PINGAMES AT THE 1987 FUN FAIR
By Russ Jensen
photos by Sam Harvey
The ninth edition of the annual Loose Change Fun Fair was held, as it has been since it's second year (1980), at the Pasadena Exhibit Center in Pasadena, California. This year, as also happened a few years ago, an additional extension to the exhibit hall was opened to allow for a large number of exhibitors. Of even more significance to me, of course, was the large number of pinball games appearing at the show this year; more than 20 in all. I believe this is a record for a Fun Fair.
Another significant thing was that the pingames shown covered all decades of pinball history, except for the current one. I should mention that a majority of the games shown were from two dealers, but that really doesn't matter as long as they were there. Due to the large number of good photographs by my friend Sam Harvey I shall try to keep my comments as short as possible and let the pictures "speak for themselves" for many of the games. I shall list and describe the games chronologically by decades.
Two of the earliest games at the show were both examples of Gottlieb pingames from 1932, namely NERTZ and FIVE STAR FINAL. NERTZ was a very simple "pin and ball game" appearing around march of 1932 which offered the player 10 balls for a nickel. FIVE STAR FINAL, which came out about three months later, was somewhat more sophisticated. It had two circular playfield areas, in a "figure 8" configuration, and brilliant graphics. The name, it is said, came from a Chicago newspaper edition of the same name. There is also a story going around which says that Dave Gottlieb named it in that way because he thought it might be his last pingame effort. But I, for one, can't believe that that great man was so short-sighted not to see that pingames were definitely "here to stay" by mid 1932.
The other 1932 game at the show was VICTORY BALL by the O. D. Jennings Co., which by the way, was also seen at a past Fun Fair. Jennings was better known for their slots but also produced around 25 pingame models in the years between 1932 and 1938. VICTORY BALL was their second pin and came out around May of 1932. Their first pin was called JAY BALL and appeared some three months earlier. The machine at this year's show was in excellent condition showing off the bright colors on the playfield quite well.
One of the 1933 pins to be seen this year was MAT-CHA-SKOR by the Peo Manufacturing Company. This brightly colored game was also seen at last year's show and therefore will not be pictured or described here.
Another 1933 pin shown was Bally's PENNANT. This early Bally pingame was a well-built little game. The ad for it in Automatic Age contained the following "hypie" description: Snap the shooter....and see the ball streak around the board...see it sneak through the double PIVOT SWITCH and slide up the tricky, tantalizing HAIRPIN TRACK! Watch the ball dance and leap like a jack- rabbit, propelled by the power of the six WHIP SPRINGS! Watch what happens when the ball goes through the WHIRLING MILLS and shoots out again at unexpected angles! Watch THE PENNANT in action and you'll see why this dazzlingly different game attracts the most "fed-up" players and holds them spellbound for hours at a time! That sure sounded like quite an exciting game, at least from the ad writer's point of view.
Also from 1933 was Rockola's classic pin JIGSAW, which, I'm sad to say, was not in too good of condition having suffered from fire damage at one time.
JIGSAW has to be considered one of the most collectable of the pingames of the early Thirties. Appearing on the market late in 1933, it not only tried to capitalize on the jigsaw puzzle craze that was sweeping the country in the early years of the Depression, but also exploited a most popular event of 1933, the Chicago World's Fair.
The game featured an actual jigsaw puzzle below the playing area. The playfield contained an array of holes which, when a ball dropped into one of them, would mechanically cause one or more pieces of the puzzle to be flipped over displaying part of a picture. If a player succeeded in completing the puzzle (which was extremely difficult to do) the complete picture revealed a pictorial map of the World's Fair! The fair's popular theme, "A Century Of Progress", was also displayed below the puzzle area.
One of the most interesting games to me which was at this year's show was also from 1933, CRUSADER by Bally. This was a rather large machine measuring over 2 ft. by 5 ft. This game, besides being impressive looking due to it's size and playfield artwork, may have a story (excuse the pun) behind it.
