Published: November 15, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Morphy Auctions
DENVER, PENN. – Coin-operated and advertising antiques and collectibles were in sharp focus at Morphy Auctions’ November 3-5, when more than 1,600 lots achieved a 95 percent sell-through rate and a cumulative total that exceeded $2 million. A sizeable collection that had been amassed over 50 years supplied many of the sale’s top lots, though the collector was not identified.
“We were very pleased with the sale,” commented firm president Dan Morphy. “As always, fresh-to-the-market items in top condition bring the premium price. The roulette was one of the nicest examples we have ever handled and came from a 50-plus-year-old collection. Condition still rules the roost in all categories.”
Morphy was referencing the sale’s top lot, a circa 1904 five-cent Caille Bros. Roulette floor model slot machine, which hit the bull’s-eye of its $200/300,000 estimate when it sold for $246,000. One of nine models in the sale by the Detroit, Mich., based factory, which dominated production of coin-operated machines in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, there were several factors that contributed to its spectacular result, not least its untouched original condition. Prior to being acquired by the private collector, it had been at the Las Vegas Club in the 1970s. Morphy’s cataloge described it as “the finest original Caille Roulette” that warranted a “best of the best” distinction.
If Caille Bros. had a competitor among other coin-operated machine makers, it would certainly be the Chicago-based Mills Novelty Company, which produced numerous models in the early Twentieth Century. The company was represented in the sale by about five dozen examples, which included one of the firm’s best known models, the “Violano-Virtuoso” which came in a deluxe version and earned a second place finish at $63,960. The model was one of the first projects designed by Henry K. Sandell, who joined Mills in 1904; his patent for an automatic violin-playing machine helped Mills launch the “Automatic Virtuoso,” which evolved into the “Violano-Virtuoso,” though the deluxe model offered in the sale – which featured a second violin – would not be developed until the early 1920s. The model sold by Morphy had undergone a three-year restoration and was housed in a North American quartered oak cabinet.
A 25-cent Mills Twentieth Century musical upright slot machine, made between 1900 and 1902, had an older professional restoration and retained its original lithographed color wheel and reverse glass panel. It closed at $22,140, just short of its high estimate.
Rounding out the leaderboard at $34,440 was a “Yale Wonder Clock,” which the catalog described as “exceedingly rare.” With only a handful known to have survived, the example on offer had a low serial number of 523 and was made in the first part of the Twentieth Century in Burlington, Vt., by Charles Yale; the auction house considered it one of the most visually appealing and noted its provenance to the Mel Gatlin collection. The quartered oak case enclosed a 15½-inch Regina disc player as well as the gambling feature of a spinning arrow that was a bonus to the tune purchase function. The model included all the bells and whistles, in this case, a New Haven Clock Co. clock, flashing lights and various token awards in addition to the spinning arrow, music and advertising.
Fortune telling machines perennially appeal to collectors and there were eight fortune telling models in the sale for bidders to try their luck with. At the head of the category was a one-cent Roovers Madam Zita example, which is a rare surviving working, original instead of the reproduced examples. The machine featured a Victorian-garbed female automaton who turns her head to take a fortune and pulls a lever with another hand. Though the stand on which the oak case sits was a later replacement, an acceptable condition feature, a winning bid of $29,520 found it a new home, within estimate.
Following Madam Zita in the category was an International Mutoscope Mystic Swami fortune teller that had been restored and featured a male automaton with hands that revolved over a crystal ball that dated to circa 1954 and sold just short of its high estimate, for $18,450. A restored one-cent Puss in Boots arcade amusement machine, which dispensed chocolates instead of fortunes, exceeded expectations when it sold for $17,220.
Advertising was led at $24,600, for an inlaid Rock Island Railroad reverse-painted glass sign that was marked for the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Rocky Mountain Limited Railroad and housed in a frame inlaid with many things, including mother of pearl. It had been described in the catalog as “phenomenal” and of “museum quality”; it was the top lot in the second day of the auction.
Also selling on the second day of the auction was an impressive 1920 oak pub front and back bar, complete with ceramic tap dispenser and four associated stools, which found a new home for $9,840. Cataloged as “possibly straight out of a London pub,” it was considered a “great size” at only 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The ceramic tap was probably not original, nor was the ice receptacle, but the applied carvings and finials were.
Another installation lot was a similar vintage complete two-station barber shop with two oak Koken barber chairs, a shaving stand, a wall coat rack and cash register counter and lots of accessories, including razors, strops, nickel-plated brass aerators and other barber accessories. The lot had been assembled by a barbershop collector. Restorations were evident but did not detract from interest and it earned $9,840, a hair away from its high estimate.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Morphy Auctions’ next Coin-Op & Advertising sale is scheduled for April 21-22. For more information, www.morphyauctions.com or 877-968-8880.
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