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An Interview With a Collector: Vintage Pinball

old vintage pinball bumper

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we? It was the summer of 1996, and in the small town that I grew up in, there wasn’t much to do. My friends and I would spend most of our time just riding our bikes around our neighborhood and spending all of our parents’ hard-earned money at a local mom and pop movie store called Movie Time.

We would gather all of the change we could find and spend hours at the arcade there. While my friends were playing Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, I always gravitated towards the bank of pinball machines in the back. If I had a quarter for every time I played the Lethal Weapon 3 machine, I could probably afford to buy my own. We recently discovered that pinball was one of the top searches on EstateSales.NET, so I wanted to delve a little deeper into the topic.


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There is a ton of history surrounding these fan-favorite arcade games, so this article is only going to scratch the surface. Pinball has roots related to popular outdoor “ball in grass” games like bocce and croquet. As time passed, innovations were made to the game until pinball, as we know it today, came about in the mid-1900s, with the introduction of coin-operated machines, flashing lights, and the famous “flippers.”


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While I haven’t procured a pinball machine for myself yet, I was recently fortunate enough to speak with Nic Schell, an enthusiast from Roanoke, Virginia. I reached out to Nic to gain a little insight into a few of the more collectible machines out there and ones you should keep your eyes peeled for the next time you find a pinball machine at a sale.

What started your love for pinball?

“My father was a radio celebrity in the 1970s and brought three pinball machines home on a whim. I enjoyed playing with them as a kid, but video games were more my thing. Then in 2013 my father was downsizing and I asked if he still had those machines... which he did. And that's when I became a huge pinball geek learning how to restore them all.”

What is the most valuable piece in your collection?

“My most valuable game is the "Freedom prototype"... a special early version of Bally's 1976 Freedom game of which supposedly only about 100 were made. It is my favorite game... lots of fun to play.”

What machines should people be on the look for the next time they’re at an estate sale or auction?

“That's a LONG list. In general the Gottlieb "wedgeheads" are the most sought-after by collectors. You can easily recognize them by their triangular-esque back boxes. But not all of them are worth collecting so it helps to check with a local pinball geek if it is a desired game.”


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What pinball machine would you most like to add to your collection?

“I'd really like to find a Joker's Wild by Segasa-Sonic 1977, but even finding photos of one is exceedingly difficult! Round Up, Diamond Jack, Majorettes, and Pop-A-Card would also be great to find. Let me know if you do!”

For almost 150 years, pinball has been one of most popular arcade games and certain machines still remain highly collectible, especially with the vintage resurgence of the past 20 years. Using the EstateSales.NET Treasure Tracker is a great way to find upcoming sales that might feature one of these coin-operated pieces of history. Happy hunting!

Love all things estate sales? Us, too! Head over to our blog to learn about all things vintage, DIY, and more!

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