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Published July 15, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Coin-operated machines have a rich history

New slot machines and pinball games are designed to look modern and up to date. They have flashing lights and moving decorations and they make lots of noise.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

New slot machines and pinball games are designed to look modern and up to date. They have flashing lights and moving decorations and they make lots of noise.

Studies show that all of these features add to the excitement of the game. So try to imagine the first coin-operated vending machines that were used in 200 B.C. to dispense holy water. They were plain clay pots with levers.

In England, tobacco could be purchased from a coin-operated machine by the 1600s. New technology was used to make the machines of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. After the Civil War, all kinds of coin-operated machines were found in many stores. A pony on a stand could give a bouncy ride for a dime.

Some machines dispensed merchandise like perfume, gum or cigarettes. Some were games of skill. And some told fortunes or dispensed cards picturing movie stars or bathing beauties. Many played music. Collectors today like all types – arcade games, gambling games and dispensers.

There are experts who can repair the machines and stores that sell missing decals and parts, so even an old damaged machine can become an attractive part of a collection. But remember, some states have strict gambling laws, and it may be illegal to let others use your “antique” slots.

Q: I have seven jigsaw puzzles made in the 1940s. The puzzles, each 14 by 22 inches, were manufactured by Jaymar Specialty Co. of New York City. Six of the puzzles picture familiar Disney cartoon characters, including Mickey Mouse and Goofy. But one of them shows 13 “Gremlins” destroying a U.S. Army Air Corps fighter plane while it’s engaged in combat with Japanese warplanes. What’s that about?

A: Your mysterious puzzle pictures are Disney characters. During World War II, fighter pilots blamed engine trouble – or any bad luck - on imp-like creatures they called “gremlins.” The term became familiar to Americans via magazine articles and the letters pilots sent home. Roald Dahl (1916-1990), who would go on to become a famous author of children’s books, was a British Royal Air Force pilot during the war. He collected stories about the Gremlins, and a friend of his sent the stories to the Walt Disney Co. Disney studio artists illustrated a magazine article based on Dahl’s stories, which led to the 1943 publication of Dahl’s first children’s book, “The Gremlins.” Although Disney’s plans to use the stories as the basis for a feature film or an animated short did not pan out, Dahl’s Gremlins were featured in a nine-episode series of Disney comics in 1943 and 1944. At the same time, the studio produced some Gremlin promotional items, which must have included your puzzle.

Q: I have a question about Mary Gregory glass. Were there ever any signatures on her original work? How can collectors recognize an authentic piece?

A: Mary Gregory glass is a real problem for collectors. Recent research indicates that much of the information printed about Gregory as recently as the 1970s is a myth. “Mary Gregory glass” is the name we have given to any glass decorated with white-enamel-painted children. There was a real person named Mary Gregory, and she did indeed work for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co. in Sandwich, Mass., in the 1880s. But she probably never decorated glass with paintings of children. In fact, no evidence has been found that Boston and Sandwich ever produced that kind of glass. Experts have concluded that the glass we call “Mary Gregory” actually is Bohemian glass imported to the Sandwich area after the factory closed in 1888. It was apparently passed off to tourists as “Sandwich glass.” Many examples of decorative glass with painted children are known to have been made in Bohemia and England in the late 19th century and later in the United States. The glass has remained popular.


Old pantyhose are good to use to apply an oil finish to furniture. Remove all elastic first. The material does not leave lint.

For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel’s website,

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