National Automatic Vending Machine Co., Philadelphia, PA, and Belvedere, NJ, pat. 1917, 17". According to Silent Salesmen Too (page 100), the machine pictured above is a Model S, and the version that dispensed tab gum is the Model G. I've read Silent Salesmen Too multiple times but don't remember reading that, so it was like new news to me when I read it while writing this page. I've never in my life---not once!---heard this or the tab gum models referred to in conversation by their model designations. To collectors this is a "Sweet Chocolate," and its less common gum-dispensing sibling is known as "the machine like the Sweet Chocolate, but the gum version." In the Silent Salesmen Too price guide the gum version is called the "National gum," but it's not called anything in the Sweet Chocolate description except the Model G, and "National gum" in the price guide makes sense only within the context of the book and the Sweet Chocolate description. When they hear "National gum," most collectors think of the globed cast iron machine shown in Silent Salesmen Too, top right on page 102, they don't think of the Sweet Chocolate's less common sibling. Maybe working the model designations into collectors' lexicon isn't a bad idea.
The cities of origin on this example are Phiadelphia, PA, and Belvedere, NJ, but I've heard of others including Newark, NJ, as stated in Silent Salesmen Too. I've not paid enough attention to the examples I've seen live to notice differences there, but I should probably start doing that. One or 2 of these usually show up at each Chicagoland show, so the opportunity is there. The gum version of this machine---errrr, sorry, I mean the Model G---is much less common than the Sweet Choc---ummmm, I mean the Model S---but it's not considered officially rare.
This is a pretty little machine that even my wife likes. It's made of sheet metal and mounts on the wall. This model and its sibling are all about the graphics (which you can see close-up on the front here and here); take 'em away and print "Sweet Chocolate" in white block letters on the front and you have a $150 machine....if you're lucky. Add the elaborate graphics and it's much more. Several times over the years I've heard (but have never investigated to confirm) that a supply of "new old stock" machines was found at some point, and these were sold to collectors. Because of the importance of the graphics on this model and the existence of a fair number of NOS examples, more than with almost any other model the value of a specific machine is dictated by the condition of the paint and graphics. Expectations for this model are high, and what would be considered excellent condition for any other vending model is considered just "good" or "very good" for this one. Condition is graded on a curve, and the class has a lot of really smart kids in it. This is really unfair to a "good" example of this model, but no one said life is fair.
Allow me a soapbox moment, please: I get the attraction to NOS machines, but I'm not a big fan of them. I can't tell the difference between a true NOS machine and a restored example of the same model, and neither one has the character I like in a machine. Great used condition is optimal for me, and crossing the line from "great condition" into NOS territory is a step back. What gets my juices flowing is, say, a Columbus with great original paint that's aged superbly (like this), or a Northwestern with perfect or nearly perfect porcelain that shows a nice patina on the aluminum parts (like this), or a wood machine without chips or cracks but with the nice soft patina that comes with age (like this). Given the choice between a NOS Bluebird that looks like it came out of a time capsule all bright and shiny like it would have come out of its box 85 years ago, or one that's developed a nice satin-gray patina over the years (like this), I'll take the one showing its age any day. I know collectors who lust after NOS machines, but I'm not one of them.
Okay, 'nuff said about that. Back to this model. As pretty as it is, it has one disadvantage that luckily is easy to overcome: Placement is critical. The red graphics against the blue background form the basis of this model's appeal, but the red doesn't pop against the blue. In addition, the machine is 17" tall (the height of a Norris Master) but is thin like a teenaged Kate Moss, and is easily lost in a crowd. I found myself not seeing the machine when it was placed alongside other machines, and I didn't appreciate it as much as I thought I should until I found a spot where it can hang alone on a narrow strip of wall between a door and the entry to a hallway.
The example above is 100% original and is in excellent (meaning "good") condition. For some reason I can't get the pictures to show it the way it looks to me in person---they not only emphasize every surface flaw on the machine, they create and highlight flaws that are imperceptible to my eye, and that I didn't see until the pictures revealed their presence. The front surface looks pockmarked and water-spotted in the pictures above, whereas live it looks really nice. Go figure.
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