PINGAMES AT THE 1990 FUN FAIR
By Russ Jensen
Photos by Sam Harvey
For the twelfth year in a row, coin machine enthusiasts in Southern California, and any others who wanted to travel to Pasadena, were treated to the "Loose Change Fun Fair". As it has been, except for the very first year, the show was held in the Pasadena Exhibit Center in that city.
This show was probably the biggest one yet; however, there was another Fun Fair held this Spring, which I was able to attend, which I was told was also quite large. My one complaint with the last few shows is that as they get larger it gets harder to get in and out of the exhibit area. For the first several years I could park in the underground garage and walk through a door to a stairway which led directly to the room adjoining the exhibit area. Now if you park in the garage you must go up to the outside level, walk almost a block, and then down into the area where the show is located. What a bummer!
The showing of pingames at this show was not too bad. There were many solid-state games, but I must admit these are certainly becoming more collectable as the years go by. The "rundown" of pins at this show, by decade, was approximately as follows: Pre 1930 - 1, 1930's - 7, 1940's - 2, 1950's - 6 (mostly "gambling type" pins), 1960's - 5, 1970's "electro-mechanicals" - 7, and solid-state games over 18. There was also one "toy bagatelle" whose date of manufacture could not easily be determined.
Before I start describing the games, a word about some of the photos accompanying this article. In a few instances the photo used is not of the "actual" machine at the show, but one of the same model game. The reason for this is to save the person taking the pictures from photographing a game he already has a good picture of.
I will now provide brief descriptions, in chronological order, of most of the older pinball games at the show. I will try to limit the descriptions to about a paragraph each to leave room for all the fine photos.
AN EARLY "ANCESTOR"
By far the earliest game at the show in a "pinball format" was a real ancestor of the modern pingame, Caille Brothers' "turn- of-the-century" game, LOG CABIN. This machine had been shown at one or two previous Fun Fairs. It is quite rare and had a price tag of $2500. LOG CABIN had most of the characteristics of the pingames of the early 1930's, such as a sloping playfield, balls propelled by a plunger, and "pins" on the playfield to deflect the balls during play. For some strange reason, however, games of this type didn't seem to catch on until the advent of the "Great Depression".
THE EARLY THIRTIES
There were several pingames at the show made during the 1931 - 1933 era. One of these, which I belive was also there last year, was a game which appeared to be a copy of the "pioneer pingame" WHIFFLE made in Youngstown Ohio in 1931 and 1932. This game (not pictured here), unlike WHIFFLE itself, had a multi- colored playfield. The owner of this machine told me an interesting story about where he found it. He said he found the machine several years ago in the small town of Possum Oklahoma. The game, he said, was owned by an old man in his nineties, who kept it out in an old barn full of all kinds of interesting old items; but only this one coin machine.
An interesting 1932 era game which showed up at this year's show was a small counter-top game called simply "THE MIDGET". The manufacturer's name, shown prominently on the machine's instruction card, was the "E. E. Junior Manufacturing Co." of Los Angeles. This very small, simple, "pin-and-ball" game was quite well made and in excellent condition.
Three of the 1932 games on display this year (also not pictured here) had been at one or more past Fun Fairs. Gottlieb's PLAY-BOY was a small counter-top game with a playing card theme. FIVE STAR FINAL, from the same company, was much more elaborate with a multi-colored playfield arranged in two circular sections, one above the other. Mills' WOW, that company's first pingame, was a simple "pin-and-ball" format game with a distinctive diamond pattern on it's playfield. This game had been at so many past shows that I remarked to it's owner that I thought he should have a prize for "the pingame that has been shown at the most Fun Fairs".
The simple "pin-and-ball" games of 1932 gave way, during the next year, to more elaborate mechanical games such as Rockola's famous pair JIGSAW and WORLD SERIES. Then, at the beginning of 1934, Harry Williams' famous CONTACT "sounded the death knell" for the entirely mechanical game.
CONTACT's battery operated ball kickers ejected a ball from one hole so it could roll down into a higher scoring hole below. This "vertical ejection" idea did not seem to catch on until many years later, but the use of electric kickers which shot the ball horizontally up the playfield quickly became "all the rage" in the pingames of the 1934-35 era.
A very fine example of one of these battery operated "kicker games" was shown this year at the Fun Fair. The game was called FURY. The owner said that a manufacturer's name of "American Coin" (or something like that) appeared somewhere on the game, but I really didn't see it. The playfield graphics on this game were gorgeous, and the machine appeared to be in "near-mint" condition. The arrangement of electric ball kickers on the field was quite elaborate, and it looked to me like a very interesting and novel mid-thirties pingame indeed.
