Stollwerck, Germany, c. 1890, 27". The story of how I got this will make me look dumb, but I'm gonna tell it anyway. I saw this on ebay in March 2002 with a $1900 Buy-It-Now plus $80 shipping from the seller in Austria. I was immediately interested; the graphics are gorgeous, everything was original, and the machine is listed as "rare" in Silent Salesmen Too (page 164, top middle) so I didn't know that I'd have another chance to buy one soon. I'd never seen one before, and I liked it.
I'd noticed 2 differences between this one and the one pictured in Silent Salesmen Too. Firstly, the case is wood instead of sheet metal, and secondly, this one didn't have the curved top on front that the one in the book has. I thought the wood case was an advantage because I thought it may be an earlier example than the sheet metal machine pictured in the book, and the lack of the curved top didn't bother me. I took these differences to be merely variations on the machine.
By the way, did I mention the great graphics and complete originality?
After a few emails between the seller and me, I bought-it-now and wired the seller her money. After 10 days or so I got the package, unpacked it, and fell in love. I brushed it off and set in on the hearth of our fireplace where I could look at it every day.
After several months I decided to peek inside to see what the mechanism looks like. I moved the machine to my workbench, looked closely, and discovered that the keyhole doesn't lead to anything. There's no lock back there, so it's not held on by a lock. Then what's holding it on? The answer is "screws"---12 of 'em, 6 on each side of the case in front. Squint and you can see 'em in the picture above. I thought that was strange because no route guy is going to want to remove 12 screws every time he loads the machine, but as I expanded my scope I realized that that wouldn't have been a problem for the vendor. He'd never have to refill the machine because the machine could never be emptied---there's no place for the product to come out, so it would remain filled forever. That wouldn't produce much profit, but think of the ease that would bring to the route.
So what I have here is not the machine I thought I'd bought, but instead is a great original Stollwerck front plate and mechanism attached to a wood box that's sized perfectly but which couldn't be original to the front plate. The whole package looks right and is consistently aged---complete with old red paint on the screw heads---so I'm sure the box is old. Doesn't matter, though---without access to the inside and without an exit slot for the product, this is a decoration rather than a vending machine. The front plate is cast iron as it's supposed to be, and I can tell there's a mechanism attached to it, but that's all I know.
Did I mention the great graphics?
Were it any consolation to me, some experienced collectors have seen this and failed to notice what I also didn't notice at first. It's still a beautiful piece, but I wish it were whole. In case you're curious, a whole machine looks like this and this (thanks for Ira Warren for the pics of the full machine).
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