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The Master

(Click on image to enlarge it)

Norris Manufacturing Company, c. 1922 through 1933, depending on model, 16". Like the Columbus A, Masters were produced over many years and evolved during the model's lifespan. The different versions have a lot in common, but can vary in key and easily identifiable ways. All consist of a base, lid, cabinet, and mechanism. The major differences between eras and between individual machines include the material used to construct the base, lid, and cabinet; the finishes on these parts; the type of lid; and the type of mechanism and gate. By collecting permutations of these differences one could have a couple hundred Masters without duplication, and I know of several collectors who were headed that way until they came to their senses and scaled back or changed the focus of their collection.

The earliest Master was the "Star Door," nicknamed that for the open gate with a Columbus-like star stenciled in the center. This model had a 4-pronged handle and a base with a dish under the gate (see the 1st picture above for an example). The Star Door's base, cabinet, and lid were bare aluminum. Early Star Door Masters had "Patent Applied For" embossed above the gate. Mechanisms were penny-only or "nickel-penny" (but not "penny-nickel"---those came later). A later transitional model exists that has the Star Door gate and the 4-pronged handle, but its faceplate is embossed with the patent date, and the base does not have a dish (see the 2nd picture above for an example). A knowledgeable friend says that Star Door mechanisms on both versions differ from later mechanisms in subtle but definite ways. Star Doors of either type are not Officially Rare, but they're quite hard to find and are aexpensive when you finally do find one.

The next models also had a bare aluminum base, cabinet, and lid, but the open-stenciled gate had become a closed design without a star, the dish had disappeared, and the 4-pronged knob had flattened out. A patent date of "Aug. 14, 23" appeared above the gate of Novelty mechanisms, and that was joined by an additional patent date of Oct. 1924 above the gate of gooseneck mechanisms---more about these below. These models look like the later Master versions except for the all-aluminum construction, which I love, especially when it's gray and kinda crusty-looking and maybe just a little bent here and there---but just a little. The 3rd through 6th pictures show examples of this era of machine. If these don't get your heart pumping a little faster, then you should stop reading here and jump over to the Columbus A page.

At this point it becomes harder to describe a chronology of models because they're so similar and because features overlapped, but here's how I think subsequent features evolved:

Cabinets---especially porcelain cabinets---came in a variety of colors. Ignoring the all-aluminum cabinets and aluminum cabinets with slide-top lids, I've seen them in the following color combinations (given as the color of the body & the color of the base and lid): Red & black, tan & black, white & black, aluminum & black, tan & green, aluminum & green, white & green, red & green, red & white, blue & white, aluminum & white, and white & white. Of these, I know of only 2 red & green examples (the green on which was a rich darker green, not the bright lime green on other Masters), 2 white & green, 2 white & black, and 2 aluminum & white (the serial numbers on which differed by only 2, so I'd bet the farm that at least one more existed at some point). Blue & white is a beautiful combination, and while not rare it's hard to find, is among the most desirable color combinations, and brings a hefty premium when it sells.

The Fantail deserves its own category because it's so different. You can barely see the product window behind the mechanism. It's not rare but it's not common, and collectors covet it more than they do most other Master models except for the Star Door and perhaps the blue & white combination. I've seen Fantail mechanisms that I know were original to the machine on nickel-plated steel cabinets with nickel-plated steel slide-top lids and green porcelainized bases, and I've seen one on an all-aluminum slide-top case---see the 6th picture above. I've also seen Fantails on porcelainized machines with tan cabinets and green bases and lids, and have seen enough of these to believe they're correct in that combination. I've seen a few Fantails on other colored porcelainized cases, but I don't know if the combinations were correct or whether they were swapped over by a collector.

Master variations include windowless sides and various vendor flaps. Nearly all Masters had 3 windows, so sides without windows are uncommon although not rare. Solid sides and vendor flaps both enhance a machine's value.

The examples pictured above are 100% original except for several of the decals, and show a variety of body styles and materials, color combinations, and mechanisms, and differ in other little ways as well. They're arranged in approximate order of age, with the oldest first. Included in the progression are the following (some of which I've already described, so please forgive the redundancy):

These examples provide a good overall representation of Master's permutations, but this is not an exhaustive catalog of the Master's possibilities. One glaring omission, for example, is the later porcelainized model with a blank faceplate and penny-nickel mechanism. The reason it's not pictured is that I've never owned one---but they're out there.

If you're considering buying a Master, especially one with an unusual color combination, you should consider the following:

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The section above describes general aspects of the Master line, with emphasis on "general." I know of one Master that doesn't fit those generalities, and which as far as I know is one of a kind. It has the same width and depth as a normal Master, but it's 25" tall versus 16" for a "normal" Master. The case is one piece of sheet metal with no welds, so it's not two machines cobbled together---it was factory-made to be taller. The pictures below show the whole machine, and also show 2 shots that focus on the middle part of the machine to show that the metal spanning the height is unbroken.

The machine's current owner speculates that it was designed for use in a busy location with a lot of product turnover, since peanuts become rancid after a while. It's the only example of this variation that I or anyone I know has ever seen or heard of.

Thanks to Erick Johnson for the pictures of, and information about, his "double Master" Fantail.

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I bought my first machine from Del Turk in Southern California in 1991. It was a restored Blue Regal, and I paid $125. Some day it might be worth what I paid, but I'm not holding my breath. Anyway, I used to pepper Del with questions about machines because I knew nothing about them and had no reference source, but I was interested and enthused and wanted to learn. At one point in our conversations he mentioned a "Master" and I asked what that was.

He stopped and looked at me sternly, and said, "You don't know what a Master is? Son, you're not a collector if you don't have a Master." He grabbed a book called Silent Salesmen, flipped through some pages, and then turned it around, pointed to a picture, and said "There's a Master."

I looked and cringed. It was hideous. I said, "If that's a Master then I'll never be a collector. That thing's ugly."

I now have a dozen as I update this page in December 2015, and that's after recently parting with 3 of them. For me, Masters were an acquired taste. Some collectors never acquire it, and some fall in love immediately and then feast on them almost exclusively. To each his own, but I never dreamed in 1991 that I'd have the Masters I have now. I'm not sorry it's worked out that way.

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