Bonehead Moves

Fakes, damaged items, missed opportunities, I’ve made my share of mistakes over the years on the collecting trail. One, in particular, comes rushing back any time I see a gumball or candy machine, which happens often as I tend to be on the lookout for the things. I spotted a beautiful-looking Wrigley’s gum/Lifesavers 5-cent machine a few weeks ago, early in the morning at an outdoor show, a machine made by Shipman in the 1940s. The seller shocked me when he said he wanted just $30 for it. “How about 25?” I asked him, and he said yes. I got that thing back to my car in record time and tucked it safely under a blanket between the seats. Later examination confirmed my initial impression that it’s original and needs just a bit of TLC to put it back in working order; a bargain that made the whole show worthwhile.

But as I was looking over the Shipman, I suddenly thought, “Good work hot shot, but remember the Abbeys?” As if I could forget them. Years ago, a friend and I would get up early on Saturdays and hit as many tag sales (or yard sales as they call them here in the South) as we could before the money (or the coffee) ran out. One morning, we found ourselves stopping in at a junk shop that was stuffed full of, well, junk. Finding nothing of interest on the main floor, we headed down to the basement of the place. It was dank and dusty and pretty disorganized, so we started poking around the piles and stacks, hoping to score something good.

Near the center of the room, I saw two small gumball/peanut machines sitting on a living room side table. They appeared to be identical, although as I started examining them, I could see differences, especially in condition. One was in decent shape and appeared complete, while the other showed clear signs of heavy use over the years. They both were made by Abbey Manufacturing Company in Los Angeles, probably in the 1940s, and both were mounted on chrome trays that served to catch stray gumballs or peanuts.

My friend came over and said, “You should buy both of them, they’re great.” She was right, given my interest in vintage vending. I don’t recall what the price was, but it couldn’t have been much given the surroundings. So what did I do? I said, “Well, if I buy them, then I’d have one good one, but I’d also have one that’s a wreck and missing parts…I’ll pass.”

[Insert blank stare here.]

Was I having a stroke? Earth to Doug: These are ABBEY GUM MACHINES, and you can use one as a “donor” machine to complete the other and with a bit of work, you’ll have an amazing piece for your collection. Doug? Hello? Is anyone home?

I have no idea what I was thinking. My friend and I walked back upstairs and out the door and I’ve regretted it ever since. Those Abbeys pulled up a chair and sat down in my head and refused to leave no matter how nicely I asked.

Maybe I balanced the scales just a little with my Shipman score a few weeks ago.

Douglas R. Kelly is saving his pennies, just in case this cashless society thing actually happens.


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