Maker unknown, probably British, c. 1920's, 22". There's a good story to this, so I'll dive right in:
I've loved this model ever since I saw the picture of it on page 165 of Silent Salesmen Too. The "P.K.," the "Chewing Sweet," the double-arrowed turn handle---it's all just so cool. But I never saw a live example of the machine in spite of having one eye open for it.
Then one day in March of 2006 I saw this on ebay. My heart rate doesn't often jump anymore over a machine on a computer screen, but it did for this. Finally, after years of looking my patience was about to be rewarded. Maybe---after all, it's ebay and for all I knew some misfit in a far-off land had been eyeing page 165 for as long as I had, and not for the Sta-Hot (although that's another great machine, and if you're reading this and have one you want to sellllll . . . . ). In response to an email, the seller, who was located in Michigan, said he was the son-in-law of a collector who'd recently died and was selling this for the family. I didn't think anything of that; I figured it was a closet collector who'd been lucky enough to get this long ago and had kept quiet about it.
I was high bidder, paid immediately, and had the seller ship it to a P.O. box I have because I'm tired of getting little yellow slips in my mailbox when I'd rather get a big yellow box on my porch. If there's any question about a signature, I have it sent to the box so that someone else can sign because I'm not home. I'm working, earning money for my next machine. But I digress . . . I stopped by the box on Thursday morning on my way out of town to the Spring 2006 Chicago show, and the machine had arrived just 30 minutes earlier. I tossed it into the back of the van and hauled it to St. Charles because taking it back home at that point would have been out of my way and therefore foolish.
So I get to Chicago, unload the van, and am sitting around the room with Dave and Shawn. I open the box and Dave and Shawn take over and start inspecting. None of us had seen one before, and they immediately started seeing some strange features. More on that in a minute. We also discovered that this is the specific machine pictured in Silent Salesmen Too, which meant 2 things: 1) It may be the only one known; and 2) The owner of the machine---the collector who'd died recently---should be listed in the book's acknowledgements. Looking through the names in the acknowledgements it clicked that the former owner was probably Bernie Nagel, who'd lived in Michigan and had died about 2 months earlier.
I'd have been satisfied knowing just that, but it gets better. After asking around I found out that the owner before Bernie had been Jack Freund, who was at the show. When I saw Jack I asked him about it and Jack said, yes, he'd owned the machine for 20 or 25 years but had sold it to Bernie not long before Bernie died. Jack and Bernie had been good friends, and Bernie had coveted the machine for years while Jack owned it. Bernie had diabetes and his health had declined in recent years, and Jack felt sorry for Bernie and wanted to boost his spirits.
It boosted Bernie's spirits, but not his wife's. She hated the machine nearly as much as Bernie loved it, and it apparently led to some, uhhhhhh . . . spirited conversation between Bernie and her. She was pissed off at Bernie for buying it and pissed off at Jack for selling it to him. She told Bernie he shouldn't have spent so much money on it, and didn't want it around the house because she just didn't like it. Jack knew about all this and after Bernie died he offered to buy the machine back from her. She asked how much, and Jack said he'd pay her what Bernie had paid him. She said, oh no!, I think I can make money on it! I asked Jack if she did, and he laughed and said, oh, yeah!
I think it's an interesting tale of transfers, but one that's not uncommon for some rare machines. What I can't figure out is why I hadn't seen the machine at Jack's house when I'd visited him 5 years earlier. Jack had owned it longer than I'd known him, so it must have been there. His collection had enough to overwhelm one's senses, but still, I'd been looking for this machine and can't believe I'd have missed it. I may never solve that mystery.
I mentioned above that this machine has some strange features. Here they are:
We also considered that this is a prototype, and that it was considered unimportant to design the back plate as it would be on the commercial version. The knock against that hypothesis is that a few small chips on the front and side are consistent with some time in service, and are inconsistent with a prototype sitting on some Big Boss's shelf.
We never solved the mystery, and neither had Jack in all the years he'd owned it. In Jack's words, it's the strangest damn thing I've ever seen.
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