Vintage gumball machines



2015-06-26 10:32:18

Vintage gumball machines are vending machines typically used to dispense handfuls of mints or candies.


Vintage gumball machines were among the earliest coin operated vending machines to be invented. They were developed in and around the 1880s by Victorian mechanics preoccupied with novelty engineering practices. They were used to dispense any number of pocket sized items, including gum, mints, candies, pencils, perfume, razor blades and toilet paper. These "silent salesmen" were found in hotel lobbies, garages, at train stations and outside swimming pools, and were generally made from painted wood and metal.

Vintage gumball machines come in a variety of sizes and heights; some have claw feet, others, florid scroll embellishments made from cast iron. However, every model was fitted with a glass bowl with which to display its wares and complicated inner mechanisms that were both difficult and costly to repair.

Vintage gumball machines dating from the 1920s and 1930s were usually made from steel, or finished with porcelain enamel over a cast iron shell. This techniques made the devices durable as well as attractive.

Vintage gumball machines are frequently found in reclamation yards, antique and vintage stores, retro furniture stores, auctions and online. If gumball machines are in good working order, good condition and date back to the late nineteenth century they can be worth as much as $1000. More common however, are scuffed, scratched machines in need of repair. Repair can be costly and collector's should bear in mind that machines in 100% original condition are worth a great deal more than machines that have been altered, even if those alterations improve the appearance or repair the inner mechanisms of a gumball machine.

The coin mechanism is something like a pin and tumbler lock that has a single pin. The shape of the coin slot keeps out coins that are too big. Any coin that is too small is not going to press against the pin. The correct coin fits into the slot snugly and presses against the pin. Just like a lock’s tumbler, the handle can now turn through one revolution.

Collector's guide

Collectors covet working gumball machines that are in 100% original condition. Working vintage gumball machines sporting replacement parts, however aesthetically pleasing, are not valued as highly as originals. Bright red and stainless steel machines are particularly popular amongst collectors and generally achieve the highest prices at auction.

Price guide

A 1 cent vintage counter top Millard gumball machine was sold for $900 in October 2011 at Victorian Casino Antiques. Its high value reflects its age and condition.

A Beatles emblazoned Beatles button vending machine sold for $850 in April 2010 at Heritage auctions.

An original 1920s advance penny gumball machine (with gum) sold for $175 in April 2008 at Premier Auction Centre.

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