PINGAMES AT THE 1990 FUN FAIR
By Russ Jensen
Photos by Sam Harvey
For the twelfth year in a row, coin machine enthusiasts in
Southern California, and any others who wanted to travel to
Pasadena, were treated to the "Loose Change Fun Fair". As it has
been, except for the very first year, the show was held in the
Pasadena Exhibit Center in that city.
This show was probably the biggest one yet; however, there
was another Fun Fair held this Spring, which I was able to
attend, which I was told was also quite large. My one complaint
with the last few shows is that as they get larger it gets harder
to get in and out of the exhibit area. For the first several
years I could park in the underground garage and walk through a
door to a stairway which led directly to the room adjoining the
exhibit area. Now if you park in the garage you must go up to
the outside level, walk almost a block, and then down into the
area where the show is located. What a bummer!
The showing of pingames at this show was not too bad. There
were many solid-state games, but I must admit these are certainly
becoming more collectable as the years go by. The "rundown" of
pins at this show, by decade, was approximately as follows: Pre
1930 - 1, 1930's - 7, 1940's - 2, 1950's - 6 (mostly "gambling
type" pins), 1960's - 5, 1970's "electro-mechanicals" - 7, and
solid-state games over 18. There was also one "toy bagatelle"
whose date of manufacture could not easily be determined.
Before I start describing the games, a word about some of
the photos accompanying this article. In a few instances the
photo used is not of the "actual" machine at the show, but one of
the same model game. The reason for this is to save the person
taking the pictures from photographing a game he already has a
good picture of.
I will now provide brief descriptions, in chronological
order, of most of the older pinball games at the show. I will
try to limit the descriptions to about a paragraph each to leave
room for all the fine photos.
AN EARLY "ANCESTOR"
By far the earliest game at the show in a "pinball format"
was a real ancestor of the modern pingame, Caille Brothers'
"turn- of-the-century" game, LOG CABIN. This machine had been
shown at one or two previous Fun Fairs. It is quite rare and had
a price tag of $2500. LOG CABIN had most of the characteristics
of the pingames of the early 1930's, such as a sloping playfield,
balls propelled by a plunger, and "pins" on the playfield to
deflect the balls during play. For some strange reason, however,
games of this type didn't seem to catch on until the advent of
the "Great Depression".
THE EARLY THIRTIES
There were several pingames at the show made during the 1931
- 1933 era. One of these, which I belive was also there last
year, was a game which appeared to be a copy of the "pioneer
pingame" WHIFFLE made in Youngstown Ohio in 1931 and 1932. This
game (not pictured here), unlike WHIFFLE itself, had a multi-
colored playfield. The owner of this machine told me an
interesting story about where he found it. He said he found the
machine several years ago in the small town of Possum Oklahoma.
The game, he said, was owned by an old man in his nineties, who
kept it out in an old barn full of all kinds of interesting old
items; but only this one coin machine.
An interesting 1932 era game which showed up at this year's
show was a small counter-top game called simply "THE MIDGET".
The manufacturer's name, shown prominently on the machine's
instruction card, was the "E. E. Junior Manufacturing Co." of Los
Angeles. This very small, simple, "pin-and-ball" game was quite
well made and in excellent condition.
Three of the 1932 games on display this year (also not
pictured here) had been at one or more past Fun Fairs.
Gottlieb's PLAY-BOY was a small counter-top game with a playing
card theme. FIVE STAR FINAL, from the same company, was much
more elaborate with a multi-colored playfield arranged in two
circular sections, one above the other. Mills' WOW, that
company's first pingame, was a simple "pin-and-ball" format game
with a distinctive diamond pattern on it's playfield. This game
had been at so many past shows that I remarked to it's owner that
I thought he should have a prize for "the pingame that has been
shown at the most Fun Fairs".
The simple "pin-and-ball" games of 1932 gave way, during the
next year, to more elaborate mechanical games such as Rockola's
famous pair JIGSAW and WORLD SERIES. Then, at the beginning of
1934, Harry Williams' famous CONTACT "sounded the death knell"
for the entirely mechanical game.
CONTACT's battery operated ball kickers ejected a ball from
one hole so it could roll down into a higher scoring hole below.
This "vertical ejection" idea did not seem to catch on until many
years later, but the use of electric kickers which shot the ball
horizontally up the playfield quickly became "all the rage" in
the pingames of the 1934-35 era.
A very fine example of one of these battery operated "kicker
games" was shown this year at the Fun Fair. The game was called
FURY. The owner said that a manufacturer's name of "American
Coin" (or something like that) appeared somewhere on the game,
but I really didn't see it. The playfield graphics on this game
were gorgeous, and the machine appeared to be in "near-mint"
condition. The arrangement of electric ball kickers on the field
was quite elaborate, and it looked to me like a very interesting
and novel mid-thirties pingame indeed.
