Published: June 30, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Morphy Auctions
DENVER, PENN. – Originally scheduled for March 28-29, Morphy Auctions’ Coin-Op and Advertising sale hit paydirt nearly three months later June 20-21 as the 1,229-lot auction went for $3,021,372 in total sales. The auction went 90 percent sold and logged 86 gallery bidders, 85 phone bidders and 512 online bidders.
The sale was organized by Tom Tolworthy, the chief executive officer at Morphy Auctions who dons his other hat for this sale as the advisor on coin-op, gambling and advertising material. He has been a collector in the genre for more than 35 years. Consultants on the catalog included Chris Hall and Don Grimmer.
“The sale went excellent,” Tolworthy said. “Participation was huge, we had probably the largest crowd for a coin-op auction in years, close to 90 people registered to bid in the gallery for the sale. At any one moment, as many as 160 and 200 people were bidding live on the internet. Participation was the best we’ve seen in some time.”
The reason for that was multi-pronged, but Tolworthy put an emphasis on the offering.
“We talk about the tagline ‘fresh to market collections,’ but when you have pieces come to auction that aren’t regularly seen, that gets everybody’s anticipation up. We had one of the largest fresh-to-the-market vending machine collections since 1996. One of the best selections of mechanical music in a while, too.”
The sale was pulled together from four major consignors. The mechanical musical collection comprised 75 machines and took a number of the sale’s top lots. Built in earlier times to entertain, they have not lost that magic as bidders lined up to drop their pennies into them once again.
Chief among them was a Style H orchestrion by the JP Seeburg Piano Company that sold for $83,075. Tolworthy wrote that JP Seeburg dominated the American automatic piano and orchestrion business in the 1920s, having put their foot down in 1907 with the introduction of their 65-note pianos. The style H was among its largest and ornate offerings. The present example featured the signatures of many patrons to the Crystal Saloon in Virginia City, Nev., where it was housed until the 1960s. It received a full restoration in 2011.
“It was the largest orchestrion that Seeburg made,” Tolworthy said. “They manufactured it for quite a few years: early to mid-19-teens all the way through 1929. There aren’t a lot of them and this particular one had provenance. It came with a picture postcard on location showing where it sat for years. Collectors for these manage the serial numbers, they know where most of them came from. There was familiarity to this Seeburg H.”
It sold to a new collector to the field who was bidding in the gallery. It was his first orchestrion.
“We saw some significant purchases to first-time buyers,” Tolworthy said. “At least a half a dozen or more. When people say there aren’t new collectors, that’s not correct.”
Slot machines were represented from another collection that took a hard-line focus on original condition – a rarity that drives results as so many of these machines have been restored. Tolworthy said they had original plating, finish, decals, castings, and the examples that were accompanied by music had original music boxes.
Finishing at $78,000 and leading the slots was a 25¢ “Two Bits” and 5¢ musical double upright slot machine from the Mills Novelty Company out of Chicago. The auction house wrote that the concept for a double slot machine was created to give the operator two machines for one operating license. Much of this example was original, including the music box, the finish to the quartered oak cabinet, coin heads and castings.
From the Victor Novelty Works came an all original “The Victor” 25¢ musical upright slot machine, which sold above estimate for $79,950. Tolworthy said, “That was one of the finest original condition slot machines I’ve ever seen. You just don’t find them that way. It was over 100 years old and it looked like it rolled off the factory line last week. It was very desirable. We had spirited bidding.”
The machine’s provenance says it originally came out of Colorado before passing to a New Mexico collection and then into the consignor’s collection. It will now head back to a collection in Colorado.
For $72,000, one bidder walked away with two violinists and a pianist in the Mills Novelty Company Deluxe Violano-Virtuoso, or “Double Violano.” The cased model was originally made by Henry K. Sandell, who joined the Mills Novelty Company in 1904 at the age of 21, having already invented numerous items by that age. Within two years, Sandell came out with a single automatic violin player known as the Automatic Virtuoso, though it was not made available to the public until 1911. In 1909, the US Government displayed the Automatic Virtuoso at the Alaska Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. It would take Sandell until the 1920s to create a machine where two violins played simultaneously, to amplify the sound and create an orchestral effect. The present machine was restored over 18 months and was in flawless condition.
