Matthewman Mfg. & Specialty Co., Milwaukee, WI, c. 1930's, 13" (to top of the lid), 20 1/4" (to top of the marquee). This is a verrrrry interesting machine, which Bill Enes described as "a prototype that never got off the ground." The story I got from my trusted friend and advisor---and the collector from whom I bought this---is that it's a prototype that the Matthewman Company used as a model to generate interest and investment in the company. This is supposedly the only example in existence, although I have my doubts about that based on the pictures in Silent Salesmen Too, page 90, which show the front and back of the Matthewman with what appear to be 2 different marquees. I could explain the apparent difference in finishes by different lighting, but one marquee has a longer spindle than does the one above, and I can't explain that other than it being a different marquee than the one with the shorter spindle. I'd love for this to be the only one---thus making it even more special---but the pictures in Silent Salesmen Too leave me doubting it.
The machine above does not have a mechanism and never did, so it's really a showpiece rather than a working model. When this was first offered to me my interest was dampened by the fact that it's not a vending machine, but is instead just a model. It wasn't cheap (as you can imagine), and I initially thought I'd rather save my money for something that works. What persuaded me to buy it was the story of how this machine was used as a model to generate investment in the company, and the fact that the deal included a whole bunch of paper specific to the Matthewman company---things like advertisements and stock certificates. As I looked at the pictures I'd received of the machine and the paper, I became more and more enamored with the whole package, which contains much of the history of the company. It took a while, but because of that I finally decided to buy it and have not regretted it for a moment. It's a truly bitchin' machine, and the story and paper that go with it make it a pretty historic package.
You wouldn't know it from the picture in Silent Salesmen Too,, but this is a fairly big and unexpectedly heavy machine. The machine without the marquee is only about 13" tall, but the diameter of the base is 9 1/2 inches. The body is made of brass, and not thin brass, either---it's thick! I didn't measure it, but I'd guess that the brass on the main part of the body---the "globe" part of the machine---is 1/8 inch thick or thicker. That may not seem very thick as you read this, but get out a ruler and look at 1/8 inch, and envision this thickness from top to bottom of the central cylinder, all the way around, and the mass adds up. I could dent this machine with a baseball bat, but a minor bump against a wall won't do a thing. The front has a celluloid face attached with all the graphics; under it is the thick brass described above. The embossed rear is way cool!
If this had a mechanism, you'd work the machine by turning a ring at the top of the machine to your birth month, and then turning the dial on the front to your birth day. Put in a nickel and the machine would spit out a package of gum and an astrological prediction. There's no handle or crank for the customer to work after putting the nickel in, so I presume this would have had a clockwork mechanism inside. This all raises several questions for me:
This example above is 100% original except for maybe the black paint at the coin insert in the lid, and the black background on the marquee. They look perfect and don't look old, but given the limited use of this machine I wouldn't expect them to be all scarred up, so I really can't tell.
- Would this have had 366 different predictions stored inside, catagorized by birth month and day? I don't see how---it's a good-sized machine, but it's not nearly big enough to handle that kind of logistical nightmare, especially since any mechanism capable of handling that organizational task would itself have been huge. Not only that, but the route guy would have had to check stock for each day when he filled it, and would have had to notice (for example) that April 12 was low, but that April 11 and April 13 were just fine. Nope, I just don't see how that could have worked.
- Given the bullet above, the fortunes would have to have been random, which leads to my next question: Would the ring on top and the dial on front have been attached to anything? I doubt it---what's the point if it's not directing anything on the inside? In that case the fortune part of this was strictly show, which one could argue would have been case even if the dials were attached, but that's another subject.
- Lastly, if the fortunes were random, then did the manufacturer make sure there weren't consecutive fortunes that would contradict each other? Like, "you will live a long and prosperous life" followed immediately by "you will be killed by a bus before the sun sets tomorrow evening." Wouldn't that be embarrassing?
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