As a sidelight to the story of the "electric kicker", the
invention of the bumper by Bally in 1936 was essentially the
beginning of the end (at least for the time being) of playfield
kickers. Very few such devices appeared on pingames from 1937 up
until the "eject hole" (using the same basic principle as first
used on CONTACT) was introduced by Exhibit Supply (the company
that Harry Williams worked for at the time, by the way) in 1941.
As soon as pingame production began again after World War II,
however, the "eject hole" was "king".
1941 "PRE-WAR" GAMES"
There were two fine examples of 1941 pingames at the show, a
very rare year at past shows. That year was the last full year
of pingame production before World War II caused a cessation to
all pingame production early in 1942. By that time pingames were
becoming quite sophisticated in play features, as well as in the
corresponding internal circuitry.
The earliest of these two games was Gottlieb's SEA HAWK
which appeared in the Spring of 1941. The game's quite
attractive backglass showed a large sailing ship in it's center
with "ship's wheels" in each of the four corners of the scene.
Each wheel displayed 10 numbers of the game's 13 numbered bumper
"sequence". The first contained 1-10, the 2nd 2-11, the 3rd 3-12,
with 4-13 on the last. As you can easily determine, the numbers
5-10 are common to all four wheels.
Obviously, lighting all the numbers on a given wheel
provided the player with some "reward", possibly a replay. In
addition to this "number sequence" feature, the game also had
"high score" scoring, as well as the popular "Special When Lit"
rollovers. For more information on these "number sequence"
pingames I refer you to my past article "Bally's VARIETY, and
Other 'Sequence' Pingames" which appeared in the Fall 1985 issue
of COIN SLOT.
The other 1941 "number sequence" pin at the show was Chicago
Coin's STAR ATTRACTION. This game only had a 6 number sequence.
It also had "Special When Lit" rollovers, plus something called a
"selection" feature, the workings of which I was unable to
ascertain. STAR ATTRACTION's backglass art was typical "Art
Deco", an art style which had been used on many games since the
Pingames from the decade of the Fifties have generally been
quite rare at past Fun Fairs. This year there were 6, probably a
record, but all but one were of the "gambling type", not
"amusement" flipper games. Three of these "gambling type" pins
came from one dealer who had obtained, I was given to understand
from a friend, a warehouse full of gambling machines, including
"one-ball" and "bingo" pinballs, as well as many console slots,
many of which were also on display.
The earliest of these 1950's gambling pins was Bally's 1950
"one-ball horserace" game TURF KING, a game by the way that I
have in my own collection. This was the first time an example of
this interesting type of machine appeared at a Fun Fair. This
form of pingame originated in the mid 1930's and was a very
popular form of "gambling" pinball until they were essentially
"outlawed" by the passage of the Johnson Act in 1951, TURF KING
being one of the later models of this type of pin to be produced.
In these games the player tried to shoot his one ball into
the numbered playfield hole corresponding to a randomly lighted
number(s) which lit on the backglass at the start of each game.
Before he shot the ball, however, the player could deposit
additional coins to try and get better numbers or higher "odds"
(lighted numbers on the backglass indicating how many coins - or
replays - the player could win by "matching" the lighted
The second "gambling type" pin on display, by the same
dealer, was United's A-B-C, one of the first so-called "bingo"
pinballs. When the Johnson Act resulted in significantly
reducing the market for the "one-balls", such as TURF KING, the
industry had to come up with something to take the place of those
very lucrative machines. The result of that effort was the
development in 1951 of what was first known as "in-line pinballs"
(later to be known as "bingos") in which the player shot 5 balls
into numbered holes (1-25) on the playfield, trying to light up a
line of 3 or more numbers on a "bingo card" pattern on the
A-B-C had a circular playfield with a "pop-bumper" in it's
center to continuously repel the balls until each landed in one
of the numbered holes. It also had 3 "bingo cards" on it's
backglass, labeled "A", "B", and "C", hence the name.
At around this same time, Bally came out with a game called
BRIGHT LIGHTS, also having 3 cards on it's backglass, but with a
rectangular playfield having similar dimensions to those used on
a standard flipper pinball. Shortly after that, United discarded
it's circular field for the more standard one, and produced
LEADERS, the third of the "gambling type" pins shown at the Fun
There was one other "bingo" pinball at the show. It was
Bally's 1953 game BEACH CLUB (not pictured here), and was typical
of the many bingos produced, almost entirely by Bally and
United, during that period.
There was a funny story associated with the machine at the
show. When I asked the antique dealer who was selling it if it
worked, he replied "no". When I then inquired what was wrong
with it, he replied "I don't know, I've never plugged it in". I
then asked how he knew it didn't work if he had never tried it?"
