PINGAMES AT THE 1987 FUN FAIR
by Russ Jensen
photos by Sam Harvey
The ninth edition of the annual Loose Change Fun Fair was
held, as it has been since it's second year (1980), at the
Pasadena Exhibit Center in Pasadena, California. This year, as
also happened a few years ago, an additional extension to the
exhibit hall was opened to allow for a large number of
exhibitors. Of even more significance to me, of course, was the
large number of pinball games appearing at the show this year;
more than 20 in all. I believe this is a record for a Fun Fair.
Another significant thing was that the pingames shown
covered all decades of pinball history, except for the current
one. I should mention that a majority of the games shown were
from two dealers, but that really doesn't matter as long as they
were there. Due to the large number of good photographs by my
friend Sam Harvey I shall try to keep my comments as short as
possible and let the pictures "speak for themselves" for many of
the games. I shall list and describe the games chronologically by
Two of the earliest games at the show were both examples of
Gottlieb pingames from 1932, namely NERTZ and FIVE STAR FINAL.
NERTZ was a very simple "pin and ball game" appearing around
march of 1932 which offered the player 10 balls for a nickel.
FIVE STAR FINAL, which came out about three months later, was
somewhat more sophisticated. It had two circular playfield
areas, in a "figure 8" configuration, and brilliant graphics.
The name, it is said, came from a Chicago newspaper edition of
the same name. There is also a story going around which says
that Dave Gottlieb named it in that way because he thought it
might be his last pingame effort. But I, for one, can't believe
that that great man was so short-sighted not to see that pingames
were definitely "here to stay" by mid 1932.
The other 1932 game at the show was VICTORY BALL by the O.
D. Jennings Co., which by the way, was also seen at a past Fun
Fair. Jennings was better known for their slots but also produced
around 25 pingame models in the years between 1932 and 1938.
VICTORY BALL was their second pin and came out around May of
1932. Their first pin was called JAY BALL and appeared some
three months earlier. The machine at this year's show was in
excellent condition showing off the bright colors on the
playfield quite well.
One of the 1933 pins to be seen this year was MAT-CHA-SKOR
by the Peo Manufacturing Company. This brightly colored game was
also seen at last year's show and therefore will not be pictured
or described here.
Another 1933 pin shown was Bally's PENNANT. This early
Bally pingame was a well-built little game. The ad for it in
Automatic Age contained the following "hypie" description:
Snap the shooter....and see the ball streak around
the board...see it sneak through the double PIVOT
SWITCH and slide up the tricky, tantalizing HAIRPIN
TRACK! Watch the ball dance and leap like a jack-
rabbit, propelled by the power of the six WHIP
SPRINGS! Watch what happens when the ball goes
through the WHIRLING MILLS and shoots out again at
unexpected angles! Watch THE PENNANT in action and
you'll see why this dazzlingly different game
attracts the most "fed-up" players and holds them
spellbound for hours at a time!
That sure sounded like quite an exciting game, at least from the
ad writer's point of view.
Also from 1933 was Rockola's classic pin JIGSAW, which, I'm
sad to say, was not in too good of condition having suffered from
fire damage at one time.
JIGSAW has to be considered one of the most collectable of
the pingames of the early Thirties. Appearing on the market late
in 1933, it not only tried to capitalize on the jigsaw puzzle
craze that was sweeping the country in the early years of the
Depression, but also exploited a most popular event of 1933, the
Chicago World's Fair.
The game featured an actual jigsaw puzzle below the playing
area. The playfield contained an array of holes which, when a
ball dropped into one of them, would mechanically cause one or
more pieces of the puzzle to be flipped over displaying part of a
picture. If a player succeeded in completing the puzzle (which
was extremely difficult to do) the complete picture revealed a
pictorial map of the World's Fair! The fair's popular theme, "A
Century Of Progress", was also displayed below the puzzle area.
One of the most interesting games to me which was at this
year's show was also from 1933, CRUSADER by Bally. This was a
rather large machine measuring over 2 ft. by 5 ft. This game,
besides being impressive looking due to it's size and playfield
artwork, may have a story (excuse the pun) behind it.
