeeded in skillfully shooting a ball into the special "Drop Kick Hole" in the top center of the field.
At that time the held balls would be released, one at a time, by an ingenuous "star wheel" device at the lower end of the "Drop Kick Gateway." Each ball would then roll down to the "electric kicker" device, called the "Kick-Off Post", and be shot up into the upper areas of the playfield containing the higher scoring holes.
This "live power" of DROP KICK was yet another example of the ingenuous variations of the electric action principle used by pingame designers of the 1934-1936 era. The DROP KICK brought to the show was in excellent condition and was a prize addition to the fantastic pinball collection of Richard Conger of Sebastopol, California.
Just as Harry Williams' introduction of electricity for pingame action (with CONTACT in late 1934) started the craze for electric action pingames, such as DROP KICK which was just described, the introduction of electricity for the purpose of operating automatic coin payout mechanisms by Bally (with ROCKET at approximately the same time) started a parallel craze for electric payout pins.
This classic pioneer payout, Bally's ROCKET, also appeared at this years show. A ROCKET, incidentally, was also seen at the 1983 Fun Fair. ROCKET was a well constructed machine with many polished metal fittings. The example at the show appeared to be in excellent condition and seems to be fairly rare today. As a personal sidelight, when I was eleven or twelve years old a friend and I found a ROCKET discarded in an alley and brought it home in a "coaster wagon." When we could not figure out how it worked we later discarded it. I sure wish now I still had that classic machine, but in those days many classic pins could have been purchased in excellent condition for from 10 to 20 dollars.
That concludes the discussion of the 1930's era pingames appearing at the show, but before we go on to the later model machines I would like to make brief mention of a non-pinball, a rare departure for me, but I choose to include this machine because of its extreme rarity and also that it enables me to pass on a bit of "Bally trivia."
In 1935 the Pace Mfg. Co. came out with a new type of payout coin machine. It was called PACE'S RACES and was a large console which simulated an actual horse race with 7 mechanical horses running down a track. The player would bet on one or more of these horses by placing a coin into the numbered coin slots, one corresponding to each horse. The machine would then start, causing the horses to advance by different amounts until one finally crossed the "finish line." If a horse you bet on 'won' you would be paid accordingly.
As an interesting sidelight, the mechanism used to advance the horses used pneumatic "player piano" technology, using a perforated paper roll to "program" the horse's motion.
When this machine was first introduced at a trade show it is said that most of the operators present said it would never sell because of it's whopping price tag of over $500. But they were wrong, and the machine became a great success, rivaling the then popular payout pinballs and slot machines.
Well, the idea of PACE'S RACES was soon copied. The Baker Novelty Co. came out with BAKER'S PACER and Bally soon followed suit with their entry into the field, a machine called RAY'S TRACK, which was named for Bally's founder Ray Maloney. I'm sure you will also note the 'play on words' as it sounds like "race track." Anyway, RAY'S TRACK is extremely rare, but one did appear at this years Fun Fair at the booth of Falletich Enterprises, a rare gem in excellent condition and what may be only the second machine of its type to surface in recent years.
From the 1930's the pingames at the Fun Fair took a chronological leap to 1951 with United's A-B-C. Just as ROCKET was the first of the class of machines known as "electric payouts", A-B-C was one of the first of another class of pingames, the "in-line" pinball, or "bingos" as they came to be called. As many of you who have read my past articles should know, "bingos" were created by the industry to take the place of the very popular "one-ball horserace" pingames which were all but outlawed by the passage of the Johnson Act in 1950.
Three variations of this new form of pin appeared at about the same time, early in 1951. These were A-B-C, Universal's FIVE STAR, and Bally's BRIGHT LIGHT, each of a somewhat different form, but all possessing three common characteristics: No flippers; a playfield of numbered holes; and a scoring method involving lighting numbers in a line on "cards" pictured on the backglass. Of these three pioneer bingos the format used by Bally finally won out and became the basis for most "bingos" to come.
The playfield of A-B-C was round with 25 holes, numbered 1 to 25, around its periphery, somewhat resembling a Roulette Wheel. The field sloped toward the center where a "pop bumper" was located. Balls were released onto the playfield by a standard pinball plunger mechanism and would circle the field where they would each eventually drop into a hole. Any balls rolling toward the center of the field would be repelled by the pop bumper until they finally landed in a hole.
The backglass contained three 25 number "cards", labeled 'A', 'B', and 'C', each containing a different arrangement of the numbers 1 through 25. These cards resembled the cards used in the game of "bingo", and this is why machines using this idea became known as "bingo pinballs." Before starting a game the player would deposit one to three coins. The first coin would enable card 'A' for scoring, the second, card 'B', and the third, card 'C'. The player would then shoot his 5 balls which would eventually land in playfield holes, thus lighting 5 of the 25 numbers on the card(s) selected.
If the player succeeded in lighting 3, 4, or 5 numbers in a line on any selected card he would receive a number of replays; a small amount for 3 in line, a larger amount for 4, and a very large number for 5 in line. This type of scoring is why the industry called the 'bingo' machines "in-line games."
