Zeno Button Company, Indianapolis, IN, c. 1905, 10 1/2" with marquee, 13 3/4" without marquee. Until I bought this I'd always thought that this machine was made by the same Zeno that made the gum, but now I'm not so sure. Stamped into the top plate of this machine, just in front of the coin slots, is the following:
The Zeno that made the gum machines was the Zeno Mfg. Co. of Chicago, not the Zeno Button Co. of Indianapolis. Could there have been 2 independent companies named Zeno, or could the button company be a subsidiary of the gum company? Or could the Italian immigrant Giuseppe Zeno have pumped these out of a corner machine shop in downtown Indy during the early years of the last century? Methinks any of these scenarios is possible, although some are more likely than others.
This is the second Zeno collar button machine I've owned. Like several other machines pictured on this website, the first Zeno collar button machine I got was part of a collection I bought. I'd planned to sell it because I didn't think it'd interest me enough to keep it, but I was wrong. The one I got with that collection looked awesome, rougher than the one pictured above, but the overall look was just right. So I kept it. It was a nickel machine and didn't have a marquee, but it looked good and I liked it a bunch.
Not long after I got the first one, this one appeared on ebay. I "bought it now" because the condition was theoretically better and because the marquee was original. I say "theoretically" because I liked the look of the one I had as well as I like the look of this one, but 19 out of 20 people would say that this is nicer. This is a bit off point, but I remember debating this with myself at 11:30 the night I saw it listed, thinking on the one hand that I already have one that I like a lot, and on the other hand thinking it'd be nice to have the original marquee. On the third hand the one I had was a nickel machine and was probably an earlier version, but on the fourth hand this is in better shape and has an original marquee. On the fifth hand the one I had was . . . . well, you get the idea. I don't make good decisions at 11:30 pm, so I thought I should wait till the next morning to decide. At some point staring at the computer screen I realized that I'd kick myself the next morning if it sold ovenight, so I followed my late night hunch and "bought it now."
It turns out that the marquee is an extremely tough find. It might even be "rare" by the original coin-op definition of the word (as opposed to the ebay definition of "rare," by which your mother's used sneakers are rare because Who Else Has Sneakers Just Like 'Em?). I know an advanced collector with over 25 years of experience, and this is only the second original marquee he's seen. I have to rely on opinions of people like this, because I haven't paid that much attention to these throughout the years. This marquee has been reproduced well, so be careful if you buy one.
Anyway, so I bought it, and it's nicer. When I compared it to the nickel version I saw some differences. The biggest difference was the locking mechanism. The nickel version has its locking mechanism on the bottom of the machine beneath the base, and takes an external padlock. You squeeze 2 metal tabs together, which pins the glass cabinet to the base, and then snap a small padlock through the holes in the tabs to hold them together. The dime version pictured above has a tab lock on top, so it's built in and represents a completely different design philosophy. I'm sure that the nickel version is earlier, so this is how the machine evolved.
You need the right size collar buttons for this machine. It should be obvious that buttons that have too large a diameter won't fit in the stacks, but many don't fit because they're too thick. Collar buttons with pearl inlays are too thick; you can cram them into the stacks, but what good does it do to cram your product into the machine? All of the collar buttons in the stacks pictured above fit well, and that's the only feature in common among them.
There may be other variations, but I've inspected only 2 in my life so I'm far from an expert on this machine.
The example pictured above is 100% original.
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