It seems that in the mid Thirties famed author and
playwright William Saroyan (who was later to write a Pulitzer
prize winning play, "The Time Of Your Life", which featured a
pinball machine in the stage setting and story line) wrote a
short story titled simply "The Crusader".
The story took place primarily in the lobby of a small hotel
in Saroyan's own home town of Fresno, California. In the lobby
was a pingame which was played by several of the characters in
the story, the name of which was said to be "The Crusader". It
certainly seems logical to me that Saroyan got the name of his
game, and hence his story, from Bally's CRUSADER which he had
probably played earlier in his life. So much for trivia!
By the way, I'm happy to say that this beautiful machine was
finally purchased by my good friend Richard Conger as an addition
to his impressive pinball collection.
One game from 1934 also appeared at the show. It was the
classic payout pinball from Jennings, SPORTSMAN. This game has
appeared at several of the past Fun Fairs.
As was true of several of the large slot machine
manufacturers of the Thirties, the O.D. Jennings Company delved
into pingame manufacturing during the same period. Probably the
most popular of all Jennings pinballs was SPORTSMAN.
The theme of the game was duck hunting. The beautiful
playfield graphics were well described in one of the
advertisements for this game which boasted:
A gorgeous, colorful, painting of the out-of-doors; a
thrilling picture of a hunter's paradise showing
beautiful birds, dogs, and fowl in their brilliant
The numerous holes on the playfield represented various
birds, fowl, and rabbits. The payout combinations were obtained
by shooting balls into holes representing two or more "targets"
of the same "species".
This game was beautifully constructed and certainly one of
the better examples of early payout pinballs. The game was so
popular in fact, that Jennings later came out with two updated
versions with lighted backglasses: HUNTER in 1935 and SPORTSMAN
DELUXE in 1937.
Probably the nicest looking of the early pingames at his
year's show, both in graphics and condition, was a 1935 pin by
the Daval Manufacturing Company called CHICAGO EXPRESS.
Unfortunately this game was sold before my friend Sam Harvey
could take a picture of it. However, If you are lucky enough to
own a copy of Roger Sharpe's classic pinball book, "Pinball!",
you will find the exact same machine that was sold at the show
pictured on page 31. This game even featured a "ramp" over which
the ball could be shot; a feature that is used on many of the
brand new solid-state pingames of the 1980's.
Many pingames at this year's show had appeared at one or
more of the Fun Fairs in the past, but one game, FLYING HIGH, was
at the very first Fun Fair in 1979. In fact, I happen to know it
was the very same machine.
This was a one-ball payout manufactured in 1936 by Western
Products of Chicago, a company which manufactured many one-balls
during the 1930's, and was headed by a well known pingame
entrepreneur of the period, Jimmy Johnson.
FLYING HIGH was similar to the many payouts of the period
which had horse racing themes, but the theme of this game was
duck hunting (a la SPORTSMAN). One interesting feature of this
game was that the "payout odds" (the amount awarded when the ball
landed in a hole corresponding to the "winning selection" number
lit on the backglass at the start of the game) was determined by
which rollover switch the ball passed over at the top of the
playfield. These switches represented potential awards from 10
Cents to Two Dollars. A very interesting little game!
This same machine was brought to the original Fun Fair in
1979 by a Northern California antique dealer. It was bought at
that show by a lady collector from Apple Valley, California who
was primarily into jukeboxes and slots. She subsequently sold it
to a friend of mine, Fred Roth, a jukebox collector/restorer who
also had an interest in pinball. The game was offered for sale
at this year's show by another friend, local amusement machine
operator Steve Karlock of Ventura County Amusements, who lives in
my home town of Camarillo. It's truly "a small pinball world!"
The final 1930's pin at the show was another payout, by
Mills Novelty Company, called ONE-TWO-THREE. This game was also
present at last year's show, as well as other Fun Fairs in the
past. So, I won't take the time to describe it again, although
it is a very interesting game indeed.
A rarity at past Fun Fairs has certainly been pinballs from
the 1940's. In fact, I can only remember two in the past; a
beautiful "near mint" Genco CADILAC (1940) a few years ago and
last year, Chicago Coin's GOLD BALL. This year, however, there
were two 1940's games at the same show!