As a sidelight to the story of the "electric kicker", the invention of the bumper by Bally in 1936 was essentially the beginning of the end (at least for the time being) of playfield kickers. Very few such devices appeared on pingames from 1937 up until the "eject hole" (using the same basic principle as first used on CONTACT) was introduced by Exhibit Supply (the company that Harry Williams worked for at the time, by the way) in 1941. As soon as pingame production began again after World War II, however, the "eject hole" was "king".
1941 "PRE-WAR" GAMES"
There were two fine examples of 1941 pingames at the show, a very rare year at past shows. That year was the last full year of pingame production before World War II caused a cessation to all pingame production early in 1942. By that time pingames were becoming quite sophisticated in play features, as well as in the corresponding internal circuitry.
The earliest of these two games was Gottlieb's SEA HAWK which appeared in the Spring of 1941. The game's quite attractive backglass showed a large sailing ship in it's center with "ship's wheels" in each of the four corners of the scene. Each wheel displayed 10 numbers of the game's 13 numbered bumper "sequence". The first contained 1-10, the 2nd 2-11, the 3rd 3-12, with 4-13 on the last. As you can easily determine, the numbers 5-10 are common to all four wheels.
Obviously, lighting all the numbers on a given wheel provided the player with some "reward", possibly a replay. In addition to this "number sequence" feature, the game also had "high score" scoring, as well as the popular "Special When Lit" rollovers. For more information on these "number sequence" pingames I refer you to my past article "Bally's VARIETY, and Other 'Sequence' Pingames" which appeared in the Fall 1985 issue of COIN SLOT.
The other 1941 "number sequence" pin at the show was Chicago Coin's STAR ATTRACTION. This game only had a 6 number sequence. It also had "Special When Lit" rollovers, plus something called a "selection" feature, the workings of which I was unable to ascertain. STAR ATTRACTION's backglass art was typical "Art Deco", an art style which had been used on many games since the mid 1930's.
Pingames from the decade of the Fifties have generally been quite rare at past Fun Fairs. This year there were 6, probably a record, but all but one were of the "gambling type", not "amusement" flipper games. Three of these "gambling type" pins came from one dealer who had obtained, I was given to understand from a friend, a warehouse full of gambling machines, including "one-ball" and "bingo" pinballs, as well as many console slots, many of which were also on display.
The earliest of these 1950's gambling pins was Bally's 1950 "one-ball horserace" game TURF KING, a game by the way that I have in my own collection. This was the first time an example of this interesting type of machine appeared at a Fun Fair. This form of pingame originated in the mid 1930's and was a very popular form of "gambling" pinball until they were essentially "outlawed" by the passage of the Johnson Act in 1951, TURF KING being one of the later models of this type of pin to be produced.
In these games the player tried to shoot his one ball into the numbered playfield hole corresponding to a randomly lighted number(s) which lit on the backglass at the start of each game. Before he shot the ball, however, the player could deposit additional coins to try and get better numbers or higher "odds" (lighted numbers on the backglass indicating how many coins - or replays - the player could win by "matching" the lighted number(s).)
The second "gambling type" pin on display, by the same dealer, was United's A-B-C, one of the first so-called "bingo" pinballs. When the Johnson Act resulted in significantly reducing the market for the "one-balls", such as TURF KING, the industry had to come up with something to take the place of those very lucrative machines. The result of that effort was the development in 1951 of what was first known as "in-line pinballs" (later to be known as "bingos") in which the player shot 5 balls into numbered holes (1-25) on the playfield, trying to light up a line of 3 or more numbers on a "bingo card" pattern on the backglass.
A-B-C had a circular playfield with a "pop-bumper" in it's center to continuously repel the balls until each landed in one of the numbered holes. It also had 3 "bingo cards" on it's backglass, labeled "A", "B", and "C", hence the name.
At around this same time, Bally came out with a game called BRIGHT LIGHTS, also having 3 cards on it's backglass, but with a rectangular playfield having similar dimensions to those used on a standard flipper pinball. Shortly after that, United discarded it's circular field for the more standard one, and produced LEADERS, the third of the "gambling type" pins shown at the Fun Fair.
There was one other "bingo" pinball at the show. It was Bally's 1953 game BEACH CLUB (not pictured here), and was typical of the many bingos produced, almost entirely by Bally and United, during that period.
There was a funny story associated with the machine at the show. When I asked the antique dealer who was selling it if it worked, he replied "no". When I then inquired what was wrong with it, he replied "I don't know, I've never plugged it in". I then asked how he knew it didn't work if he had never tried it?" His answer to that was "Well, it doesn't look like it does". Incidentally, I later noticed that the power cord was cut in half and didn't even have a plug on it.
