Dropping a Dime on Coin-Op Machines With Potter & Potter Auctions’ Gabe Fajuri

Rebekah Kaufman
Published on
Potter & Potter Auctions’ Gabe Fajuri. Image from the auction house.
Potter & Potter Auctions’ Gabe Fajuri. Image from the auction house.

Get ready to play at Potter & Potter Auctions’ May 29th, 2021 coin-op machines sale! This exciting event will be in the company’s newly relocated Chicago area gallery. It’ll be the first event the auction house has held in 15 months to have limited in-person attendance. We spoke with Gabe Fajuri, President of Potter & Potter Auctions, to learn more about this sale and the antique to contemporary coin-op collecting categories it features. 

Auction Daily: Tell us about the range of items that fall within the coin-op machines collecting framework. Which categories are “hot” right now?

Gabe Fajuri: Many general antique collectors might not recognize that coin-operated machines are everywhere – or at least, they used to be everywhere. Collectors in this hobby are interested in three or four broad categories of machines: vending, slots and gambling (including trade stimulators), mechanical music (some coin-operated, some not), and arcade machines. As for “hot” categories, I’d say anything scarce or rare in any of these categories qualifies, which sounds like a pat answer but is entirely true. 

Auction Daily: Who collects coin-op machines? Does this vary around the era and type of the machines?

Gabe Fajuri: Like any field, collectors in this area of the antiques and auction world are attracted to it for a range of reasons. Maybe they have a fond memory of playing arcade games as a child or always wanted to own a coin-operated ride they played on or an arcade they saw or visited that was filled with machines. In the case of vending machines, perhaps it is the product that the collector is interested in (gum, peanuts, or other products) or a brand name of product dispensed by said machines. Other collectors buy because of the form of the machine or the ingenious way that it operates. Others still buy because of the manufacturer that made the device.

Charles Fey & Co.’s On the Level coin-op machine. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.
Charles Fey & Co.’s On the Level coin-op machine. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.

Auction Daily: What makes lot #70, the Charles Fey & Co. On the Level $1 Machine, so extraordinary?

Gabe Fajuri: While there are other versions of this machine in private collections, this is the only example we know of that accepts a one-dollar coin. Fey is a noted manufacturer of beautiful, finely designed and cast machines from the turn of the last century. Many of his coin-operated machines are highly sought after by advanced collectors, and some of them, the rarest of the rare, can sell for six figures. 

Auction Daily: Do collectors actually use or activate their coin-op machines for fun or study, or do they keep them behind glass or safely displayed like other fine collectibles?

Gabe Fajuri: I’d say it’s more the former than the latter. Much of the fun of a coin-op collection comes in the use or demonstration of the devices. What fun would it be to have an arcade game you can’t play, a jukebox you can’t listen to, or a slot machine you can’t try your luck on?

Little Duke slot machine. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.
Little Duke slot machine. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.

Auction Daily: Personally, what is your favorite machine in this sale and why? And looking back, what was your favorite – or most memorable – coin-op machine you’ve sold through Potter & Potter over the years?

Gabe Fajuri: It sounds silly, but I have always liked the styling of the Little Duke slot machine. It’s not rare, but it is a “classic” in its own way, and for that reason, it’s always stood out in my mind. And as for happy memories, we did offer a Fey machine in 2018 – a finger striker, similar to the big High Strikers you’re familiar with from carnivals (the ones with the mallets, but this one uses the tap of a finger to ring the bell) that sticks out in my memory. Not only did the machine have a lovely shape and deco look and feel, but it also brought a huge price at auction – nearly $40,000 on a much smaller estimate!

Fey Finger Striker machine. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.
Fey Finger Striker machine. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.

For more information on Potter & Potter Auctions and their May 29th coin-op sale, please see the auction house’s website.

Want to learn more about Potter & Potter Auctions? We interviewed them earlier this year about their recent move.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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