The earliest of the two was SUPER SIX by J. H. Keeney and
Company. Incidentally, I was told by the seller that this exact
machine used to belong to noted entertainer Rudy Vallee himself.
except for the fact that it's backglass was a little faded, the
game was in excellent original condition. It featured "1 through
6" number sequences and also had a "Special When Lit" feature.
In that regard, I have a little "pet project" of trying to
determine on what pingame the term "special" was first used. I
know it was earlier than 1940, but that's all I know at the
present time. If any of you readers have a 1939 or earlier game
employing that term please let me know.
The other 1940's game at the show was a 1948 pin by Williams
called BOSTON. This was one of a consecutive series of Williams
games at that time named after places. Others in that series
were: EL PASE, TUSCON, DALLAS, ST. LOUIS, and MARYLAND.
Incidentally, my friend Sam Harvey, who took all the photos for
this article, recently purchased another Williams game, PHEONIX,
also named after a place, which I have never seen listed on any
list of Williams pinballs. Could it have been a prototype
BOSTON was one of the early flipper games (flippers came in
late in 1947 and early 1948) and was also an early game employing
"pop bumpers", the first, as far as I can determine, being
Williams' SARATOGA which came out around October of 1948, some
seven months before BOSTON.
I didn't actually see this machine, it not being displayed
until Sunday, I believe, but after seeing the photograph of it I
was remained of the games I played as a young teenager in the
late Forties and early Fifties.
Games from the decade of the Fifties have been as rare at
Fun Fairs as games from the Forties. The only 1950's games I can
recall at past shows have both been flipperless "bingo type"
machines. So this year was the first year for 1950's flipper
pinballs at a Fun Fair , there being one single player and three
multi-player "wood-rail" flipper games at the show.
The single player pin was Gottlieb's 1959 game HI DIVER.
This was one of a small series of Gottlieb games around that time
to employ a rotating wheel-like disk behind the backglass
providing "mechanical animation". Two other games of this type
were SUNSHINE in late 1958 and WORLD BEAUTIES in early 1960. In
HIGH DIVER the "animation" was employed to simulate a diver in a
The other 1950's pins at the show were all Gottlieb multi-
player machines. These were FAIR LADY (a 2 player game from
1956), FALSTAFF (a 4 player from 1957), and WHIRLWIND (a 1958 2
player). These games had large backboards typical of the multi-
player Gottlieb's of the period, and each backglass contained the
Gottlieb multi-player slogan "It's More Fun To Compete". The
backglasses of the later games also contained another famous
slogan, "As American As Baseball And Hot Dogs", which appeared on
all Gottlieb pingames for several years around that time.
Gottlieb was first to come out with a multi-player pinball
in late 1954, a four player game called SUPER JUMBO, followed
several months later by their first two player pin, DUETTE.
Williams, the other major flipper game manufacturer at that time,
also began producing a few multi-player models. These machines
employed "score reels" to indicate the player's score numerically
in units of one, as compared to the single player games which
still used lighted panels on the backglass to indicate scores in
units of 10,000, ranging up into the millions. It wasn't until
around 1960 or 1961 that the pingame manufacturers started using
score reels on single player games as well.
As a sidelight to the multi-player story, it is a fairly
common belief of many pinball collectors/enthusiasts that Bally
only made one flipper game, BALLS-A-POPPIN', during the mid and
late Fifties, only making "bingo pinballs" during that period.
Well, this is not exactly true. It seems that in mid 1957 Bally
came out with two more flipper games called CIRCUS and CARNIVAL,
which are supposedly multi-player games using lights for scoring
rather than reels. One of these games (CIRCUS) is said to exist
in the Fellman-Wright collection in Omaha.
Pinballs from the decade of the 1960's have also been quite
rare at past Fun Fairs, but this time there were three!
The first was Williams' "21" from early 1960. This was a
single player game whose theme was the game of Blackjack, hence
the name. It employed lighted panels for score indication, but
also contained a two digit "score reel" (like those used in the
multi-player games just described) which was employed to indicate
"card points" as used in the game of Blackjack. Later in the
same year Williams came out with a game called BLACKJACK with a
similar theme. This wasn't the last of Williams Blackjack theme
games, however, as in 1968 they produced LADY LUCK which had an
extra pair of score reels for Blackjack "card point" scores, in
addition to the reels used for the normal game scoring for each
of it's two players.
