I learnt recently from a collector friend in Sydney that he had bought the Old Thro Ball machine at an auction sale of showman’s equipment in about 2001. The machine was in a much more deteriorated state than in the photo that I have published here which has a date stamp of 1988. However, although the photo was taken by the owner in 1988, I did not see the photo or these machines until a later trip to Sydney 1994. I then bought another machine shown in this dated set of photos, the Whirlygig but more of that below.
My Sydney collector friend says that the object of the Old Thro Ball machine was indeed to catch a ping pong ball in the cup. This was fairly difficult at first but the player did not lose the ball if it did not land in the cup. Mostly it was returned for another shot, so that one got about ten shots before the ball was actually lost and it did not return to the ledge that propelled the ball. After a while one learnt how much force to exert on the ball in order to land in the target. He got a bit bored with the machine and sold it on to a collector in Adelaide a few years later. When he bought it at auction the cabinet paint was peeling and he stripped it and re-polished the cabinet which he did not consider to be the machine's original one. So, presumably the machine survives in Australia.
On my visit to the showman in 1994 I obtained the Whirlygig from him, a machine that was to be one of my most unusual restorations and one of the most exciting and satisfying ones. The Whirlygig playfield and mechanism had been rehoused in an ill fitting, recycled cabinet which did not display all of its beautiful lithographed metal playfield and had been renamed and decorated as Gypsie Lore.
It still had its functioning mechanism on the back of the playfield. I found that the machine was illustrated in Nic Costa’s book Automatic Pleasure: The History of the Coin Machine which had been published six years before, in 1988. I had been corresponding with Nic Costa for some years in those days of snail mail and met him in 1989 but he did not know of any Whirlygigs having survived in the UK.
Consequently for some time I thought that my machine was the only one to have survived. Unfortunately, whilst the lithographed metal illustration was in excellent condition, the centre part of the machine with written fortunes and outside the accompanying illustrations, as well as the revolving disc with the Gypsy’s finger pointing to the “fortune” were illustrated on cardboard. These illustrations on cardboard had deteriorated so much, as to be totally useless.
An unusual thing about the original Whirlygig machine was that it appeared to be housed in a cast iron cabinet, whereas most wall and countertop machines were housed in wooden or sheet metal cabinets. In order to restore this machine I thus had to make a cabinet with a cast iron front, and replace the fortunes and revolving Gypsy graphics. In order to make the cast iron cabinet front I went to a frame maker who specialised in unusual frames and asked him to make a frame in timber and plaster exactly like the picture in Nic Costas book, with the size being to fit around the metal playfield of the Whirlygig that I had. I would use this frame as a pattern at a metal foundry to make a cast iron frame for the playfield. The frame-maker made an excellent copy of the original frame and I had three cast iron castings made from the pattern with excellent results.
As the original graphics on paper were impossible to do anything with, I decided to use some that were suitable that I had previously used on a reproduction Gypsy Fortune teller that I had been asked to make a few years previously in 1991. This was for a group of theme restaurants in Melbourne called The Pancake Parlour. They had some Mutoscopes, Cranes and Fortune Tellers of mine on location in their restaurants as well as some of their own that I serviced. These machines were copies of Bradport’s mechanical Gypsy Fortune Teller Deluxe, which although it showed a Gypsy with a pointing finger, used a metal pointer to pick out the particular fortune.
A friend provided the circuit for an electro mechanical mechanism that I hoped would be foolproof in commercial operation, and indeed proved to be almost so. On insertion of a coin it charged a capacitor. When a knob on the machine was turned it discharged the capacitor, energising the motor from a desk fan I had bought for a couple of dollars at a trash and treasure market. The motor briefly revolved a pointer until it stopped at a fortune. I still have this first machine that I made myself.
The next photo shows The Whirlygig graphics inside the frame but having the gypsy revolve and point to the fortune rather than a revolving metal pointer as in the Bradport machine and my copies of it.
I then had three of the frames cast from the pattern, which turned out to be quite successful. Here’s one painted black.
Following this I had three sheet metal cabinets made to hold the machine and cashboxes that slid out from the side. Here’s a photo of a finished Whirlygig which uses the Bradport graphics. It has an antique gold decorated frame, brass coin entry and sign and bevelled mirror disc.
I made a simple electromechanical mechanism for one which used a coin bucket on a lever which activated a microswitch energising the motor for a short time on its dropping the coin. I also made another with a more elaborate mechanism, a somewhat simplified version of the one illustrated above to put on location, which I unfortunately don’t have a photo of. Here’s a photo taken when I had started to built the first coin op mechanism for one of these.
There remained the original but the graphics were unusable as can be seen from the next photo.
Then I was delighted to learn from a British collector that there was actually another Whirlygig surviving in the UK. The graphics on this one were far from perfect, but infinitely better than mine. Here’s a photo of it and its graphics which were quite readable and usable by me even if the illustrations had not fared quite so well as the text of the fortunes.
Unfortunately I really don’t remember who it was in the UK that told me and who had the Whirlygig but I think it may have been Coin-op from this forum. Whoever it was, was kind enough to send me some excellent photos which I scaled up to size. Then in 1997 I was again most fortunate enough to obtain from Jean Lemaitre the French coin op collector and historian, an absolutely perfect copy of the revolving Gypsy from his machine. Unfortunately the fortunes on his machine which were in perfect condition, were not in English. The German makers of this machine made a number of versions of Whirlygig for various markets. In the following year 1998 I was to come across an illustration of the original German version of Whirlygig called Orakel Automat when the German book Automaten Welten was to appear. This showed a picture of the original machine with graphics not nearly as attractive as those made for the British market. Here’s a photo of the machine for the German market and my final restoration with its original mechanism three years after starting work on it. A most exciting and satisfying time for me.