His answer to that was "Well, it doesn't look like it does".
Incidentally, I later noticed that the power cord was cut in half
and didn't even have a plug on it.
The last of the "gambling pins" at the show was a very
interesting little Ballygame from 1957 called TARGET ROLL. This
game, like the A-B-C mentioned earlier, had a circular playfield.
It's field had 36 holes, each with a scoring value of from
between 20 and 120 next to it, but required no "pop bumper" since
the field sloped upward at the center, causing the balls to
naturally roll toward the scoring holes.
The backboard contained standard pinball type "score reels"
used to tally the player's score, based upon the holes into which
his balls landed. In addition, the hole values, 20 to 120, were
indicated on the backglass, and one of these numbers apparently
lit up at the start of a new game as "a target to shoot for". It
would appear that if he got a ball into a hole on the playfield
corresponding to this lit number, the player would receive some
sort of "bonus", but what that was I really don't know.
As I said earlier, there was only one 1950's flipper game at
this year's show. It was Gottlieb's late 1959 game LIGHTNING
BALL. This was a very nice game, and employed some nice
"mechanical animation" behind it's backglass. Gottlieb used
similar animation on their game SUNSHINE the previous year, and
on WORLD BEAUTIES about a month after LIGHTNING BALL.
Unfortunately, the backglass of the game at the show had been
severely damaged during shipment of the machine to Pasadena.
A very nice early Sixties pin at this year's show was
Gottlieb's BIG CASINO from 1961. This game was one of the many
Gottlieb games to have a playing card theme. It sported four
"thumper bumpers" in the upper half of the playfield, with the
center of the field being fairly "wide open". It's two flippers
were placed quite far apart at the bottom of the playfield, with
three "rollover lanes" in between; not a very common arrangement.
An early Sixties "classic" also shown this year was
Gottlieb's 1963 pin SWEET HEARTS. That game also had a playing
card theme, and had a much more standard flipper arrangement at
the bottom of it's playfield. It had a whopping five pop
bumpers. It also featured a "gobble hole" in the center of the
playfield, a feature dreaded by many players (unless it was lit
for a "special", of course).
Probably the liveliest "playing area" for pingames at the
show was at the booth of Los Angeles area pinball
collector/dealer/writer Herb Silvers. Herb's booth contained
some very nice games from the Sixties and Seventies, and all were
plugged in and ready for play by anyone who wished to try them
One of these games was Gottlieb's 1964 4-player pin HAPPY
CLOWN. This appears to be a good "target game", with it's
flippers aimed at a semi-circle of five targets in the center of
the playfield. The HAPPY CLOWN at the show was in excellent
condition and seemed to be very popular with the players at
A very nice example of the pins of the late 1960's, also at
Herb's booth, was Williams' MAGIC CITY from 1967. The backglass
of this game is quite attractive and colorful, displaying a large
city street, complete with 2 movie theaters, and a huge fountain
in the center of the street. One of the important play features
of the game was a "spell-name" arrangement, with the player
trying for various "targets" to light up the name of the game.
There were several electro-mechanical pingames at the show
made during the decade of the 1970's. One of these was Williams'
1972 "classic" SPANISH EYES. This was the first Williams pin to
use D.C. operated pop bumpers, and had very unique backglass art.
An excellent article describing this game in detail appeared in
the SUMMER 1982 issue of the now defunct pinball publication
"Pinball Collector's Quarterly", which showed it's backglass
design on it's cover.
Another Seventies electro-mechanical pin at the show also
came out in 1972. It was Gottlieb's KING KOOL. This game had
some very nice graphics on it's backglass. It's playfield
featured 4 flippers at the bottom to enable the player to shoot
for it's many targets.
An interesting bit of trivia regarding KING KOOL is that it
was pictured, as an example of a current 2-player pin,
accompanying an article in the December 1972 issue of Playboy
Magazine titled "Great Moments in Pinball History". The 4-player
game illustrated along with it was none other than the now "super
collectable" Bally FIREBALL. This publicity seems to have helped
FIREBALL to become as popular as it is today, but KING KOOL (as
well as Williams' SUPER STAR, the single-player example also
pictured in the article) has been almost "lost in the shuffle".
Incidentally, a good description of that Playboy article will be
included in my future article "Pinball Literature - Part 2" which
will most likely appear in the Summer '91 issue of COIN SLOT.
Even though the newer electronic pingames are "not my cup of
tea", I will briefly mention three of the more than 15 of these
games shown at this year's show. As I said earlier, these
machines are definitely quickly becoming the collectables of the
Williams' CONTACT came out in 1978 in the early part of the
"solid-state era". The game was obviously named after Harry
Williams' (the company's original founder) pioneer electric
pingame from 1934. The theme of CONTACT's artwork appears to be
some sort of futuristic war setting. This game also had four
flippers at the bottom of a very open playfield.
