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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.