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Published October 14, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Fortune-telling machines popular in ’30s

Zoltar the Fortune Teller is the coin-operated machine in the movie “Big” that changed Tom Hanks’ character into a grown-up. The publicity from the movie created a market for the machine, and copies were made in the 1960s and ’70s. Coin-operated fortune-telling machines were popular at amusement parks and penny arcades in the 1930s and after.

By: By Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Zoltar the Fortune Teller is the coin-operated machine in the movie “Big” that changed Tom Hanks’ character into a grown-up. The publicity from the movie created a market for the machine, and copies were made in the 1960s and ’70s. Coin-operated fortune-telling machines were popular at amusement parks and penny arcades in the 1930s and after.

They featured exotic figures like gypsies, mummies, skulls, devils or wizards, as well as old women and Puss-in-Boots – any character that seemed magical. There also is a fortune-telling machine named Zoltan that often is confused with Zoltar. The name “Zoltan” may have come from the Hungarian word for Sultan, and the figure is dressed like a sultan.

The first fortune-telling machines probably were made in the 1890s, and the first electric coin-operated machines in about 1910. Experts say that Zoltan was introduced in 1965 and that only 50 or 60 were made. After the movie “Big” came out, some reproductions were made of fiberglass. A dime went in the slot. Later models required a quarter.

Most of these coin-operated fortune-telling machines sell for high prices today, about $3,000 to $5,000. But recently a possibly unique Gypsy fortune-telling machine that talks made the news. It is different from others. The Gypsy figure is not inside a glass box, and she doesn’t nod or point to a fortune printed on a card. She actually has a voice. The state of Montana owns the Gypsy, and a Montana spokesman said it will not be sold even though the state has apparently been offered more than $1 million for it.


Q: I have a pine colonial-style rocker. The top is decorated in a muted gold floral pattern. It was manufactured by L & Z Kamman Co. of Gardner, Mass. What is its value?

A: Brothers Lee D. Kamman and Zora R. Kamman and their father, I.B. Kamman, founded L & Z Kamman Co. in 1946. The company designed and manufactured chairs. Many were decorated by hand. L & Z Kamman made the chairs for the renovated Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s. The company went out of business in about 1991. Your chair is not old enough to be an antique, and it was not made by a famous company. So it would sell as used furniture for about one-third the cost of a new rocker.


Q: I understand there are special laws and restrictions regarding ivory. Could you please tell me what the rules are? My father was an exporter who traveled all over the world during the 1940s and ’50s, and he brought me back many pieces when I was growing up.

A: International, federal and state laws govern the sale, import, export and possession of ivory, whether from elephant, whale, hippo, warthog or wild boar. The laws are lengthy and complex but generally focus on preventing the killing of endangered animals that produce ivory. Any ivory items your father gave you more than 50 years ago are not governed by these laws, so if you want to sell them you are free to do so. You can find details about the laws online.


Q: I just came across a whiskey bottle I found 41 years ago in some woods. The bottle is a flask that holds 12 ounces. Printed on the front of the bottle are the words “Holbrook & Winfree Flask” and below that the words “Holbrook & Winfree, Trade Street, Winston, N.C.” Can you give me any history on the bottle and its value?

A: R.T. Holbrook and Julian Winfree operated a saloon and restaurant called The Criterion in Winston. A 1904 city directory includes an ad for the restaurant that states it’s “first-class in every respect” and serves “meals at all hours, Holbrook & Winfree, Proprietors.” Next to it was an ad for Holbrook & Winfree, “Dealers in Foreign and Domestic Liquors, Wines, Ales, Porters, Champagnes, Cigars, &c.” Winston merged with Salem, N.C., in 1913 to become Winston-Salem, so your flask was made before that time. Value: $200 to $250.


Tip

Don’t ever take your rings off and put them on the edge of the sink when you wash your hands. They can fall into the sink and down the drain or be forgotten and left behind.

Take advantage of a free listing for your group to announce events or to find antique shows and auctions. Go to www.kovels.com/

Events-Calendar.html to find and plan your antiquing trips.


Terry Kovel answers as many questions as possible through the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovel, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

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