Flipper Fantasy: Collecting Pinball Machines
Remember Those Classic Pinball Machines from Your Teen Years? Well, They're Still Out There, and They're for Sale
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96
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Where do you shop games? The answer is easier than you think. "You can run an ad in the papers saying, 'I pay cash for pinballs,' and the phone will ring off the hook," says Arnold. "People have 'em in their basements, they've had 'em there for 30 years, they haven't run them, they wanna get rid of them. Distributors--the manufacturers' selling arm--have huge quantities of them. They're around, and it's no real trick to find them. But usually, an operator would never park a game that works. I've never heard of it. And usually the stuff you get out of the basement is in pretty bad shape, 'cause it's been sitting there for 30 years." Attending pinball conventions and coin-op shows and meeting other collectors is a good way to scout out sources.
But caveat emptor. Know what to look for in a pinball. Is it fun to play? If you buy a game that bores you a week after you bring it home, you're stuck with a 275-pound paperweight in your rec room. And when considering the condition of the game, the most important concern is the appearance. "For the serious collector, cosmetic condition is paramount," says Hasse. "We can do almost anything by way of getting the machine working again, but if the playfield is badly scratched, or if there's a lot of paint missing," leave the game where it stands. The same goes for the backglass. If it's peeling--and the way to check is by looking at the glass from behind, not from the front--then either forget the game or prepare to shop for an artist or a reproduction backglass--if it's available. But unless the game is valued at $800 or more, it's rarely worth the expense.
How else do you judge a game? "You should do the 'sniff test,'" says Arnold. "Stick your nose inside, and if it smells like it's been wet, or you can visibly see rust on any of the mechanisms, that's a big no-no." And beware of pinball games sold in home versions by Sears, Montgomery Ward and other retailers in the 1960s and '70s. They were designed with highly inferior materials and poorly constructed; collectors call them the absolute dogs of the pinball world.
Now comes the haggling. Collectors and distributors may drive a harder bargain than the casual game owner, but chances are you're getting a machine in far better condition. Prices generally range from $300 to $500 for a decent game in fine condition, but they can top $1,000 for games in great demand. New games still in commercial distribution usually run about $3,000 or more.
When you find the game of your dreams, there's a satisfaction in it that you can't get from many other collectibles. "I know most of the major collectors," says Hasse, "and I don't know anybody who's in it for the [financial] return."
People collect pinballs because they are seeking a piece of their youth, a piece of Americana. It's an art form you can knock around. It's a collectible that doesn't sit on a shelf; it is made to be played. And when that game is home and humming, you can follow Randy Silverstine's suggestion. He fires up a La Gloria Cubana or Moore & Bode, turns off the lights and plays. In the darkness, all you can see is the glow of his cigar and the glow of the game. How To Get Rolling
For further information on the world of pinball, consult the following sources.
(All are available from Silverball Amusements, 37 Velie Road, Lagrangeville, New York 12540; or check with bookstores)
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