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Saturday, March 12, 2005

New UK Working Models book reviewed

Penny-in-the-Slot Automata & The Working ModelBritish books about early coin-operated machines don't come along often. In fact Darren Hesketh's 224 page Penny-in-the-Slot Automata & The Working Model is only the second UK coin machine hardback published, and the first in any language to focus entirely upon coin-operated automata. Like it's cinematic counterpart, mechanical animation maintains an undiminished fascination and has enjoyed something of a resurgence over the last few decades. These quirky miniature re-enactments of the tragic, comic, dramatic and mundane; of gory tortures, grim executions and ghostly visitations, stand quite apart from the more well known gambling machines and skill games and deserve a guide book of their own.

As a relative newcomer to the world of antique slot machines, Darren dived in at the deep end and immersed himself in the subject for several years (he now runs a vintage arcade exhibiting his working models and games at the Cheshire Workshops). A book of this sort depends for its content upon winning the co-operation of many collectors and museum curators at home and abroad, and Darren must be commended for the amount of information and pictorial content he's garnered from them. The main contenders are all well represented: Ahrens, Bollands, Canova, Dennison, Kraft and Lee. The rarely seen, elaborate and intricate Tansley models were a revelation and left me hungry for more. There are chapters on the related fields of mechanical music, coin-operated merchandisers and some contemporary examples by Tim Hunkin, plus a section on American models (mostly fortune-tellers and animated vendors) which seems to confirm that the working model per se was a uniquely British tradition.

Image quality is good with many photographs supplied by the author. Aside from brief histories of working models in general and of the major manufacturers, the text is confined to concise and pithy descriptions of the actions. The copious pictures which attest to the visual appeal of these machines are allowed to speak for themselves. The price guide at the end (insisted upon by the publisher) is fairly pointless - infrequency of sales and their one-off nature makes generalized values meaningless. Inevitably there are many models which could not be included, (some of which have come to light since publication) but this book provides a substantial sample of what's out there. I want to see more now, but that's really a measure of the book's success.

The £100 cover price is going to be the stumbling block for many. However, Amazon are selling it for a more bearable £70, but you won't find it any cheaper than at this site. Buy it now for £60!

Penny-in-the-Slot Automata 1Penny-in-the-Slot Automata 2Penny-in-the-Slot Automata 3

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