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Angela
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Working Models - why?

Postby Angela » Sun Jul 25, 2004 4:26 pm

I'm trying to understand the trend of "working models" in England.
What did it come out of, why the macrabe scenes of death, etc.?
I believe in the the US, that working models evolved from old cabinets that housed the diggers/cranes of the 20s and 30s. After the diggers became classified as gambling devices, maybe they needed to put things in cabinets that had been used as diggers.
But, what about England? Have any info on this?

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pennymachines
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Postby pennymachines » Sun Jul 25, 2004 4:30 pm

I assume the macabre theme was largely a matter of sensationalism. What better way to coax a coin from the punter than appealing to the universal fascination with fear, horror and death? It follows in the showman's tradition of ghost trains, freak shows and wax-works horrors. Unlike the Mutoscope, the working model could not realistically promise to satisfy sexual prurience but like the Mutoscope it promised more than it delivered.
Some working models presented a little morality play ("Miser's Dream") and were tongue-in-cheek ("Is Marriage a Failure") or documentary in flavour ("Prisoners at Work").
It was notably Bollands Amusement Machine Supply Co. Ltd. in Britain that bought up old (mostly Novelty Merchantman) cranes and converted them to working models. This was not because the cranes were under attack from the authorities, but on account of the unavailability of sweets and novelties due to rationing during and after WWII. The old cranes were probably quite cheap to buy because they had been made more or less redundant.
I don't recall ever seeing French or German working models along these lines.

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Angela
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Postby Angela » Sun Jul 25, 2004 4:41 pm

Thanks so much for taking the time to explain this subject matter to me. I'm actually working on an article related to the Musee Mecanique, here in San Francisco. I thought I was finished, but each time I decide to flesh it out, I unearth 3 times the information.
It's quite interesting that some working models were like little morality plays. I started to wonder, what about the age the working models were brought about these themes, or scenes. For example, the Opium Den at the Musee is most appealing to me, with the Asian drug theme. Hmmm. But what did it reflect about society?
Ok, so you are saying that most working models were converted in Britian and for the reasons you stated. There is no history of working models coming out of the states, only going into?
2 things: what does this mean? (mostly Novelty Merchantman), and I still don't understand the correlation between the conversions of cranes and ration shortage from WWII? Please help me here.
Last edited by Angela on Sun Jul 25, 2004 5:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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pennymachines
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Postby pennymachines » Sun Jul 25, 2004 5:36 pm

There is also a model called "Raid on an Opium Den". These machines re-enact scenes relating to a shameful episode in British history: namely the Opium Wars of 1839-42 and 1856-60. The machine is certainly a bit later than this (circa 1910 has been suggested), so I guess it wasn't depicting current affairs so much as recent history. My history's not much good and I don't know how long raids on opium dens continued.
See: http://www.bartleby.com/65/op/OpiumWar.html and http://www.oldnewspublishing.com/opium.htm
Like many of the coin-operated games, the automata inevitably pick up on current fads, fashions and social preoccupations. A fascination with spiritualism, for example, which started with the Victorians, inspires themes like "The Séance" and "Mother Shipton".

The French made wonderful automata in the 19th century of course, but, despite their taste for Grand Guignol, did not go in for this particular genre of coin-operated tableaux. There are certainly American working models, but again I don't think they focus so much on the macabre. "The American Execution" is a British machine.

The "Novelty Merchantman" was a fairly compact crane or digger with attractive deco styling made by the Exhibit Supply Company of Chicago. They were also very numerous, and it was probably best to stick with one type of crane for ease of manufacture. The original coin mechanism, motor and cams were all retained. Bollands made a small range of models. The pre-war makers such as Dennison and Lee, who designed and built their own cabinets, rarely made the same model twice.
Last edited by pennymachines on Sun Jul 25, 2004 5:53 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Angela
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Postby Angela » Sun Jul 25, 2004 5:39 pm

Interesting... like movies, reflecting current social trends...
Ok, now I understand the correlation between cranes and rationing after WWII.

adam_UK
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Postby adam_UK » Thu Jul 27, 2006 9:36 pm

Sorry to butt in on this feed :)
but since I was a small boy growing up in the UK I loved the penny slots with all the wonderfull and sometimes scary themes, so I was wondering how many are still working and still around in the UK. I live in Southend. The amusments arcade had about five, if I remember, way back up till late '80s.
Do you know if there is a www page that has more history on the Working Models and Automata? Not sure, but most were from Bollands I think.

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Postby pennymachines » Fri Jul 28, 2006 2:02 pm

Hello Adam,

You'll find links to some places where you can still see and play working models on our Locations pages. The Cheshire Workshops and, nearer to you, the Rye Heritage Center, are particularly good for working models.

The definitive (and only) book on the subject is Darren Hesketh's Penny-in-the-Slot Automata & Working Models.

There's no website devoted to the subject - except this one. At present we have only one Bollands model in the Museum area, but there should be some more soon.

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Postby cheeky » Fri Jul 28, 2006 3:18 pm

Late 80s you say Adam? Are you sure? I was around for most of the 80s and didn't see one!!!!

Where were they hiding?

adam_UK
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Thay wer in open view

Postby adam_UK » Sat Jul 29, 2006 1:34 am

Cheeky wrote:Where were they hiding?
Two places had the old working models.
First place, the Kursaal, before it went into darkness and closed down.
Second places, Palace Arcade Pier Hill and the Pier Amusiments had three.
That was the last I saw of them.
:D

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Postby cheeky » Sun Jul 30, 2006 9:54 am

Ah, the Kursaal, now we're talking.....

I don't know what happened to the machines in there. Was there an auction? I can still remember seeing over 20 tinny mutoscopes aligning the entrance.

I arrived at the Palace Arcade just as it was closing down. I spoke to the guys who were emptying it out and just bought the last few Aristocrat bandits for next to nothing. That was all that was left!

I asked about the other machines to which they replied, they're down the tip mate. I never made it in time!!!!!!


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