“With the single violin machine, you can lose the violin sound to the piano in a larger room,” Tolworthy said. “So they put two violins in there, there was no amplification in the machine at the time, so it’s louder as a result.”
Patented February 4, 1896, only a few original 1¢ Puss In Boots arcade fortune tellers by Roovers Brothers are known, and Morphy found $67,650 for one. Tolworthy said this is one of the best original examples extant. The cat automaton dispenses a fortune card to the patron and can also be set up to give out small mint chocolates. It is a clockwork mechanism, the cord only existing to power the light on the machine. Roovers made several models of fortune tellers, but Puss in Boots goes down as one of the finest. Tolworthy said reproductions have been made over the past 20 years, but there are probably no more than ten original examples. It came out of the New York area.
Tolworthy wrote that the 5¢ Encore Automatic Banjo is one of the most interesting automatic musical instruments ever produced, with a standard banjo picked by mechanical fingers. The machine was made by the Auto-Manufacturing Co in New York City, who had a factory on Bleecker Street and headquarters on Broadway. It is marked 5H, and it is believed that this model sat in the lobby of the company’s headquarters on Broadway. The Deansboro Musical Museum of Deansboro, N.Y., had the example in its collections before it closed and sold its contents in 1998. The museum had acquired the example in the 1940s and sold it to a private collector in 1997. Tolworthy guessed there were less than 20 original Encore Automatic Banjos in existence and this one sold for $61,500.
The A Marx & Co 1¢ Novelty Cigar Co Lion Peanut vending machine is considered one of the finest cast iron big globe machines in the genre, and it sailed to $27,060. It was the only machine labeled to the Novelty Cigar Co that Tolworthy had ever seen. It was in original condition with painted flowers to the side panels, original parts, paint, striping and correct globe.
Carousel animals and carnival figures rounded out the sale. Catching $21,760 was a Dentzel carved tiger, 74 inches to the top of the pole, from 1915. It had been professionally restored. Behind at $14,080 was a restored circa 1920 military-style outside row stander horse by Dentzel. The auction house said it was carved by either Daniel or Alfred Muller. Hopping along to $10,880 was a frog, circa 1915, from Herschell/Spillman. For the Cadillac enthusiast came a fully restored circa 1950 bumper car with bright paint and new interior, original connector pole and steerable wheels.
A 1927 HC Evans traveling shooting gallery sold for $6,600. It was 8 feet high by 10 feet wide with 111 cast iron targets, including eagles, ducks, bulls eyes, flowers, birds, stars and pipes. The auction house said this was “Gallery D,” and was customizable from the company. The targets were in original park paint.
Tolworthy sees a bright future for the coin-op market, relating that some truly notable collections will likely hit the block in the next five years. This will drive collector interest.
“What’s cyclical about collecting,” he said, “is that you go through periods when collections come to the market and create new collectors. Sometimes those collections don’t come to the market on a regular basis, and then a collection comes up and it regenerates. There is a lot of stuff that’s been accumulated that will start coming to market in the next five to seven years, and that will get people fired up again. When you look at this category – in 1995, the Dr Smith collection came up at Sotheby’s. The year after, Jim Julia sold 600 vending machines, all from one collection; the year after that, a partial collection of vending and arcade, another 600 to 800 lots. Those three auctions drove that market for the next 15 years, they got people excited. Arcade prices came up, there were some big collectors that came into the market at that time. When people start to see things they don’t see on a regular basis, that’s the stuff that creates new collectors and drives the market forward.”
Morphy’s next coin-op and advertising sale is scheduled for November 7-8.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.morphyauctions.com or 877-968-8880.
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