Morphy’s hits the jackpot with $3M auction of antique coin-op machines, advertising

Art Daily
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Mills ‘Twin Chicago’ double upright slot machine that accepts both quarters (‘Two Bits’) and nickels, with musical attachment. All original from top to bottom and inside out. Sold within estimate for $79,950.
Mills ‘Twin Chicago’ double upright slot machine that accepts both quarters (‘Two Bits’) and nickels, with musical attachment. All original from top to bottom and inside out. Sold within estimate for $79,950.

DENVER, PA.- For many collectors, Morphy’s Coin-op and Antique Advertising Auction originally scheduled for March and delayed until June 20-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a welcome event. The collecting hobby had been challenged by months of cancelled antique shows and conventions, and a large audience of socially distanced gallery bidders, together with hundreds of phone and online bidders, were anxious to make some high-quality new acquisitions.

Morphy Auctions founder and president Dan Morphy noted that on some lots there were as many as 200 online competitors, a reflection of the coin-op market’s stamina and the insatiable desire for rare pieces from pedigreed collections. The final tally exceeded $3 million, inclusive of buyer’s premium.

Four fresh-to-market private collections were featured in the two-day event, which encompassed mechanical music, slot and vending machines; cash registers and general store items; carousel and carnival novelties; and a broad array of antique advertising that ranged from eye-catching trade stimulators to quaint occupational shaving mugs.

The top lot of the sale was a J.P. Seeburg Style “H” Orchestrion, whose richly harmonious instruments include a piano, bass and snare drums; a rank of flute and violin pipes; xylophone, cymbal, castanets and more. Made during the first quarter of the 20th century, the versatile music-maker spent most of its life at the famed Crystal Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada. Against an estimate of $60,000-$90,000, it sold for $83,025.

The demand for antique music machines continued with a 5-cent Encore Automatic Banjo from the turn of the 20th century. Playing tunes realistically by means of tiny mechanical “fingers,” the rare entertainer of yesteryear had spent approximately half a century in the Deansboro (N.Y.) Musical Museum collection before passing to private hands. Estimated at $40,000-$70,000, it was claimed by its new owner for $61,500.

Boasting both looks and talent, a Regina Corona Style 35 15.5-inch changer in its original walnut case was unusual for its stunning Art Nouveau art-glass motif and ornate crest framing an 8-day Seth Thomas clock. Ready to perform any of 10 tunes from its accompanying 10 player discs, it sold above estimate for $33,825.

One of the stars of the gambling section, a Mills “Twin Chicago” double-slot machine with original music box attachment was designed to accept quarters on one side and nickels on the other. It was marketed as a boon to operators who could offer their customers two gambling machines while only paying for one operating license. A rare model in beautiful original condition, it settled at $79,950, the midpoint of its $60,000-$90,000 estimate.

Also realizing $79,950, “The Victor,” a 25-cent upright slot machine, was manufactured in 1906 by Victor Novelty Works. Lavishly embellished with hand carving on the oak case, and with nickel-plated adornments and brightly colored glue-chip front glass, the example offered by Morphy’s was one of the nicest of all known to the hobby. It had been estimated at $50,000-$70,000.

Vending machines capable of dispensing gum, candy, peanuts, breath lozenges or even a spray of perfume were once a staple at train stations and other public places. Ninety-five coin-operated antique “vendors” crossed the auction block at Morphy’s June event and achieved excellent prices. Leading the group was a coveted Roovers 1-cent Puss in Boots arcade fortuneteller. A wood and glass floor model on cast-iron cabriole legs, the Puss in Boots machine showcases a whimsical feline automaton that, upon the crank of a side handle, dispenses a fortune card to the patron. “In recent years, some reproductions were made of the Puss in Boots. Only a few originals still exist, the one in our sale being one of the best,” said Dan Morphy. It easily reached its estimate range, selling for $67,650.

The “Lion,” a one-cent vending machine made by Wagner Mfg Co., for A. Marx & Co., is regarded by many collectors as the ultimate “tall-globed” peanut machine. Bidders jumped at the chance to pursue a fine book example of the Lion in all-original condition. It swept past its $15,000-$20,000 estimate, landing at $27,060.

The auction’s incredible variety was evidenced throughout the top 10 list, which also includes such prized rarities as a Kruse Dial Machine, which records the amount of a retail customer’s purchase, $20,910 against an estimate of $6,000-$10,000; a Chero Crush soda fountain syrup dispenser with old ball pump, $16,250; a Boston Cigar and Tobacco Company tobacco cutter promoting “Flying Dude” 5-Cent Cigars, $11,993 against an estimate of $1,200-$1,600; and a 1940 Wurlitzer Jukebox Model 71, complete and in excellent working order, $14,760.

Rescheduling the Coin-Op and Antique Advertising Auction may not have been the preferred option, but if anything, it seems that waiting for a government order to be lifted only served to heighten collector interest, Dan Morphy said. “Those who signed up to bid, whether in the gallery, over the phone or online, recognized the exceptional quality of what was being offered. They were focused on winning. Many of the machines we offered were extremely rare examples and, in some cases, were the only known survivors of their type. Some felt it might be the only opportunity they would ever have to acquire certain models. That usually sets the scene for some heated competition, which is what we saw with this sale. We were extremely pleased with the results.”

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