It seems that in the mid Thirties famed author and playwright William Saroyan (who was later to write a Pulitzer prize winning play, "The Time Of Your Life", which featured a pinball machine in the stage setting and story line) wrote a short story titled simply "The Crusader".
The story took place primarily in the lobby of a small hotel in Saroyan's own home town of Fresno, California. In the lobby was a pingame which was played by several of the characters in the story, the name of which was said to be "The Crusader". It certainly seems logical to me that Saroyan got the name of his game, and hence his story, from Bally's CRUSADER which he had probably played earlier in his life. So much for trivia!
By the way, I'm happy to say that this beautiful machine was finally purchased by my good friend Richard Conger as an addition to his impressive pinball collection.
One game from 1934 also appeared at the show. It was the classic payout pinball from Jennings, SPORTSMAN. This game has appeared at several of the past Fun Fairs.
As was true of several of the large slot machine manufacturers of the Thirties, the O.D. Jennings Company delved into pingame manufacturing during the same period. Probably the most popular of all Jennings pinballs was SPORTSMAN.
The theme of the game was duck hunting. The beautiful playfield graphics were well described in one of the advertisements for this game which boasted: A gorgeous, colorful, painting of the out-of-doors; a thrilling picture of a hunter's paradise showing beautiful birds, dogs, and fowl in their brilliant original colors".
The numerous holes on the playfield represented various birds, fowl, and rabbits. The payout combinations were obtained by shooting balls into holes representing two or more "targets" of the same "species".
This game was beautifully constructed and certainly one of the better examples of early payout pinballs. The game was so popular in fact, that Jennings later came out with two updated versions with lighted backglasses: HUNTER in 1935 and SPORTSMAN DELUXE in 1937.
Probably the nicest looking of the early pingames at his year's show, both in graphics and condition, was a 1935 pin by the Daval Manufacturing Company called CHICAGO EXPRESS. Unfortunately this game was sold before my friend Sam Harvey could take a picture of it. However, If you are lucky enough to own a copy of Roger Sharpe's classic pinball book, "Pinball!", you will find the exact same machine that was sold at the show pictured on page 31. This game even featured a "ramp" over which the ball could be shot; a feature that is used on many of the brand new solid-state pingames of the 1980's.
Many pingames at this year's show had appeared at one or more of the Fun Fairs in the past, but one game, FLYING HIGH, was at the very first Fun Fair in 1979. In fact, I happen to know it was the very same machine.
This was a one-ball payout manufactured in 1936 by Western Products of Chicago, a company which manufactured many one-balls during the 1930's, and was headed by a well known pingame entrepreneur of the period, Jimmy Johnson.
FLYING HIGH was similar to the many payouts of the period which had horse racing themes, but the theme of this game was duck hunting (a la SPORTSMAN). One interesting feature of this game was that the "payout odds" (the amount awarded when the ball landed in a hole corresponding to the "winning selection" number lit on the backglass at the start of the game) was determined by which rollover switch the ball passed over at the top of the playfield. These switches represented potential awards from 10 Cents to Two Dollars. A very interesting little game!
This same machine was brought to the original Fun Fair in 1979 by a Northern California antique dealer. It was bought at that show by a lady collector from Apple Valley, California who was primarily into jukeboxes and slots. She subsequently sold it to a friend of mine, Fred Roth, a jukebox collector/restorer who also had an interest in pinball. The game was offered for sale at this year's show by another friend, local amusement machine operator Steve Karlock of Ventura County Amusements, who lives in my home town of Camarillo. It's truly "a small pinball world!"
The final 1930's pin at the show was another payout, by Mills Novelty Company, called ONE-TWO-THREE. This game was also present at last year's show, as well as other Fun Fairs in the past. So, I won't take the time to describe it again, although it is a very interesting game indeed.
A rarity at past Fun Fairs has certainly been pinballs from the 1940's. In fact, I can only remember two in the past; a beautiful "near mint" Genco CADILAC (1940) a few years ago and last year, Chicago Coin's GOLD BALL. This year, however, there were two 1940's games at the same show!
