Action mouse: Amusement machines

By Elizabeth Day (Filed: 08/01/2006)
Auction Mouse once spent two days in Las Vegas and hated it. After 48 hours of pumped oxygen and supersize burgers eaten against the constant aural background of pinging slot machines, I was ready to burn my Celine Dion ticket and crawl out on my hands and knees.

All of which makes me mildly concerned about the news that Blackpool is supposedly becoming the new Vegas after the deregulation of our gambling laws. So in an attempt to get myself in the mood, I'm planning to go along to the forthcoming Christie's sale of vintage amusement machines on January 19.
More than 150 amusement machines dating from the 1880s to the 1950s will be auctioned and Christie's is inviting potential buyers to visit its showroom in South Kensington to given them a whirl.
Highlights of the sale include three mutoscopes - coin-operated machines that showed moving reels of photographs - featuring ladies undressing, dancing and massaging each other. The estimates for these start at £1,000.
Several pinball machines from the 1930s ranging in estimate from about £120 to £200 are available, as well as fortune telling machines from 1890-1950 (estimates: £150 to £1,800) and a rare Charlie Chaplin wall machine dating from 1916 where the player must aim a ball at his trademark bowler hat (estimate £1,800 to £2,200).
Given the obvious difficulties of postage and packaging, eBay has fewer amusement machines on offer but there are still some intriguing offers online.
A 1958 "Rocket Ship" pinball machine restored to factory specifications was going for more than £3,000 last week, while a 1980s "Attack From Mars" pinball game provoked furious bidding between 22 potential buyers - eventually going for £3,753.
According to Laurence Fisher at Christie's, collectors should keep an eye out for the earliest Sega games (currently worth about £1,500) and machines from the 1980s because they are experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
"Vintage amusement machines have held their value over a considerable amount of time so one can assume it's a safe area," he says.
"But it's a very specialist market and often collectors tend to go for what they like rather than pure value.
"Condition is vital. You should consider not only whether it is scratched but also how original it is and how many replacement parts have been added."
Unrestored older machines are also rarer because production was limited under tighter gambling and prohibition regulations. At the turn of the century, English law dictated that an amusement machine could only be considered legal if it was a question of skill rather than chance.
In one Christie's lot, a wall machine manufactured in London circa 1910, there is a card displayed below the ball guide asserting the legality of the game. It reads: "Protected by the Skill."

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