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Simpson Derby Confection Vendor

R. D. Simpson Co., Columbus, OH, c. 1940, 15 1/2". This is a combination game and vendor---almost a trade stimulator, but I don't collect trade stimulators so it must be primarily a vendor. Proof-positive evidence for that lies in the name: Derby Confection Vendor, not Derby Confection Trade Stimulator or Derby Confection Counter Game. Trade-stim guys might like this machine, but it belongs in a vending collector's hands.

The way it works is this: You put a penny into the slot, pull the lever all the way forward and to the left (which dispenses goodies into the chute), and then let the lever go. It springs back to the right and slams against the body, which always scares the hell out of me---each time I do it I half-expect the lever to snap off and continue its rearward trajectory. I literally flinch whenever I run a penny through. The backward momentum of the vending wheel after it's released causes the horsies to circle left to right until one stops in the winner's circle. The decal promises no prize for guessing which horse will do that, and indicates clearly that this is for "amusement only," so I'm sure no one ever bet on which horse would win the next race.

This version is made of aluminum and has Derby Confection Vendor embossed around the lid. The horses run until their inertia is no longer strong enough to raise a notched aluminum piece that gets knocked upward by a horse's metal rod as it passes beneath the aluminum piece. At that point the horses stop running with one horse centered in front. This version was available in a gum or bulk version, with the gum version being considerably scarcer than the bulk version even though the only difference between them is a gumball adapter that attached to the normal bulk vending wheel.

Another version has a cast iron base and lid, and the mechanism is a little different. Instead of a notched aluminum piece stopping the horses, a magnet was used to slow and then eventually stop the horses. I've never seen one of these mechanisms demonstrated, but I imagine that the horses spin more smoothly and quietly with that mechanism than they do with the aluminum clacker. Given the initial slap of the lever against the body and the subsequent noise of the metal rods knocking against the notched aluminum "brake" as they spin, this is a loud machine---not one you'll want to demonstrate to your friends while the rest of the family is sleeping. The cast iron version is much scarcer than the aluminum version, and someday I'd like to own a nice original cast iron Derby. I was offered one many years ago, but in one of my more regretful moments I passed. I cry when I remember that missed opportunity, so I try not to think about it.

Silent Salesmen Too gives this model's patent date as 1940. I believe the cast iron version is earlier and the aluminum version is later. Given the United States' entry into World War II in late 1941 and the retooling of non-essential industry for the war effort, I suspect strongly that the cast iron version is pre-WWII and the aluminum version is post-war. I don't know that for sure, but the hypothesis is consistent with everything I know about this particular vendor and the fact that I know of only one cast iron vendor---Victor's Sidewinder---that was post-WWII.

This model is a pain in the ass to work with. To change the globe you need to remove the horses or loosen them and push them together so the globe can pass over them. If you do that, be careful not to scratch the decal. In addition, the mechanism is tempermental and if it's not adjusted just right then the horsies won't turn smoothly or won't stop where they should. I don't know the sales history of this model, but I wouldn't be surprised if sales were good for first orders and then fell sharply for reorders. Once vendors learned how ill-designed this was for real-life usage, I'd imagine that most decided it was more hassle than it was worth. This is not a rare machine but it's uncommon, and that could be the reason.

Unlike most aluminum vendors that you can find in a wide range of patinas, most Derbies I've seen have been pretty shiny. They may not have been buffed last week, but they don't have the rich patina that, say, a Bluebird often has. I've never figured out why, but the example pictured above is one of the very few I've seen with a nice older patina.

Reliable sources have told me that a cache of these in NOS condition was found in the mid- to late-1980's. When that was found, prices on Derbies actually went down, stabilized at the lower lever for several years, and then started climbing again.

The example pictured above is 100% original. I bought this from a friend, who'd bought it on ebay from someone who'd bought it at an estate sale for cheap money. That history---especially the "cheap money" on the original sale---means that it hadn't gone through a collector's hands until my friend owned it. When he bought it on ebay it was covered with decades of surface dirt but was otherwise in good condition. My friend merely wiped down the outside, lubed moving parts and adjusted the mechanism (see "pain in the ass" above), and set it on a shelf. I got it from him in that condition. As I mentioned above, this is one of the few I've ever seen with an old gray patina, and I like it much better because of that.

Note that the lid and gate have darkened more than the other pieces have. I've seen that phenomenon on other aluminum vendors that I knew had not been fiddle-futzed with, so when you see it it doesn't necessarily mean that a collector has swapped parts around. I guess it could mean that a vendor swapped parts years ago, but if so then it happened before the first collector got hold of it and in my opinion doesn't degrade from the machine's desirability.

Many thanks to Shawn Flock for his critical review and content suggestions.

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