Gumball machines are among the earliest coin-operated vending machines. The late Victorian Era tinkerers, coming up with every sort of device imaginable, developed gadgets in the 1880s that could dispense gum, breath mints, and candy, as well as pencils, perfume, razor blades, and even toilet paper. Found in train stations, general stores, smoke shops, and pubs, these machines, constructed of wood and metal, were thought of as “silent salesmen,” working 24 hours a day.

The early-20th-century vending machines looked like what most people think of as old-fashioned gumball machines, with claw feet, florid scroll embellishments made of cast iron, and glass globes that showed off their contents and kept the products fresh. However, the mechanisms that worked these devices were complex and costly to repair.

Gumball machines made in the 1920s and 1930s were built using steel construction or finished with porcelain enamel over cast iron, giving the device a durable and attractive appearance, often in a cheerful fire-engine red.

A particularly collectible machine of that era is the boxy globe-less Ro-bo machine, which is similar to the Pulver machines of the early 1900s that held nodding puppets. In the Ro-bo, once you inserted a penny, a gumball dropped from a display case at the top and then an automated human figurine would pick it up and drop it to you down a chute. Any ’20s gumball machine with such clever automated action is highly sought-after.

During Prohibition, gambling, be it cards or slot machines, was banned along with alcohol. You might be surprised to know that some gumball machines were disposed of, as they were considered a form of gambling. One such outlawed machine, the Hawkeye, was built so that on every 10th pull of its lever, a bell would ring and the customer would get his or her penny back along with the gumball.

The 1930s Ad-Lee E-Z had a marquee attached to the top and contained gum with paper inserted into it through a hole drilled in the center. The customer would compare the score on their piece of paper to the score on the marquee, and receive a prize from the store clerk.

Vending machines got simpler after World War II; they were made of plastic and cheaper metal like aluminum, and their mechanical inner workings were uncomplicated and easy to rep...

Often, sellers don’t have the keys to vintage gumball machines. However, a locksmith can usually make a key for you. Then, inside, you may find treasure. Of course, odds are, you don’t want to try a 50-year-old piece of gum.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth something—the United States has half a dozen serious chewing gum collectors. Extremely rare sticks of gum like Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum can go for hundreds of dollars, whereas more common gum sticks sell for $35 a piece. Also, the coin box could have wheat pennies, buffalo nickels, or mercury dimes inside it.

Antique gumball machines are becoming increasingly rare, so you’re likely to find one with a broken globe or missing parts. Peanut machines, which look a lot like gumball machines, can have damage from the nuts’ salt and oil. Collectors who enjoy restoration often look for globes, chutes, and other usable parts.

Beware of reproductions and vintage machines with reproduction parts like the inexpensive and colorful Carousel brand gumball machines. Look at the casting to see if the item is stamped or marked as a reproduction.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

An enormous database focusing on pinball machines and other arcade games from the 1930s and on, from a collector wh… [read review or visit site]

International Arcade Museum

International Arcade Museum

This site boasts more than 13,000 pages of educational content on arcade and coin-op collecting, including innumera… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

C.1926 5Vending Machine Fortune Teller Vintage With Key Perfect Condition Antique Penny Coin Op Gum Gumball Vending Machine Unusual Silver King Gumball MachineCollectible Vintage Red Gumball / Candy Vending Machine With KeysVtg Collectible Red & Black Select-o-vend 1 Cent Candy Vending Machine W/ KeyOriginal Vintage 1923 Advance Gumball MachineHole In One Golf Penny Gumball Vending Machine Golf Theme Free Gum Arcade1930's Magna 1cent Vending MachineRare "e-z" Derby 5 Cent Gum Ball Machine Circa 1920's!Rare Old 1925 Norris Mfg. Co. Master #2 1 & 5 Cent Gumball Machine GooseneckVintage Gumball Peanut Machine/antique Victor Topper 50s Look See Window 1cent Rare 5 Cent National Self Service Mints Candy Bubble Gum Coin Op Vending MachineOak Mfg Acorn Candy Vintage Penny Gumball MachineAntique Rare Glass Top 5 Cent Peanut Gumball Vending MachineBrand New Juicy Couture Gum Ball Machine Collectors Item Original Girls Kids1950's Atlas Master 1 Cent 5 Cent Candy Gum Coin Op Vending Machine Penny NickelRing Ding Space Ship Penny Gum Ball Machine Coin Op 6 For 1 Cent Key Lock WorksL1032- Vintage 1 Cent Gumball Machine W/key Pulver Gum Machine Repro Gum- 42 Too Choos And 42 Joy MintHershey's Vending Machine Gumball Candy Gum Diner ArcadeCollectible Vintage Black & Red 1 Cent Gumball / Candy Vending Machine W/ KeyWorking Gumball Vending Machine Barrel Lock, W/keyVintage Bell National Gumball Peanut 5 Cent Vending Machine Vintage Tom's Peanut 25c Northwestern Gumball/candy/gum Machine. Glass GlobeRare Antique Ford Gumball Peanut Machine W/embossed Globe And Slug Rejector Nw Coca-cola Theme Gum Candy Nut Vending Machine Optional Matching StandVintage 1" Rubber Ball Madball/gum Ball Machine/ghostbusters 5xTopper One Cent Gumball MachineVintage 1985 Carousel Gum Ball Machine *free Shipping*Antique Northwestern 33 Gumball Machine Vintage Ford Gumball Machine Quality Vending Products W/ Working KeysVintage Light Up Candy Machine101 Vintage 60's Crackerjack Gumball Vending Toy Charm PrizeVintage Gumball Machine Antique Vending Machine Stand Very Well Built Vending Machines Could Be IronVintage Candy / Nut Machine Dispenser Lights Up! Brand New In Box. AwesomeVintage 1 Cent Nortwestern 49 Vending Machine W/stand Cup Holder Coca Cola CokeVintage Victor Vending Machine Gum Peanuts 1 Cent~l@@k Vintage Peanut Gumball Candy Machine Replacement Glass Globe Unknown PartSharp Ford Penny Gumball Machine/lock & Key 5 Lot Candy Coin Operated 25 Cent Gumball Vending Machines Candy Los Angeles LaVintage Northwestern Candy/gum MachineVintage 1985 Red Carousel Candy Gumball Bubblegum Machine~glass Dome JuniorDouble Vintage Candy Peanut Machine 5 Cent Good Working Condition W Key NickelOriginal Northwestern Model 31 Merchandiser Glass Globe!1950s Junior Bubble Ball Gum Bank Bubble Gum Machine Coca Cola ,coin Op Gumball Candy Peanut Soda Fountain Vending Machine / SignDelicious Chewing Gum Vending Machine 1 Penny Jolly Good Stick GumOld Columbia Gumball MachinePeanut Machine10 Weird Monster Disfigured Lucky Yuckies Vending Toy Prizes Old Store StockVintage Candy / Nut Machine Dispenser Lights Up! Brand New In Box. Awesome1933 Northwestern Gumball / Peanut Porcelain Lid / Top & Hold Down RingBig Oak 2" Capsule Vending Machine Five Pound Bag Of Fresh Ford Branded Gumballs With Black Licorice Coin OperatedPinstripe Hot Rat Rod Tattoo Rockabilly Red Carousel Desk Top Gumball Machine Atlas Bantam 5 Cent Gumball / Peanut Vending Machine Oak Acorn 9 Lb. Glass Cylinder Globe! 1