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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

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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)

Arcade Treasures by Bill Kurtz (1994, Schiffer Publishing, $39.95) This book examines arcade collectibles in general--video games, shuffle alleys, baseball machines--but it also offers extensive and well-illustrated coverage of pinball collectibles, including a price guide.

Collector's Guide to Vintage Coin Machines by Richard M. Bueschel (1995, Schiffer Publishing, $39.95) Extensive coverage of coin-operated machine collectibles, with an excellent chapter on pinball machines. Plenty of color photos; with a price guide. Great for beginner collectors.

The Encyclopedia of Pinball, Volume I by Richard M. Bueschel (Nov. 1996, Silverball Amusements) The first volume, covering 1930-'33, in a planned series on the history of pinball.

The 1997 Price Guide by Larry Bieza (Nov. 1996) The authority on the buying, selling and grading of pinball machines.


The following is a selective listing of pinball-related shows, courtesy of pinball aficionado Mike Kerns of Chalfon, Pennsylvania. The show of the year is the Pinball Expo '96, held from Nov. 14 to 17 in Rosemont, Illinois. It's the pinball world's 12th annual expo, and the largest of its kind. Contact Rob Berk at 800/323-3547 for more information. Many of the following shows cover the arcade or coin-op collectibles market, not just pinball. Dates and locations are accurate as of press time. It is best to call ahead and confirm.

Sept. 13-14, Dallas Gameroom and Collectibles Show, Dallas, Texas. Contact: Walt Baxley 214/243-5725.

Sept. 20-22, Coin-Op Supershow and Sale, Pasadena, California. Contact: Rosanna Harris 303/431-9266.

Oct. 11-13, Pinball Wizards Convention, Whitehall, Pennsylvania. Contact: Brian Hein 610/435-2860.

Oct. 11-13, Hackensack Collector's Expo, Hackensack, New Jersey. Contact: Bob Nelson 316/263-1848.

Oct. 19-20, Orlando Collector's Expo, Orlando, Florida. Contact: Chip Nofal 904/928-0666.


A recent search of the Internet found more than 200 pinball citations, although most were just player chatter about new games. For access:


Gameroom (1014 Mt. Tabor Road, New Albany, Indiana 47150; 812/945-7971, fax: 812/945-6966; 12 issues a year--$26 in the United States) If it's in an arcade or amusement center, it's in here. Articles about collecting pinball machines, arcade games, jukeboxes and more.

pinGame journal (31937 Olde Franklin Drive, Farmington Hills, Michigan 48334; 810/626-5203; roughly 12 issues a year--$30 in the United States (add $20 for first-class delivery), US$34 in Canada, US$63 in Europe

This 40-page quasimonthly (publishing schedules are rather casual) put out by physician and pinball collector Jim Schelberg is a must-have for anyone interested in collecting pinball machines. It features articles on new machines, repair tips, old games, pinball shows, letters from collectors and a great classified section of machines and parts for sale.


Pinball Owner's Association

P.O. Box 122 Cambridge, CB1 4AH, England

This 19-year-old group claims to be the world's largest pinball machine collectors club. International membership. Annual dues include subscription to Pinball Player magazine. Dues are $US55 in United States and Canada, £16 in Ireland and the United Kingdom, £22 the rest of Europe.


The Mayfair Amusement Co.
60-41 Woodbine Street
Ridgewood, New York 11385
718/417-5050; fax: 718/386-9049
Pinball flyers, parts, schematics, manuals and more.

The Pinball Resource
37 Velie Road
Lagrangeville, New York 12540
914/223-5613; fax: 914/223-7365
More than one million parts in stock, everything from bulbs to bumper caps, coils to custom parts. Also a complete line of machine schematics and manuals.

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