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.

In the 1860s, while Thomas Adams was working as secretary to Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna (who was living in exile on Staten Island), Adams became fascinated by the white, gummy sap of a tree called Manilkara Chicle, which Santa Anna chewed out of habit. Though Adams failed at his attempts to develop a rubber-like material from the tree, his chewing gum was an instant hit.

He dubbed the first product “Adams’ New York Gum No. 1,” which was sold as small spheres wrapped in colored tissue paper. In 1888, Adams developed a coin-operated vending machine to sell sticks of his popular Black Jack and Tutti-Frutti gums for a penny each. The simple machines were easy to fool and quick to jam, but their strategic placement on the platforms of New York’s elevated trains made them a definite success. By 1907, Adams Sons and Company had designed a more efficient and attractive machine that dispensed spherical balls of gum.

The early-20th-century vending machines that followed 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 repair. In the ’50s and ’60s, supermarkets and drugstores usually had gumball machines, branded Ford, Northwestern ’60, Toy ’n Joy, Victor, and Oak Acorn. The last of these, Oak Acorn machines, are still made in designs true to the original, by Oak Manufacturing Co., founded in 1948. For beginners, postwar machines are the easiest to start collecting.

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    

*no Reserve* Very Old Antique Gumball Machine For RestorationRare,1930's Pace Mfg Co Skil-flip Machine All Orig Works On A Penny,- No ReserveVintage 1¢ Cent Penny Acorn Oak Gumball Candy Vending Machine W Glass Globe Yqz1950's Abbey Triple Cash Trio Peanut Vending Machine, No Reserve. Vintage Northwestern Gumball Machine Peanut Machine Top And LockVintage Ford Gumball Machine Coin Op Cent Antique Lions Club Topper Oak PeanutsPenny Or 1c Glass Globe Ford Gumball Machine With Lions Club DecalHolli Ware Manufacturing Co. 1947. Three In One Candy/ Peanut / Gumball Machine!One 1 Cent Old Antique Oak Acorn Gum Gumball Candy Vending Machine W KeyOld 10 Cent Comb Vending Machine Harmon Amco Condom Rubber Gas StationSharp Ford Penny Gumball Machine/lock & Key Old 10 Cent Comb Vending Machine Harmon Amco Condom Rubber Gas StationVintage Glass Top For Ford Gumball MachineNorthwestern Glass Globe 25 Cent Large Or Capsule Gumball Machine With KeyVintage European 1937 Gumball MachineVintage/antique*sinclair Gas Pump W/cans*vending,gumball,peanut Machine,sign,toyMaster Gumball/peanut Machine From 1923 Restored!!Vintage Ford 1 Cent Penny Globe Gumball MachineCoca Cola Coke Coin Op Gumball Candy Peanut Vending Machine Soda Fountain Sign Vintage/antique*texaco Gas Pump W/cans*vending,gumball,peanut Machine,sign,toyVintage Bubble Gum Machine Candy Machine Vintage Gumball Machine, Bell National Sales Co. With Key, Works Great!Vintage Clown Gumball Vending Machine Uses Small And Large GumballsVintage Ford Gumball Machine Base For Parts Or Repair Northwestern Chicago Lock Key Gumball Candy Bulk Vending Machine 3 Lock Random #Vintage Dual/twin Gumball/candy Machines With StandVintage 1 Cent Penny Acorn Vending MachineVintage Lot Of 43 Gumball Cracker Jack Toy Charm Prized Celluloid +Vintage Base For Northwestern 1 Cent Gumball MachineSinclair Dino Gasoline Gumball Machine - No ReserveCoca Cola Coke Coin Op Gumball Candy Peanut Vending Machine / Sign NorthwesternVintage Victor “77” Gumball/vending Machine – Excellent Working Condition W/keyAtlas 10 Cent Vending Machine Fast ShippingVintage Goodies Metal Embossed Cupids Gumball Candy Machine Candy Dispenser Black Gumball Machine 14 1/2" Tall Works Great Metal & Glass Great ConditionNorthwestern Chicago Lock Key Gumball Candy Bulk Vending Machine 14set Key Only Red Plastic Candy Dispenser Machine Gumball Gum Ball Snacks Storage Box Gift NewAntique Victory 5c Peanuts/candy Vending Machine Chicago 39 Ill Rare No Reserve 50 Cent Black Globe Heavy Duty Commercial Grade Gumball Machine With KeyFive Pound Bag Of Fresh Ford Branded Gumballs With Black Licorice Coin OperatedSsf Silent Sales Force Candy Bubblegum Gumball Vending Machine Parts Or RepairOak Manufacture Vista Cabinet Vintage Candy Bulk Vending Dispenser $.25Oak Manufacture Acorn Imperial Vintage Candy Bulk Vending Dispenser $.25Vintage Carousel Gumball MachineVintage Carousel Industries Inc Gumball Machine Cast Iron Red Near Mint CompleteVictor $.25 Cent Gum Ball MachineVintage Carousel Gumball MachineVintage 1977 Marvel Comics Bubblegum Machine Ring Complete Set Hulk SpidermanEagle Chute Cover Door Flap Gumball Candy Nut Vending MachineVintage 40's 50's Gumball Cracker Jack Toy Gun Lot15" Vintage Candy Gumball Machine Bank With Stand By Great NorthernCurtis Gumball Machine FlapsTrick 10 Cent Gag Novelty Toys Vending Machine Sign Unused Old Store StockPenny Gumball Machine