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Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Great Price Crash

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Sell! Sell! Sell! The writing's on the wall. If you've invested your savings in vintage slot machines, now's the time to get out before it's too late! Prices continue to dive. In a year's time, at this rate, you won't be able to give them away. That's the message I took home from Sunday's Coventry Vintage Slot Machine Auction (12/11/06).


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Perhaps I'm being a bit hysterical here. The prices weren't that bad. All the items I took to the auction sold, one for over twice what I thought it was worth and everything I bid on went for more than I was prepared to pay. The Bryans machines didn't do badly apart from the Retreeva (on new penny play and needing work) which failed to reach its reserve. An old penny play Bullion went for £620, possibly a record price, until a week later when another one made £700 at Anna Carter's Sale. What we did witness though, was an unusually high number of unsold lots, particularly at the start of the auction, although I'm told that many came within a whisker of their reserves and had the auctioneer's discretion been exercised the success rate would have been much higher. However, thanks to some unambitious reserves some great bargains were snapped up. The trouble is, it seemed not enough of us were eager to grab the opportunity.


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Nevertheless, there was a clear consensus that it was a most enjoyable day, especially for a first auction and the organisers look forward to building upon their success by running another. It provided the kind of informal collectors' get-together that the hobby needs and I was surprised and impressed by the standard of items on offer. There seemed to be a lower than usual quotient of junk/basket-cases plus a decent proportion of rare and unusual machines. Good suggestions for future improvements have been made in the Forum and the organisers welcome further feedback.


See Full Auction Results in the Arena.


I'll also post the auction results from Southern Counties Anna Carter Steam Fair Sale (13/11/06) when I get them.


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Many theories have been put forward to account for the decline in vintage slot machine prices over the last few years, such as eBay making them commonplace; the recent hike in fuel and other essential commodity prices; the dwindling supply of good items for sale; the numerous tecky products (computers, mobile phones, i-pods, sat-navs etc.) now competing for our cash; ever increasing property prices leading to ever decreasing living spaces and the aging collector syndrome. There's probably some merit in all of them, but I fear the aging collector syndrome is by far the biggest factor. It's evident to all of us who attend these sales that the bidders' average age increases roughly one year every year. In other words, new collectors are not replacing those who've either dropped out or dropped dead! It's hardly surprising, given that most of us got interested in mechanical amusements because we remember playing them as kids in the 1960s. Later generations cannot be expected to know what a mechanical slot machine is, let alone why it's so much more charming than a video game. PennyMachine.co.uk's mission is to promote a wider appreciation of these devices but the Catch-22 is that unless a person already has some knowledge of or interest in the subject they're not likely either to find this site or buy their first classic machine on eBay.


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On the other hand, for those of us already in the know, there's a positive side to all of this. Of course, anyone who's selling wants to see the highest price possible, but I believe high prices in general are the collector's worst enemy and good news only for auctioneers. I know I'm not the only one who regrets the way the hobby has been plagued by investors and money-making opportunists who delight in hyping-up prices. 2006 has brought a welcome reality check which should go some way to kicking this element into touch.


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I took my camera to Jukebox Madness (on Saturday 4th November) but for some reason failed to take it out of its case. Shame really, because I could have brought back pictures of a very elegant little Handani catcher from Dutch dealer Jukebox Gallery and two machines I haven't seen before: a Parkers clown/circus theme allwin on Jez Darvill's stand and a war-time single-reeler Bowland bandit conversion with aeroplane castings and reel motifs. As it was, I came back with nothing. There were plenty of buyers and sellers, but unusually, most trading seems to have been done on the Sunday. Generally, prices were down again on last year, I think.


MMM issue 7


In the "History of the Wall Machine" (last issue of MMM) I learnt that when you win the jackpot on a Bryan's Payramid, the last winning ball is recycled, giving you a chance to win even more, and this continues until you drop the ball. I never noticed that. Maybe because I so rarely got the jackpot. I return to the machine with a renewed sense of awe.