Incidentally, the "21" at the show was quickly purchased by
my friend Sam Harvey to add to his impressive pingame collection.
The second Sixties game at the show was Gottlieb's FLYING
CIRCUS from 1961, another 2 player machine. An interesting
feature of this game was a "captive ball" unit in the center of
the playfield which contained two parallel tracks with a "target
area" at the bottom of each. When the ball in play hit one of
these targets a captive ball would be moved to the opposite
track. A player succeeding in getting all five of these balls
into the track which was "lit" was awarded a replay. A similar
feature was used on other Gottlieb games of the period, one I
remember being SUNSET.
The final game from that decade was one of the "classic"
Gottlieb single player games of the early Sixties, BOWLING QUEEN
from 1964. The Gottlieb single player games of the early Sixties
all had many interesting play features and are highly sought
after by many pinball collectors today.
There were four pingames at the show dating from the 1970's;
two flipper games, and two "bingo" pins.
The first of the games from that decade was the well known
Bally FIREBALL from 1972. For some reason this machine became a
very much sought-after pingame collectable, at one time
commanding prices of over $1000 - prices unheard of for other
collectable pins. No one knows for sure what caused this to
happen. It could have been the fact that this game was once
pictured in an article in Playboy magazine, but two other games
pictured in that same article never became "wanted" like
Maybe it was the artwork, which certainly was eye-catching,
or maybe the spinner on the playfield which deflected the ball in
crazy directions? But a few Chicago Coin games (such as HEE HAW)
had this same feature and never became popular. Who knows?
Anyway the FIREBALL at the show also had a price tag of $1200,
and I was told later it had been sold, but I don't know for how
much. I doubt for the full asking price, but you never can tell.
Anyway, there it was, a "famous" FIREBALL.
The other flipper game from the 1970's was Williams' SPANISH
EYES which was also from 1972. This was also somewhat of a
classic pin of that decade and was described in detail several
years ago by well-known pin collector John Fetterman in Steve
Young and Gordon Hasse's fine publication "Pinball Collector's
Quarterly". The article told of it being the first pingame in
the Seventies designed with DC powered pop bumpers. Another
interesting feature of this game was a pop bumper placed below
the flippers which could save a ball destined for the "drain".
The artwork on the backglass was also quite unique for the
period, featuring "squared off" geometric shapes. Incidentally,
Williams designer Steve Kordek mentioned during the recent
Pinball Expo '87 show in Chicago that this glass had once won an
award for it's artwork. Anyway, all in all SPANISH EYES is a
very fine pingame and should not be passed over lightly.
The other 1970's pins at the show were both "bingo" type
machines from the mid 70's which, I believe, was the last decade
of bingo production in the U.S. Both of these Bally games,
TAHITI and MYSTIC GATE, were what were known as "20 hole bingos",
having only holes numbered between 1 and 20 vice 25 for their
earlier predecessors. Both machines were in "like new" condition
and quite impressive to behold.
Since my article last time dealt exclusively with bingo
pinballs I shall only mention one interesting feature of MYSTIC
GATE, it's "Gate Feature". If a player qualified for this
feature during the depositing of extra coins (or replay play) at
the start of a game, he could use a special button on the game to
control a device called a "gate". This consisted of the ball
rebound device, located at the upper left-hand side of the
playfield, being capable of being mechanically raised ("gate
open") allowing the ball to pass right by it rather than hitting
it and rebounding toward the right side of the playfield.
This allowed the player to let the ball completely avoid the
six numbered holes (1 - 6) at the top of the playfield, if he did
not need them to complete a winning pattern of the bingo card.
This gave him a better chance of getting the number(s) he wanted
and therefore a little more control over the ball. A rather
unique feature indeed!
Well, there you have it, a summary of the rather impressive
and "record breaking" array of pingames appearing at the 1987
edition of the Loose Change Fun Fair. Will this trend toward a
larger number and greater variety of pinballs at Fun Fairs
continue? I sure hope so, but we'll have to wait until next year
to find out.