by Dr. Lori Verderame
Slot machines (a.k.a. coin operated machines) were first introduced in the 1700s, gained popularity in the 1800s, and came of age in the 1900s. These antique machines are very collectible today.
Three Types of Coin Operated Machines
There are three basic types of coin operated machines on the antiques and vintage collectibles market:
1. Vending machines that dispense a product
2. Machines that stimulate trade and were associated with gambling/gaming
3. Machines for entertainment
(i.e., stated your weight, told your fortune, played music, etc.).
In the early 1900s, slot machines were all the rage.
Along with Pace Manufacturing Company, Walting Manufacturing Company, and Caille Bros. Manufacturing Company, arguably the best known company that produced these machines was the Mills Novelty Company Inc. of Chicago, IL. The Mills Novelty Company Inc. manufactured slot machines, vending machines, automatic music machines and jukeboxes.
Mortimer Mills received a patent for a coin vending apparatus in the early 1890s. The company’s first upright slot machine was called the Mills Owl, introduced in 1897. This slot machine was housed in a late Victorian or Eastlake style furniture cabinet. The success of the Mills Owl sparked the image of an owl to be used at the company’s’ trademark or logo. In 1898, the company expanded to include Mortimer’s son.
Like the Mills Owl, the company produced another famous slot machine called the Mills Liberty Bell. In addition, the company started to produce slot machines that played music like the Constellation model. The company also produced coin operated musical machines like those made by the New Jersey firm that also produce Regina Music Boxes. Some of the Mills music machines were the Violano Virtuoso, Viol-Cello, Viol-Xylophone, and the Mills String Quartette, all of which were designed for large public sites like theatres, hotels, and bars. These machines were housed in a cabinet of mahogany, walnut, or oak.
What to Look For
When looking for a valuable slot machine, look for a working slot machine with its original parts. This does not mean that a non-working slot machine is worthless since some people like to buy and rework the non-working ones. The cabinet of a slot machine should be in good condition with no losses, damage, or extensive refinishing. There are characteristics that will help you to identify age of the cabinet like fading, style, and evidence of heat/humidity damage. Review the area around the slot to see whether the machine has been widely used over the years, too.
These antique and vintage coin operated slot machines regularly sell for several thousands of dollars into the $75,000 dollar range for small scale examples. Some large scale pristine examples are valued upwards of $150,000 on the retail market. Today, collectors look for Mills slot machines for their beautiful form, nostalgic look, and quality machinery.
Get an online appraisal of your Mills Slot Machine from Dr. Lori