The earliest of the two was SUPER SIX by J. H. Keeney and Company. Incidentally, I was told by the seller that this exact machine used to belong to noted entertainer Rudy Vallee himself. except for the fact that it's backglass was a little faded, the game was in excellent original condition. It featured "1 through 6" number sequences and also had a "Special When Lit" feature.
In that regard, I have a little "pet project" of trying to determine on what pingame the term "special" was first used. I know it was earlier than 1940, but that's all I know at the present time. If any of you readers have a 1939 or earlier game employing that term please let me know.
The other 1940's game at the show was a 1948 pin by Williams called BOSTON. This was one of a consecutive series of Williams games at that time named after places. Others in that series were: EL PASE, TUSCON, DALLAS, ST. LOUIS, and MARYLAND. Incidentally, my friend Sam Harvey, who took all the photos for this article, recently purchased another Williams game, PHEONIX, also named after a place, which I have never seen listed on any list of Williams pinballs. Could it have been a prototype perhaps?
BOSTON was one of the early flipper games (flippers came in late in 1947 and early 1948) and was also an early game employing "pop bumpers", the first, as far as I can determine, being Williams' SARATOGA which came out around October of 1948, some seven months before BOSTON.
I didn't actually see this machine, it not being displayed until Sunday, I believe, but after seeing the photograph of it I was remained of the games I played as a young teenager in the late Forties and early Fifties.
Games from the decade of the Fifties have been as rare at Fun Fairs as games from the Forties. The only 1950's games I can recall at past shows have both been flipperless "bingo type" machines. So this year was the first year for 1950's flipper pinballs at a Fun Fair , there being one single player and three multi-player "wood-rail" flipper games at the show.
The single player pin was Gottlieb's 1959 game HI DIVER. This was one of a small series of Gottlieb games around that time to employ a rotating wheel-like disk behind the backglass providing "mechanical animation". Two other games of this type were SUNSHINE in late 1958 and WORLD BEAUTIES in early 1960. In HIGH DIVER the "animation" was employed to simulate a diver in a diving competition.
The other 1950's pins at the show were all Gottlieb multi- player machines. These were FAIR LADY (a 2 player game from 1956), FALSTAFF (a 4 player from 1957), and WHIRLWIND (a 1958 2 player). These games had large backboards typical of the multi- player Gottlieb's of the period, and each backglass contained the Gottlieb multi-player slogan "It's More Fun To Compete". The backglasses of the later games also contained another famous slogan, "As American As Baseball And Hot Dogs", which appeared on all Gottlieb pingames for several years around that time.
Gottlieb was first to come out with a multi-player pinball in late 1954, a four player game called SUPER JUMBO, followed several months later by their first two player pin, DUETTE. Williams, the other major flipper game manufacturer at that time, also began producing a few multi-player models. These machines employed "score reels" to indicate the player's score numerically in units of one, as compared to the single player games which still used lighted panels on the backglass to indicate scores in units of 10,000, ranging up into the millions. It wasn't until around 1960 or 1961 that the pingame manufacturers started using score reels on single player games as well.
As a sidelight to the multi-player story, it is a fairly common belief of many pinball collectors/enthusiasts that Bally only made one flipper game, BALLS-A-POPPIN', during the mid and late Fifties, only making "bingo pinballs" during that period. Well, this is not exactly true. It seems that in mid 1957 Bally came out with two more flipper games called CIRCUS and CARNIVAL, which are supposedly multi-player games using lights for scoring rather than reels. One of these games (CIRCUS) is said to exist in the Fellman-Wright collection in Omaha.
Pinballs from the decade of the 1960's have also been quite rare at past Fun Fairs, but this time there were three!
The first was Williams' "21" from early 1960. This was a single player game whose theme was the game of Blackjack, hence the name. It employed lighted panels for score indication, but also contained a two digit "score reel" (like those used in the multi-player games just described) which was employed to indicate "card points" as used in the game of Blackjack. Later in the same year Williams came out with a game called BLACKJACK with a similar theme. This wasn't the last of Williams Blackjack theme games, however, as in 1968 they produced LADY LUCK which had an extra pair of score reels for Blackjack "card point" scores, in addition to the reels used for the normal game scoring for each of it's two players.