The last of the "gambling pins" at the show was a very interesting little Ballygame from 1957 called TARGET ROLL. This game, like the A-B-C mentioned earlier, had a circular playfield. It's field had 36 holes, each with a scoring value of from between 20 and 120 next to it, but required no "pop bumper" since the field sloped upward at the center, causing the balls to naturally roll toward the scoring holes.
The backboard contained standard pinball type "score reels" used to tally the player's score, based upon the holes into which his balls landed. In addition, the hole values, 20 to 120, were indicated on the backglass, and one of these numbers apparently lit up at the start of a new game as "a target to shoot for". It would appear that if he got a ball into a hole on the playfield corresponding to this lit number, the player would receive some sort of "bonus", but what that was I really don't know.
As I said earlier, there was only one 1950's flipper game at this year's show. It was Gottlieb's late 1959 game LIGHTNING BALL. This was a very nice game, and employed some nice "mechanical animation" behind it's backglass. Gottlieb used similar animation on their game SUNSHINE the previous year, and on WORLD BEAUTIES about a month after LIGHTNING BALL. Unfortunately, the backglass of the game at the show had been severely damaged during shipment of the machine to Pasadena.
A very nice early Sixties pin at this year's show was Gottlieb's BIG CASINO from 1961. This game was one of the many Gottlieb games to have a playing card theme. It sported four "thumper bumpers" in the upper half of the playfield, with the center of the field being fairly "wide open". It's two flippers were placed quite far apart at the bottom of the playfield, with three "rollover lanes" in between; not a very common arrangement.
An early Sixties "classic" also shown this year was Gottlieb's 1963 pin SWEET HEARTS. That game also had a playing card theme, and had a much more standard flipper arrangement at the bottom of it's playfield. It had a whopping five pop bumpers. It also featured a "gobble hole" in the center of the playfield, a feature dreaded by many players (unless it was lit for a "special", of course).
Probably the liveliest "playing area" for pingames at the show was at the booth of Los Angeles area pinball collector/dealer/writer Herb Silvers. Herb's booth contained some very nice games from the Sixties and Seventies, and all were plugged in and ready for play by anyone who wished to try them out.
One of these games was Gottlieb's 1964 4-player pin HAPPY CLOWN. This appears to be a good "target game", with it's flippers aimed at a semi-circle of five targets in the center of the playfield. The HAPPY CLOWN at the show was in excellent condition and seemed to be very popular with the players at Herb's booth.
A very nice example of the pins of the late 1960's, also at Herb's booth, was Williams' MAGIC CITY from 1967. The backglass of this game is quite attractive and colorful, displaying a large city street, complete with 2 movie theaters, and a huge fountain in the center of the street. One of the important play features of the game was a "spell-name" arrangement, with the player trying for various "targets" to light up the name of the game.
There were several electro-mechanical pingames at the show made during the decade of the 1970's. One of these was Williams' 1972 "classic" SPANISH EYES. This was the first Williams pin to use D.C. operated pop bumpers, and had very unique backglass art. An excellent article describing this game in detail appeared in the SUMMER 1982 issue of the now defunct pinball publication "Pinball Collector's Quarterly", which showed it's backglass design on it's cover.
Another Seventies electro-mechanical pin at the show also came out in 1972. It was Gottlieb's KING KOOL. This game had some very nice graphics on it's backglass. It's playfield featured 4 flippers at the bottom to enable the player to shoot for it's many targets.
An interesting bit of trivia regarding KING KOOL is that it was pictured, as an example of a current 2-player pin, accompanying an article in the December 1972 issue of Playboy Magazine titled "Great Moments in Pinball History". The 4-player game illustrated along with it was none other than the now "super collectable" Bally FIREBALL. This publicity seems to have helped FIREBALL to become as popular as it is today, but KING KOOL (as well as Williams' SUPER STAR, the single-player example also pictured in the article) has been almost "lost in the shuffle". Incidentally, a good description of that Playboy article will be included in my future article "Pinball Literature - Part 2" which will most likely appear in the Summer '91 issue of COIN SLOT.
Even though the newer electronic pingames are "not my cup of tea", I will briefly mention three of the more than 15 of these games shown at this year's show. As I said earlier, these machines are definitely quickly becoming the collectables of the future.
