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Valuable machines operated by coin Antiques: Dispensing gadgets date back to the early Greeks. Modern versions that date back before 1950 are selling for major money.


Today, you can insert a coin or card in the appropriate machine and get candy, gum, drinks, telephone service or even cash. The idea of a coin-operated machine has been around for quite some time, however.

The first was used to dispense holy water in ancient Greece. In the 1850s, tobacco boxes were kept on tavern counters; the smoker inserted a coin and was able to fill his pipe with tobacco or buy a cigarette.

Machines later dispensed stamps, gum and perfume. Fortune-telling, strength-testing, picture-show and gaming-skill machines soon followed.

The first of the strength-testing machines was used in British pubs. It was part of the entertainment to watch two men compete. The loser usually bought the drinks.

The "Try Your Strength Machine" was made in London by Robert Page in 1885. It was followed by many other types of testing machines, including those that measured lung capacity, grip and punching power.

F. J. Howard made many different coin machines from 1898 to 1905. One of the most original was the Uncle Sam Hand-Shake machine he introduced in 1904. The life-sized iron figure of Uncle Sam had an extended hand. A coin was placed in Sam's buttonhole, and the dial on his chest registered the strength of your grip of his hand. It was made for use with a penny, nickel or foreign coin. The machine weighed about 45 pounds, the base an additional 55 pounds.

The Uncle Sam machine was copied later by Mills Novelty Co. and Caille Bros. In the 1920s, another version was made by the International Mutosscope Co.

Any large, working, coin-operated machine dating before 1950 has considerable value. An early Uncle Sam would sell for more than $17,000.

I have two glass vases stamped "A Hunebelle" and "France." Do you have any information?

Andre Hunebelle was among the specialist glassmakers who created glass in the style of Lalique during the 1920s and 1930s.

Marius-Ernest Sabino also imitated Lalique, and became famous for nude figurines and small opalescent glass animals.

Hunebelle did not gain as much fame as his contemporaries.

What can I expect to pay for a barbershop chair?

You might find a child's chair from a barbershop for around $100. For an adult chair, you'd spend from $500 to $2,500, depending on age, decoration and condition.

Although wooden chairs are older, nickel-plated chairs sell for the most money.

The Kovels welcome letters and answer as many as possible through the column. Unfortunately, the volume of mail makes personal answers impossible. Write to Kovels, The Sun, King Features Syndicate Inc., 235 E. 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017. If you wish other information about antiques, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope, and the Kovels will send you a listing of helpful books and publications.

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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