Last weekend, thousands of gamers attended the Game On Expo at the Phoenix Convention Center to play free games, participate in contests and tournaments, attend workshops, and more. It was my first time attending, and my two colleagues and I were like kids in a candy store. We also spoke on a panel on August 9 and covered current market trends relating to pinball, retro video arcade and classic coin operated machines.
Coin-operated machines, or coin-ops, continue to do well on the secondary market. But there’s much more to coin-ops than vintage arcade and video games. In fact, coin-ops include mechanical banks, scales, cast iron toys, sports-themed amusement machines, antique slot machines, vintage jukeboxes and antique vending machines.
Whether you’re adding to your collection or getting ready to sell, take the time to research the coin-op in question to better understand its value. Here are some tips:
Research the brand. Whether it’s a 1930s Mills slot machine or a video arcade game published by Sega in 1982, the name of the manufacturer is important, along with the type of machine. Some of the antique coin-op brands that are in demand for mechanical banks include American Bisque Company, J. & E. Stevens Co., Shepard Hardware Co., and Kyser & Rex. Common manufacturers of antique slot machines included Mills, Jennings, Watling, and Pace. If collecting vintage pinball machines, certain brands are in demand, including Bally, Gottlieb, Williams, and Stern.
Determine rarity. Think supply and demand. When a coin-op is rare, it gets the attention of serious collectors. For example, Capcom, a Japanese video game developer, once had a pinball division called Capcom Coin-Op. They made just nine Kingpin pinball machines before they folded in 1996. Because these machines are scarce, each one is believed to be worth around $40,000. Meanwhile, Circus Maximus is in the process of remaking the game.
Watch for replicas. Reproductions are not as valuable as originals, but they can still be in demand. For example, several mechanical banks from the 1800s were reproduced in the 1930s, and some can be worth several hundred dollars. When purchasing slot machines, watch for revamps. This is when the original machines have been used, but parts have been changed out to make it a different game.
Evaluate condition. Age, weather, and wear and tear take a toll on coin-ops. It’s not uncommon to see mechanical banks with corroded or broken springs, pinball machines with circuit boards that don’t work, and coin-ops with many other mechanical and electrical issues. While it’s true that collectors seek machines in good condition, a coin-op that doesn’t work or is missing parts can still hold value, especially if it can be restored.
As with anything, do your research and take time to review the auction history for similar pieces. There are also many coin-op groups and online forums you can join. Hopefully, whether you just scored a new machine, or you sold part of your coin-op collection, you’ll finish your transaction with a big, “Cha-Ching!”
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.