Williams' CONTACT came out in 1978 in the early part of the "solid-state era". The game was obviously named after Harry Williams' (the company's original founder) pioneer electric pingame from 1934. The theme of CONTACT's artwork appears to be some sort of futuristic war setting. This game also had four flippers at the bottom of a very open playfield.
In the mid 1970's Sam Stern, Harry Williams' ex-partner in his original Williams Manufacturing Co., bought out the pinball company Chicago Dynamic Industries (formerly Chicago Coin) and renamed it Stern Electronics. This was right at the time that the pinball industry was converting from electro-mechanical to solid-state games.
One of Stern's early pins was METEOR which came out in 1979. That game was one of the several games from Stern designed by pinball player/enthusiast turned designer Steve Kirk. Steve's history as a player, dating back to his early childhood, and his love for the game gave him many novel design ideas which he incorporated in games like METEOR.
The final solid-state pin I will mention is Bally's FLASH GORDON. Ever since the mid-seventies, when Bally came out with WIZARD and CAPTAIN FANTASTIC with art themes based on the pinball Rock Opera "Tommy", that company has produced many games with either a celebrity or "super hero" theme. One of these was FLASH GORDON which came out in 1981 and was shown at the Fun Fair. A look at it's graphics, both on the backglass and playfield, reveal that it certainly had, excuse the expression, "flash".
A TOY 'BAGATELLE'
A very novel little game which was shown this year was probably actually a toy, but in the pinball format. It was called "Electric POOSH-M-UP" and had a very colorful playfield. The "electric" in the name apparently referred to a series of small battery-operated lights on it's playfield. A very similar game, called "5-GAME ELECTRIC", appeared at one of the past Fun Fairs. Games like this are very hard to date as "toy pins" of this type have been around for many years.
This year, as in the past few years, I am including a list of all the pingames I saw at the show. The following list is sorted chronologically, and in most cases includes the "asking price" of the games. Prices, however, were not shown if the dealer had a large number of games without any type of price marking on them. Let me caution you that the prices shown were what the dealer was trying to get for the game and do not necessarily reflect what the game sold for if indeed it was sold.
LIST OF PINGAMES AT THE 1990 FUN FAIR GAME MFG. YEAR PRICE LOG CABIN Caille Bros. 1901 2500 WHIFFLE (SIC) ? 1931? 225 5 STAR FINAL Gottlieb 1932 225 MIDGET (THE) E.E. Jr. Mfg. 1932 625 OFFICIAL Mills 1932 ? PLAY BOY Gottlieb 1932 450 WOW Mills 1932 350 FURY ? 1935? ? SEA HAWK Gottlieb 1941 400 STAR ATTRACTION Chicago Coin 1941 650 TURF KING Bally 1950 300 ABC United 1951 300 LEADER United 1951 300 BEACH CLUB Bally 1953 200 TARGET ROLL Bally 1957 500 LIGHTNING BALL Gottlieb 1959 950 BIG CASINO Gottlieb 1961 250 SWEETHEARTS Gottlieb 1963 350 HAPPY CLOWN Gottlieb 1964 800 CENTRAL PARK Gottlieb 1966 800 MAGIC CITY Williams 1967 400 SUSPENSE Williams 1970 SOLD KING KOOL Gottlieb 1972 500 SPANISH EYES Williams 1972 450 TRAVEL TIME Williams 1973 450 SKY LAB Williams 1974 375 EL DORADO Gottlieb 1975 SOLD TOP SCORE Gottlieb 1975 500 STRIKES & SPARES Bally 1977 ? CONTACT Williams 1978 ? DISCO FEVER Williams 1978 ? LOST WORLD Bally 1978 550 MATA HARI Bally 1978 ? PLAYBOY Bally 1978 800 FLASH Williams 1979 ? GENIE Gottlieb 1979 750 HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS Bally 1979 495 METEOR Stern 1979 ? ROLLER DISCO Gottlieb 1979 ? STELLAR WARS Williams 1979 650 TRI ZONE Williams 1979 ? BLACK KNIGHT Williams 1980 650 GROUND SHAKER (NITRO) Bally 1980 650 ROLLING STONES Bally 1980 ? TORCH Gottlieb 1980 ? FLASH GORDON Bally 1981 650 JUNGLE LORD Williams 1981 ? SPECIAL FORCE Bally 1986 ? POOSH-EM-UP ? ? 125
Well, there you have it, a brief description (with a little pinball history thrown in) and some great photos of most of the older pingames (and a few "digitals") which were on display at the Fall 1990 edition of the Loose Change Fun Fair. The number and variety of pingames at these shows has improved greatly since the early years of the show. Next year, who knows? But I'll venture to guess that there will be more interesting pingames there next time.
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