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Crystal Palace digger with optional candy vendor feature., circa 1939

This unique and unusual design is circa. 1939. Made by Exhibit Supply Co. The all-glass top gives a view of the crane and playing area from 3 sides and the top. The back panel is a mirror that is tilted inward to show off the prizes in the playing area. The birch and teak cabinet design features beautiful veneer work.

The candy vendor option is quite rare. It can be filled from inside the play area with either small candies or small gum balls. Exhibit Supply Co. made very few models with candy vendor mechanisms added making this one a fine example of the period.

It is now displayed in the private office of an executive of a major national crane game company.

Mutoscope “NEW YORKER” Electric Traveling Crane w/Candy Vendor

This Black Beauty is possibly the most elegant of the Mutoscope machines that have been restored at the Vintage Amusements studio. Obviously designed for the most up-scale locations of the 1930’s it is a strong statement of the Art Deco style of the period. Now part of a private collection of outstanding coin-operated antiques.

Mutoscope “CHAMPION” Electric Traveling Crane circa. 1932-33

This is a very early Mutoscope Electric Traveling Crane in solid oak-wood cabinetry. It has been restored in fine detail, including the B&W photograph used in the background which pictures the construction of the Empire State Building in New York City; home of the Mutoscope offices and factories. A “Mutoscope” blimp floats in the sky above. The evolution of Mutoscope’s Electric Traveling Crane games to their eventual high-deco style started with this model .This is a very early Mutoscope Electric Traveling Crane in solid oak-wood cabinetry. It has been restored in fine detail, including the B&W photograph used in the background which pictures the construction of the Empire State Building in New York City; home of the Mutoscope offices and factories. A “Mutoscope” blimp floats in the sky above. The evolution of Mutoscope’s Electric Traveling Crane games to their eventual high-deco style started with this model .

Exhibit Supply Co. NOVELTY MERCHANTMAN, circa. 1932-33

This model was introduced shortly following Exhibit’s Iron Claw series of diggers in the early 1930’s, and the Art Deco style was quite ‘modern’ compared to the Victorian style of the Iron Claws.

There were a number of different trim castings used for the front face and delivery chute of the Novelty Merchantman series. This one features script lettering and a pull-down door. The theme of a merchantman steam ship at dock side in the south pacific gives the Merchantman models a wonderful display appearance. Each background was hand painted on paper and, of course, most of them have deteriorated over time. The wood work is walnut and birch for a dramatic contrast creating the deco style. There was also painted trim around the upper front door and down the front corners on some pieces.

This Novelty Merchantman was been carefully restored to perfect original and is now in a private collection in California.

Stutz Manufacturing Corp. YANKEE TRAVELING CRANE ON WHEELS, circa. mid-1930’s

The Yankee Traveling Crane on Wheels was built by the Stutz Mfg. Corp. in Brooklyn in the mid-1930’s. It is believed to be the forerunner of 2 additional diggers which also featured an overhead trolley rather than a traditional crane boom and jib; they are the rare Traveling Crane made by Buddy Sales, Co. and, later, the successful Electro-Hoist made by the Star Mfg. Co.

This particular Yankee Traveling Crane is shown as-found, on an iron stand, and in excellent working condition. It has a 2-cent coin mechanism and has not been restored.

Exhibit Supply Co. SUNBURST, “light-up” digger, circa. 1946

The Exhibit Sunburst Digger is the only digger model ever made to have had lighted panels on the lower cabinet corners and the upper header area. It is more commonly referred to as the “Light-up” digger because of this unique, jukebox style, feature. It is further unique in style due to oversize cabinetry and elaborate inlay veneer work. The crane boom itself is more massive than other diggers. A few of these models may have been produced just prior to the start of World War 2, but it is believed that most were manufactured following the war and prior to the Johnson Interstate Transportation Act of 1951.

Mutoscope EMERALD CITY, Electric Traveling Crane w/ candy vendor, circa. 1935

The International Mutoscope Reel Co. produced their Electric Traveling Crane in a wide variety of cabinet styles, and this is one of the most commonly found adaptations. Beaded wood molding running down the front panels, and the use of two contrasting woods in the lower door distinguish this version. The basic cabinet material is walnut. Fine cabinetry such as this, and a well engineered mechanical mechanism make the Mutoscope digger machines hard to beat, and the candy vendor mechanism is ‘icing on the cake’ for today’s collector/investor.

Exhibit Supply Co. Blue Streak w/silver trim., circa 1937

There appears to have been 3 or more different adaptations of the Blue Streak theme manufactured by Exhibit; both before and after World War 2. This one was last operated in commercial service on Rampart Street in New Orleans in 1939, substantiated by the presence of all tax and license stickers from the city up to that date. The blue paint is original (although faded) and the silver paint is proper for this model. A publicity photo of this same model in a 6-side cabinet verifies the artistic treatment of walnut veneer, blue and silver paint. There is an animated background consisting of a sprocket and rocker arm which is typical of most of the pieces of this model series. The sprocket and rocker arm move in unison with the crane boom and claw during the game cycle, but actually have no necessary connection to the operation of the mechanical mechanism.

This as-found unit was considered too original in condition to benefit from restoration and it now resides, as shown, in a private collection along with 2 other valuable machines of the same Art Deco era.