The A-B-C at the show was in excellent condition, except for a missing top glass, and is indeed a very interesting novel type of machine with some historical significance. This machine also had a feature which allowed a player to try to win the right to use an extra (6th) ball by insertion of additional coins after the normal 5 balls had been played. This feature was apparently not on all models of A-B-C as I once owned one of these machines which did not have it. Incidentally, this type of "extra ball" feature was found on most of the later model "bingo" pinballs, most allowing the player to try for up to 3 extra balls.
The one pinball at the show from the 1960's was Bally's CUE TEASE. For some reason games from this era have been quite rare at the Fun Fairs. In fact, I can only remember seeing one other Sixties pin at past shows. It was also a Bally, called GRAND TOUR, and was at the show three or four years ago.
Sixties pins are very popular among many collectors, due primarily to their varied, fascinating, and challenging play features. Many collections, such as that of Sam Harvey (who incidentally took all the photos accompanying this article), are dominated by games of this era. The Bally pins were not quite as challenging as those by their competitors in the sixties, especially Gottlieb, but were well built and usually had interesting artwork.
The CUE TEASE at the show was set up in the lobby, along with examples of other types of machines, to give visitors to the show a preview of what was inside. This game was in excellent condition and came out in mid 1963.
In addition to the early 'classics', such as BALLYHOO and ROCKET, that were at the show, there was one modern era pin which has certainly become a "classic", for one reason or another. That was Bally's 1972 game FIREBALL, which, as many collectors will tell you, is the first machine they will be asked about by most non-collectors when they are told you are a pinball collector. As a result of this game's inordinate popularity its price, when you can find one, has remained much higher than other pinballs of the Seventies for a long time.
Why is FIREBALL so popular? Well, one of the reasons is that it was pictured in a December 1972 article in Playboy Magazine, titled "Great Moments In Pinball History." This article, I am sure, was prompted by Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner's personal interest in, and love of, pinball. Two other machines (Williams' SUPER STAR and Gottlieb's KING KOOL), however, were also pictured in that same article but did not achieve anywhere near the popularity that FIREBALL did. Maybe it was its "spinning wheel" in the center of the playfield, which could propel the ball in varied, unpredictable directions, or its garish artwork (with a somewhat "satanic" flare), or its "captive ball" feature, who knows? It was probably a combination of these things which has resulted in FIREBALL generally commanding a much higher price than all of the other post 1970 pinballs.
This was the first FIREBALL to appear at a Fun Fair and was in pretty good condition, except for some worn areas on the playfield. I understand that the machine finally sold on Sunday for less than $500, which was considerably less than the $900 to $1800 price tag which has been attached to most of the FIREBALLs which have been offered for sale in the past 10 years. It was a pleasure to finally see this "modern pinball classic" at a Fun Fair.
Another 1970's pingame to be seen at the show was Bally's 1975 "semi-classic", WIZARD. This was the first of two Bally pins (the other one being CAPTAIN FANTASTIC) who's themes were derived from the rock opera movie "Tommy" which had a pinball theme. For those of you who are not familiar with this pin-film it is the story of a deaf, dumb, and blind boy, Tommy, who discovers a pinball machine (Gottlieb's KINGS AND QUEENS by name) on the top of a junk pile and discovers pinball "is his thing." He then becomes a pinball "wizard", and finally meets and defeats the reigning pinball champion (played by rock star Elton John) in a lavish pinball tournament. Elton's machine in the tournament was a Gottlieb BUCKAROO fitted with a piano keyboard at the front of the machine.
The backglass of WIZARD has caricatures of the movie's stars Ann Margaret and rock singer Roger Daltry (Tommy). The machine was in excellent condition and was sold on the last day of the show for a good healthy price for a game of that vintage. The buyer must have recognized it as somewhat of a "classic" machine in great condition. The seller, incidentally, was my long time friend, and former pin collector turned jukebox collector/restorer, Ron Tyler. Even though Ron's main interests have turned to jukeboxes in recent years he still has a love for pinball and has several pins residing in the house with his jukebox collection.
The final game (the machine of the latest vintage) at the show was Gottlieb's ROYAL FLUSH which came out in 1976. That, incidentally, was the second time Gottlieb used that name for a pin, the first being a "wood rail" from 1957. This machine was also displayed in the lobby near the entrance to the exhibit hall. There is not much to say about this machine as it was more or less typical of the later model electro-mechanical pinballs. It was yet another Gottlieb pin with a "card game" theme, a theme very popular with that company for many years.
That concludes the discussion of the varied pingames appearing at the 1985 edition of the Loose Change Fun Fair. Although pins are only a minor item at these shows, there always seems to be enough interesting ones to make the show appealing to pin collectors, like myself. For the past few years the number of pingames at the Fun Fairs has been relatively stable. Who knows what next year's show will bring? We can only wait and see, and hope more "classic" pinball machines put in an appearance.
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