(Click on image to enlarge it)
Bluebird Products Co., Kansas City, MO, c. 1915, 16 1/2" (without marquee). This was a nearly all aluminum machine as were most Bluebirds. It used an interesting and complicated design with 3 stacked vending wheels to vend 1, 2, and then 3 gumballs on successive pulls. Unfortunately, one of the few parts that was not aluminum on many Bluebird 1-2-3's was the vending wheel---on many they were pot metal---so many otherwise nice examples of this model are found with cracked or deteriorating wheels with no hope of repair. Fewer working examples than nonworking examples exist, so be careful when buying.
You can read about pot metal here. In addition to this, I've read that pot metal destined to deteriorate did so long ago, and that pot metal that's good now has always been good and will probably always be good. Unstable batches did not deteriorate linearly over the years, they deteriorated pretty quickly, while the good batches stayed good through the years. If true, this means that pot metal that's good today will be good 50 years from now. This suggests that there was a lot of variability in the quality of the product from recipe to recipe, batch to batch, or manufacturer to manufacturer. It's important to know this because---again, if true---it means that when you buy a machine with good wheels you're buying a stable product, not a machine that has good parts today but that may crumble 3 years from now. I've not researched this thoroughly, but it sounds plausible to me.
If you have a Bluebird 1-2-3, I recommend that you don't vend gum from it. I've been told that the stress of vending anything but perfectly-sized gumballs can cause the wheels to break. I like to keep product in my globe machines but want to protect the wheels on this model, so I mold a flat circle out of aluminum foil that's the right size to cover the holes in the vending wheel. Inserted in the bottom of the machine and then covered with gumballs, it allows me to display the machine with gumballs in it but keeps them from going into the holes.
The examples above are 100% original and show 3 variations. The first 2 pictures represent the most common version, with a marquee on the second machine. Both of these examples have thick, cast-aluminum lids. The third machine is like the first except for the trap door at the end of the gumball spout, the brass plate over the coin slot, and a lid made of (thinner) pressed aluminum instead of (thicker) cast aluminum. The 1-2-3 with the trap door is much scarcer than the first version. Regarding the plate over the coin cover and the type of lid, other Bluebird models such as the Universal Products also have these variations. I don't know what they say about the models' evolution, and which versions are earlier. The fourth machine is also like the first except for the marquee and the witness window above the coin slot, which indicates the number of gumballs to be vended with the next penny. This version is even scarcer than the trap-door version. You can see the witness window close-up without the glass window here. As with other Bluebird models, the 1-2-3's were used with a wide variety of decals.
By the way, if you ever buy a marquee that's a bit dry and rusty, you can clean it up by spraying it with WD-40, letting it set for a few hours or more, and then wiping it down. It loosens and removes some of the surface rust and enriches the overall look. Want proof? Check out a before picture here and an after picture here.
©Small Vintage Vending 2015