Dave Page of Skelter Publishing responded to my comment about the Pennies by the Sea's weak binding. He believes the problem arose because the first batch of books was released too hastily, before the glue had set properly:


Many thanks for such a positive Blog review of our recent publication, Pennies by the Sea. As a small publisher we are always very appreciative of the efforts of people like yourself who take time to review our work.

However, we were disturbed to hear that the copy you received did not physically stand up to scrutiny. We apologise unreservedly for this and would like to replace the copy you have ....

In terms of how your copy of Pennies by the Sea came to fall apart it comes down to the fact that we took a risk. Sounds dramatic I know,but we wanted the book out for Christmas, and, for various reasons, we were late off the presses. With every book we do we are advised by our printer to allow at least a week for the binding glue to harden properly. This time, however, we felt we could not wait that long for publicity to begin and released a small batch of Pennies by the Sea as soon as they were delivered to us and, therefore, against the advice of our printer. One of these came to pennymachines.co.uk. We suspect that the gluing on your copy was still volatile and therefore even a moderate amount of handling may have caused the glue to slide. For this we again apologise.

We think it also worth stating that Skelter Publishing has every faith in its printer, Thanet Press of Margate. They have always displayed the greatest professionalism when dealing with our titles and always produce work to the very highest standards. We have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone who may be looking for a good honest company to do business with.

Regards,
Dave.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pennies by the Sea review

Pennies by the Sea

Having had time now to absorb Nick Laister's Pennies by the Sea, I must say, as the first book to cover the vintage amusement scene from the arcade operators' side of the coin box, it makes a fascinating read. We are lead through over seventy years' intricate history of several competing amusement venues in Bridlington (and those who owned and ran them), from their inception in the assembly rooms adjoining the Ship Inn in the mid 1880s; the first "pleasure palaces", cinematograph houses and theatres, to Britain's first purpose built seaside amusement arcade at Great Yarmouth in 1897. The central story is that of Joyland Amusements, following its piecemeal development and expansion as it became one of the biggest in Britain, right up to the present day. Something of the fuggy atmosphere of a crowded arcade; the noise and bustle; aromas of disinfectant, hot dogs, candyfloss and ozone, is evoked in pictures, stories and personal anecdotes from some of the key players at the sharp end of the British amusement machines industry. We are reminded of a simpler, more naive age when it was possible for an enterprising fellow to manufacture slot machines in a small shed, hand build them with the help of an uncle and deliver them to local resorts in the sidecar of a motorcycle.


A number of classic old machines can be spied in the tantalizing black and white images, mostly looking in from the Promenade or Esplanade fronts of the arcades, plus a few rather fuzzy interiors. It's sad that the insides of amusement arcades were so rarely considered worthy of a photograph. Most of our early views of machines in situ were taken on Victorian piers. The rows of wooden-cased wall machines that were more usually indoors are rarely seen.


The final chapter The Rides and Attractions, describes and pictures some of the games that were operated from Joyland Amusements. Clearly this isn't Nick Laister's area of expertise, as evidenced by a few errors that creep in - although the Laughing Sailor appeared in 1950, the same year vinyl LPs were first sold in Britain, it's 78" record would have been of shellac not vinyl, and we didn't have to wait until 1963 for automatic payouts on Fruit Machines! Nevertheless, the chapter provides a welcome "where are they now?" roundup of the games and rides that provided so many years entertainment at the Joyland arcade.


Handle with care: My copy fell apart when I was less than a third of the way through - and I wasn't particularly rough with it. It was printed in England and the pages attached by slapping a bit of cheap glue down the spine in what passes for softback binding these days.



Full tilt on the Black Country Museum Speedway


The auction catalogue for the Central England Vintage Slot Collectors' Day at Coventry on Sunday 12th November is now online here. You can order a printed copy here (required for entry). I should have more details of the Anna Carter auction by Monday.


Central England Sale Catalogue