A Penny for your Memories
By Nancy Wilson


Many years ago a young married couple, busy starting out their life together, came across a chance to buy out a penny arcade. The news of the sale came from one of their business partners who had links to the islands of Lake Erie. The couple did not collect antiques, but were intrigued by the thought of owning such a unique collection and thought they might use the games in the nightclub they were operating. And thus they planned a trip to Put-in-Bay OH on South Bass Island.

The establishment they visited was a combination gift shop and arcade, Snowbird Gifts located right in the heart of downtown Put-in-Bay. The games occupied a lot of space, and at the price of a penny, the games didn’t bring in the revenue that the gifts did, so the owners wanted to sell them. Today the couple still marvels at what they found there.

There were multiple countertop penny ‘personality pieces’ by Exhibit Supply Company out of Chicago. Games such as Love Meter, How Can I Find the Right Love Mate, Kiss-o-Meter, and Sex Appeal Meter had a circle of lights behind painted glass. For a penny the lights rotated around in a circle finally stopping on an answer, like Passionate, Thrilling or Frigid.

A Grip Tester and Strength Tester did what their names imply, registering on a spring-loaded indicator like a scale when the customer squeezed a handle. Then the game ranked ranges of scores into categories like Wimp or A Real He-Man. Customers had to be convinced to drop their penny in the Electric Shocker. In order to entice people to part with a penny, there were labels promoting the health benefits of the ‘game,’ like improving circulation and purifying the blood.

play golf.jpg (44423 bytes)Do you remember those aluminum discs you used to be able to have made for you at the state fair? You’d tell the merchant what you wanted imprinted on them and he’d make a disc customized especially for you. Most teenagers would choose ‘Suzie loves Bobby’ and the like. Then you’d wear them around your neck on a chain. Well there at the arcade was a floor model Metal Typer on which you could create your own disc. Directions read "After inserting coin, turn pointer to letter wanted, pull left handle once for each letter. When finished, pull right handle to obtain medal."

Target Skill was a countertop pistol shoot game where the operator aimed at one of three holes at the back, like the one pictured. A porcelain penny scale was also among the inventory. Not only did you get your weight, but you got the benefit of a fortune too.

But the absolute cream-of-the-crop was two floor model Chester-Pollard cabinet games. During the 1920s, the Chester brothers, Frank, Charles, and Ernest (Pollard was their mother’s maiden name.) sold & distributed sports and movie cards thru coin-operated machines. They purchased the North American rights to patents for the Play Football/Soccer game from a British manufacturer and at first made 100 trial units, placing them at various locations across the United States. The game was so successful the brothers released more units the next year. We noted some discrepancy in the dates of when these actions occurred – from 1924 to 1926.

target skill.jpg (573496 bytes)The football game was obviously for two players and cost a nickel. Housed in a wooden cabinet on legs were opposing teams of mannequins, dressed in different colored cloth uniforms. For a nickel two players each operated their own brass lever that made all the players on their team kick their feet at the same time at a ball that came to rest in a slight depression in the field in front of one of their players. If someone did score, another nickel was required to get another ball. The game ended when a ‘team’ scored three points. The players kept score on a set of beads strung on a wire over top of the cabinet window.

The other Chester-Pollard cabinet housed the Play Golf game, one player for a nickel, where a single golfer stood in the left front corner of the unit. On the front side of the cabinet was a slider that swiveled the golfer into position. The push of a lever made him swing his club. There were three holes of varying difficulty at which he could aim. It was definitely a game of skill.

After eight or ten years of use, the couple retired the arcade games they had purchased, thinking that they would be preserving them in some way by not allowing their customers to abuse the games as they became increasingly valuable. After many years a high-ticket-item picker/auctioneer came through town and purchased the remaining arcade games the couple had stored and not yet sold, including the two Chester-Pollard games.

Kind of wish we had them back now at American Antiquities.

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