In 1895, a car mechanic from San Francisco, Charles Fey, introduced the first slot machine. He called it the Liberty Bell and it had three spinning wheels, each of them adorned with diamonds, spades, hearts, and the picture of a cracked liberty bell. Though any combination of identical images paid off, it was the cracked liberty bell that yielded a fifty-cent jackpot. 918kiss
The device made the humble mechanic a local celebrity and he went on to design and offer several other versions of the device, including the first draw poker machine. He also developed a trade check separator, which made it possible for machines to distinguish between real coins and fake ones.
But it was his first slot machine, the Liberty Bell, more than any other that made Fey a rich man. At one point, he was renting his machines out to bars and saloons for an incredible 50/50 split of the proceeds. Even then, the demand for slot was so great that Fey couldn’t turn them out fast enough. He worked in a little shop and he repeatedly refused to sell the manufacturing or distribution rights to his machine.
Finally, a competitor by the name of Herbert Mills had had enough and he decided to produce his own version of the famous machine. Although it was little more than a knock-off, Mills was the first to add fruit symbols (cherries, oranges, lemons, etc) to his machines.
As you might expect, these antique slot machines have become cherished collector’s items that range in price from hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, depending, of course, upon the condition of the model. Obviously, the maker of the unit is extremely important as well.
Since Charles Fey made all of his machines by hand, an antique slot machine with his name on it can be quite expensive. The Mills antique slot machine is also quite expensive, but because it is not nearly as rare or as sought after, they are only a fraction of the price of an original Fey.
What should you look for in an antique slot machine? First and foremost, it is essential that the unit has been properly appraised and that it is a certified original.
Believe it or not, it is not uncommon for an antique slot machine to be remanufactured or reconditioned. This often means that the machine only has a few original parts, which means that if you purchase one you will likely be paying double or triple what it’s actually worth.