In the mid 1970's Sam Stern, Harry Williams' ex-partner in
his original Williams Manufacturing Co., bought out the pinball
company Chicago Dynamic Industries (formerly Chicago Coin) and
renamed it Stern Electronics. This was right at the time that
the pinball industry was converting from electro-mechanical to
One of Stern's early pins was METEOR which came out in 1979.
That game was one of the several games from Stern designed by
pinball player/enthusiast turned designer Steve Kirk. Steve's
history as a player, dating back to his early childhood, and his
love for the game gave him many novel design ideas which he
incorporated in games like METEOR.
The final solid-state pin I will mention is Bally's FLASH
GORDON. Ever since the mid-seventies, when Bally came out with
WIZARD and CAPTAIN FANTASTIC with art themes based on the pinball
Rock Opera "Tommy", that company has produced many games with
either a celebrity or "super hero" theme. One of these was FLASH
GORDON which came out in 1981 and was shown at the Fun Fair. A
look at it's graphics, both on the backglass and playfield,
reveal that it certainly had, excuse the expression, "flash".
A TOY 'BAGATELLE'
A very novel little game which was shown this year was
probably actually a toy, but in the pinball format. It was
called "Electric POOSH-M-UP" and had a very colorful playfield.
The "electric" in the name apparently referred to a series of
small battery-operated lights on it's playfield. A very similar
game, called "5-GAME ELECTRIC", appeared at one of the past Fun
Fairs. Games like this are very hard to date as "toy pins" of
this type have been around for many years.
This year, as in the past few years, I am including a list
of all the pingames I saw at the show. The following list is
sorted chronologically, and in most cases includes the "asking
price" of the games. Prices, however, were not shown if the
dealer had a large number of games without any type of price
marking on them. Let me caution you that the prices shown were
what the dealer was trying to get for the game and do not
necessarily reflect what the game sold for if indeed it was sold.
LIST OF PINGAMES AT THE 1990 FUN FAIR
GAME MFG. YEAR PRICE
LOG CABIN Caille Bros. 1901 2500
WHIFFLE (SIC) ? 1931? 225
5 STAR FINAL Gottlieb 1932 225
MIDGET (THE) E.E. Jr. Mfg. 1932 625
OFFICIAL Mills 1932 ?
PLAY BOY Gottlieb 1932 450
WOW Mills 1932 350
FURY ? 1935? ?
SEA HAWK Gottlieb 1941 400
STAR ATTRACTION Chicago Coin 1941 650
TURF KING Bally 1950 300
ABC United 1951 300
LEADER United 1951 300
BEACH CLUB Bally 1953 200
TARGET ROLL Bally 1957 500
LIGHTNING BALL Gottlieb 1959 950
BIG CASINO Gottlieb 1961 250
SWEETHEARTS Gottlieb 1963 350
HAPPY CLOWN Gottlieb 1964 800
CENTRAL PARK Gottlieb 1966 800
MAGIC CITY Williams 1967 400
SUSPENSE Williams 1970 SOLD
KING KOOL Gottlieb 1972 500
SPANISH EYES Williams 1972 450
TRAVEL TIME Williams 1973 450
SKY LAB Williams 1974 375
EL DORADO Gottlieb 1975 SOLD
TOP SCORE Gottlieb 1975 500
STRIKES & SPARES Bally 1977 ?
CONTACT Williams 1978 ?
DISCO FEVER Williams 1978 ?
LOST WORLD Bally 1978 550
MATA HARI Bally 1978 ?
PLAYBOY Bally 1978 800
FLASH Williams 1979 ?
GENIE Gottlieb 1979 750
HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS Bally 1979 495
METEOR Stern 1979 ?
ROLLER DISCO Gottlieb 1979 ?
STELLAR WARS Williams 1979 650
TRI ZONE Williams 1979 ?
BLACK KNIGHT Williams 1980 650
GROUND SHAKER (NITRO) Bally 1980 650
ROLLING STONES Bally 1980 ?
TORCH Gottlieb 1980 ?
FLASH GORDON Bally 1981 650
JUNGLE LORD Williams 1981 ?
SPECIAL FORCE Bally 1986 ?
POOSH-EM-UP ? ? 125
Well, there you have it, a brief description (with a little
pinball history thrown in) and some great photos of most of the
older pingames (and a few "digitals") which were on display at
the Fall 1990 edition of the Loose Change Fun Fair. The number
and variety of pingames at these shows has improved greatly since
the early years of the show. Next year, who knows? But I'll
venture to guess that there will be more interesting pingames
there next time.