Incidentally, the "21" at the show was quickly purchased by my friend Sam Harvey to add to his impressive pingame collection.
The second Sixties game at the show was Gottlieb's FLYING CIRCUS from 1961, another 2 player machine. An interesting feature of this game was a "captive ball" unit in the center of the playfield which contained two parallel tracks with a "target area" at the bottom of each. When the ball in play hit one of these targets a captive ball would be moved to the opposite track. A player succeeding in getting all five of these balls into the track which was "lit" was awarded a replay. A similar feature was used on other Gottlieb games of the period, one I remember being SUNSET.
The final game from that decade was one of the "classic" Gottlieb single player games of the early Sixties, BOWLING QUEEN from 1964. The Gottlieb single player games of the early Sixties all had many interesting play features and are highly sought after by many pinball collectors today.
There were four pingames at the show dating from the 1970's; two flipper games, and two "bingo" pins.
The first of the games from that decade was the well known Bally FIREBALL from 1972. For some reason this machine became a very much sought-after pingame collectable, at one time commanding prices of over $1000 - prices unheard of for other collectable pins. No one knows for sure what caused this to happen. It could have been the fact that this game was once pictured in an article in Playboy magazine, but two other games pictured in that same article never became "wanted" like FIREBALL.
Maybe it was the artwork, which certainly was eye-catching, or maybe the spinner on the playfield which deflected the ball in crazy directions? But a few Chicago Coin games (such as HEE HAW) had this same feature and never became popular. Who knows? Anyway the FIREBALL at the show also had a price tag of $1200, and I was told later it had been sold, but I don't know for how much. I doubt for the full asking price, but you never can tell. Anyway, there it was, a "famous" FIREBALL.
The other flipper game from the 1970's was Williams' SPANISH EYES which was also from 1972. This was also somewhat of a classic pin of that decade and was described in detail several years ago by well-known pin collector John Fetterman in Steve Young and Gordon Hasse's fine publication "Pinball Collector's Quarterly". The article told of it being the first pingame in the Seventies designed with DC powered pop bumpers. Another interesting feature of this game was a pop bumper placed below the flippers which could save a ball destined for the "drain".
The artwork on the backglass was also quite unique for the period, featuring "squared off" geometric shapes. Incidentally, Williams designer Steve Kordek mentioned during the recent Pinball Expo '87 show in Chicago that this glass had once won an award for it's artwork. Anyway, all in all SPANISH EYES is a very fine pingame and should not be passed over lightly.
The other 1970's pins at the show were both "bingo" type machines from the mid 70's which, I believe, was the last decade of bingo production in the U.S. Both of these Bally games, TAHITI and MYSTIC GATE, were what were known as "20 hole bingos", having only holes numbered between 1 and 20 vice 25 for their earlier predecessors. Both machines were in "like new" condition and quite impressive to behold.
Since my article last time dealt exclusively with bingo pinballs I shall only mention one interesting feature of MYSTIC GATE, it's "Gate Feature". If a player qualified for this feature during the depositing of extra coins (or replay play) at the start of a game, he could use a special button on the game to control a device called a "gate". This consisted of the ball rebound device, located at the upper left-hand side of the playfield, being capable of being mechanically raised ("gate open") allowing the ball to pass right by it rather than hitting it and rebounding toward the right side of the playfield.
This allowed the player to let the ball completely avoid the six numbered holes (1 - 6) at the top of the playfield, if he did not need them to complete a winning pattern of the bingo card. This gave him a better chance of getting the number(s) he wanted and therefore a little more control over the ball. A rather unique feature indeed!
Well, there you have it, a summary of the rather impressive and "record breaking" array of pingames appearing at the 1987 edition of the Loose Change Fun Fair. Will this trend toward a larger number and greater variety of pinballs at Fun Fairs continue? I sure hope so, but we'll have to wait until next year to find out.
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