Smilin' Sam

General Merchandiser Inc., Chicago, IL, c. 1931, 14 1/2". This is one of the more distinctive machines you'll see. I don't have to explain why, do I? I originally wrote that I know people from Alabama and they don't look like this, but several friends from Alabama responded that if I can say that, then I haven't met enough Alabama residents.

The body, which is also the head, is made of thick cast aluminum and is heavy. There's a lot of aluminum there. The customer dispensed peanuts by inserting a penny into Sam's head and then pulling his tongue out. His tongue has a large hole all the way through it---think of a piercing gone horribly wrong---and peanuts in the hole get dragged along and fall into the customer's hand once the hole clears Sam's bottom lip.

According to a friend who knows this model better than I do, the machine should have 7 decals when in complete original condition. The only one I remember is the one next to the coin slot, but he once named them all and sure enough, they totaled seven.

The most common version is shown above left with a flat coin entry on the top of his head. Other variations include the one on the right with a raised coin entry in the same spot, and Sam with a hat which I believe is a rare version---I've never seen one in person and don't know of a collection that has one. Silent Salesmen Too mentions that Sam was also available as a white man, a black man, an Indian, an Asian, and as polished aluminum, which I presume is the space alien version. The book also pictures and describes an example like the one above left but with original gold paint instead of red. I believe Mr. Enes when he says this---he was the king, after all!---but I've never seen or heard of any of these myself and have to think they're as rare as rare can be.

This machine can elicit strong opinions. Some love it, some hate it. My sister is in the former camp, my wife is in the latter. They were both present when I brought my first Sam home from the November 2009 Chicagoland show, and I was amused by the ensuing discussion. My wife couldn't believe that anyone not infested with coin-op fever could like this, and my sister just kept repeating that she thought it was interesting, and liked it. With one other couple, the wife made the husband display the machine somewhere she'd never have to see it, and with yet another couple, the wife calls it "The Devil Machine." I'd never associated this model with Satan until I heard that, but once I heard it I could see her point. I'm in the "like" camp as are most other collectors, but if you bring a stray Sam home you should be warned that your wife might strongly disagree.

I've heard that this model was reproduced at least twice over the years. One round was well done and produced a machine with clean castings that fit and worked well together, while the other round---not. That other round produced a machine with rougher castings that works tempermentally if at all. Unfortunately for this page, I've never had enough interest in the reproductions to chase down more detail, and don't know how to tell the difference between the 2 rounds. The reproductions are available routinely on ebay, but before you buy one there I'd suggest that you ask a lot of questions about the quality of the specific machine you'd be buying.

Most examples of this model don't work---the mechanism is frozen and/or the tongue is fused to the roof of Sam's mouth. I once drove 5 hours to an auction that had several machines I was interested in, including a very nice-looking original Sam. At the preview I pulled on the tongue, only to find it frozen in place, and I couldn't get the back of the head off to confirm that the machine had a mechanism. Something else was also wrong with it, but I can't remember what. It looked great, but mechanically needed some work. The hammer price on that machine was more than $3000, and I'll bet the phone bidder later kicked himself for not asking more questions before he bid. I'm sure he thought he was getting a nice original example, not a project machine. Don't make that mistake with this model.

The example above left is 100% original except for probably the feet, and it works well. The paint is worn, but it's worn fairly evenly and in my opinion the machine has a very good overall look. It looks better in person than it does in pictures. I no longer own this one. The example above right is also 100% original except for the feet, and is the machine pictured in Silent Salesmen Too, page 150, bottom middle. I didn't know that when I bought it, but the paint chips match perfectly.

More pictures below, for those interested. In the side shots you'll see what looks to be a rivet immediately in front of Sam's earlobe. I understand, but have not explicitly confirmed, that the reproductions don't have this, and that's one way to tell whether a Sam is original.



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