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Mansfield

Automatic Clerk Co., Newark, NJ, c. 1902, 16" with marquee, 12" without marquee. This is a classic vendor. A friend of mine once said that this would be an $8,000 machine had so many not been made, but there were so it's not.

It's a 2-column vendor that---except for the base---is encased entirely in glass. The glass is plain except for the front panel, which is etched with the following:

AUTOMATIC
CLERK
MANSFIELD'S
CHOICE
PEPSIN GUM

The customer inserted a nickel, which traveled through a chute inside the case and tripped a lever. That action allowed one of the spring-loaded stacks to rise the height of one gum pack, and the top pack flipped off toward the front where it fell onto the front shelf at the bottom. At the end of the nickel's travel it hit a bell, which let the proprietor know someone was messin' with his machine.

I know of 3 styles of base on this model, all of which are shown above. The painted cast iron base on the left example above is the earliest. It's sculpted around the edge and is easy to identify at a glance. The other 2 styles are both pressed steel finished with nickel or chrome. The machine in the middle has the more common of these styles, with a square-cornered base about the same size as the earlier cast iron base. The machine on the right has a wider base with rounded corners. Ranking the scarcity of these styles, I'd say that the smaller pressed steel base in the middle is the most common by a longshot, followed by the cast iron base and then the larger pressed steel base, which is pretty tough to find. I suspect that one version of the pressed steel base was earlier than the other, but I don't know which that would have been.

The flavor strip along the top of the front was made of tin or celluloid. The tin strip was earlier and is correct with the cast iron base, while the celluloid strip is later and is correct with the pressed steel base. There may have been a transition period during which a tin strip/pressed steel base or a celluloid strip/cast iron base was paired at the factory, but in the absence of company literature or advertising with such an example we'll never know because cases can be easily swapped between bases.

The Mansfield was available with 2 styles of marquees: A pressed and painted aluminum marquee as shown on the left machine, and a mirrored marquee as shown on the other two. Both styles are hard to find and are coveted when found. The mirrored marquee is gorgeous and in my opinion is prettier than the tin style, but the tin marquee appears to be harder to find. I'll bet I've seen more than a hundred Mansfields in collections or appearing for sale in public venues, but I can recall only 6 or 7 original mirrored marquees and only 2 or 3 original tin marquees.

I know from Mansfield literature that the tin and mirrored marquees are both correct with the pressed steel base, but I don't know that both are correct with the cast iron base. Variations in various vendor models generally evolved from higher production cost to lower production cost, which would imply that the mirrored marquee was earlier and that the tin marquee---which had to be cheaper to make---came later. Despite this convention, I've always perceived the tin marquee to be earlier on the Mansfield, but can't point to a specific reason I think that. I suspect I heard it from a trusted source, but I can't remember who or when or why I trusted him.

Both marquee styles have been reproduced. Both were reproduced very well and very accurately, so be careful when buying a Mansfield with a marquee. It's been years since I've seen a reproduced tin marquee, and I doubt seriously that they're available any more except on a machine that already has one on it. By now they may be 20-30 years old and may be acquiring the patina you'd expect from a very nice original. The mirrored style has been reproduced at least twice; once in the late 1970's or 1980's, and once in 2001 or 2002. Both runs were accurate reproductions of the original and are very nicely done. The mirrored reproduction from 2001/2002 is available from a friend; if you want one, email me and I'll put you in touch with him. It's not cheap, but it's a fraction of the cost of an original. If you can't find an original marquee or you don't want to spend the money for one you can complete your Mansfield with a reproduction and still have the same look that an original would give you. Oftentimes a reproduction doesn't look right on an old machine because of mismatched patinas, but since the Mansfield case and the mirrored marquee are both glass they look fine together.

I've seen or heard of 1 or 2 examples with a Mansfield decal on the side glass. They're paper labels affixed to the inside or outside (I don't remember which), and if I remember correctly are fairly large and graphically ornate. This feature is very unusual.

I've heard from other collectors that there are variations in the Mansfield mechanism, which implies that it changed at least a little over time. Specifically, collectors have said (for example) that "the Mansfield that Joe Blow got on ebay turned out to be rare because...." and then go on to explain a nuance of the mechanism that I didn't understand because I've not (until recently) studied a Mansfield mechanism in detail. Still, these were collectors who had, so when they tell me there were differences I believe them even though I don't understand the differences. If I had then I could explain them here, but I didn't so I can't. Still, be aware that there are some differences and be prepared to pounce if you see a rare variation. You won't have to worry about me seeing it first, because I won't recognize it even if I do.

There's an early example of the Mansfield that's described in Silent Salesmen Too. The book calls it "a one-of-a-kind Mansfield," but I know an advanced collector who knows of 5 examples. Still rare, but not quite one-of-a-kind. It has a cast iron base, and instead of having a tin or celluloid strip with gum flavors across the top of the front, the flavors and "5¢" are etched into the front glass near the top. I don't know if the mechanism on this early example differed from that on later examples pictured above, but it wouldn't surprise me to find some differences between these versions.

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