DELUXE Chicago Digger, product of Buckley Mfg. Co., circa mid 1930’s

Bartlett Miami Digger

This is the first true Carnival Digger. It was designed by carnival man William Bartlett following World War One, and patented in the U.S. and Canada in 1932. It was never offered for sale to other operators. These diggers were operated with great success from the mid-1920’s until 1951 traveling with major carnivals in the U.S. and Canada. Employee-agents (associates), were hired and trained by Bartlett to operate carnival concession units of 12 to 16 diggers each. The awards offered to the players as prizes were coins (nickel coins, and on up to silver dollar coins), and the games were known in the trade as “Nickel Diggers”.

At the time of Mr. Bartlett’s death in 1946 he had over 40 operators in the field supplying digger concessions to all of the major carnivals of the day. Bob Parker continued this business operation successfully, acting as the manager for the estate of Mr. Bartlett, but the end of U.S. operations came abruptly in 1951 with the implementation of a new Federal anti-gambling law known as the Johnson Interstate Transportation Act. The Bartlett type of digger, and all others which were powered by an electric motor, were illegal to cross state lines from 1951 until the mid-1970’s. Some of the Bartlett/Parker type Nickel Diggers operated for another 20 years in Canada, but they were finally closed-down for good by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Edmonton, Alberta in July of 1975 on the grounds that they were gambling devices.

This surviving Bartlett “Miami” Digger is an excellent example of the true original “Carnival Crane”.

Vintage Merchandise

STREAMLINE Novelty Merchantman, Mfg. by Exhibit supply Co., circa 1939

An unrestored example of the famous Art Deco style Novelty Merchantman which was offered with a mirror background, or with a ship’s bridge casting and a painted background showing a nighttime South Pacific dockside scene. This Streamliner is complete, working correctly, and quite original. The walnut cabinet is in good condition, and will restore very nicely as is or with the ship casting and dockside scene.

SIDEBOTTOM SUPER, made by Sidebottom Mfg. Co., circa. early 1950’s

Manufactured by the Sidebottom Novelty Co. of California, circa. 1946-56.

It is unique for it’s “jukebox” style with curved glass top (yes, real glass), and for the 360-degree play field.

It is truly “super” because of a heavy, well-engineered, mechanical mechanism, and for the three playing options that it provides to the location operator. It can be operated any one of these ways:
1.as a standard play-for-merchandise digger,

2.as a “Buy Back Plan” digger for cash payoffs

3.as a “Free Games” payoff game giving 20 free games on a meter each time a prize is won (the games can be played-off one-by-one with a button located under the coin entry, or an attendant can pay the player in cash for accumulated games and then clear the meter).

Students of coin machine history know that this game could not have been shipped legally in interstate commerce after 1951 due to Federal law: the Johnson Interstate Transportation Act of 1951. This pay-out digger was classified as a gambling device.

This is possibly the best one of this make and model digger I know of today. I have restored it in my shop mechanically and cosmetically. (I did not re-plate the few plated parts as they have a fine patina.) I have had experience with 3 of this make of digger and this is the only one that has had genuine glass in the curved glass top. It also has very nice walnut wood veneer, original back mirror (with new decal), and a Bally 5-cent coin entry (basket style). The optional free-games attachment mounted on the cabinet top is the factory original.

All of the mechanical and electrical systems work exactly as they should, and I have no doubt that this game could operate another 60 years in a commercial location.

Currently available for acquisition.

TRANS ATLANTIC, European made by Cargomaster, circa. mid-1930’s

Restored by James Roller. This is a quite elegant European digger with a beautiful background art. It has a footprint slightly smaller than most of it’s contemporaries. It has been beautifully restored inside and out.

It is now part of a private collection.

OAKWOOD ELECTRIC TRAVELING CRANE with Candy Vendor Manufactured by Mutoscope Reel Co., circa 1935

An oak cabinet Traveling Crane completely restored by James Roller to it’s 1930’s vintage. This elegant example has the candy vendor mechanism in the right hand silo which feeds small mints or candies into the glass front door on the front face casting, below the hand wheel. This beautiful piece of Deco Era art is now located in the home of a private collector.

MOSS SKILL CRANE, originally restored by Lee Moss and Associates of Hot Springs, Arkansas, circa. 1968

Counter-top carnival style crane with custom shipping case which doubles as a floor stand.

In private collection.

JEWELBOX, manufactured by Buckley Mfg. Co., circa. mid 1930’s

The Jewel Box is probably the least common model of the different diggers made by the Buckley Manufacturing Co., of Chicago, Illinois in the mid-to-late 1930’s. This elegant example could have been placed in an upscale location of the period; such as a fine hotel lobby, railroad station, country club or casino.

It has been restored in the Vintage Amusements studio/shop to display elegantly and play perfectly.

The machine has the correct DuMore AC/DC motor, new cloth covered electrical wire throughout, and operates on a nickel coin by way of the correct 3-bolt push-slide coin mech.

Now part of a private collection.

IRON CLAW, made by Exhibit Supply Co., circa late 1920’s.

This is a restored example of one of the earliest electrical diggers which was a favorite of the traveling showmen of the 1920’s. These counter models were shipped in a wooden crate that could also be used as a stand, similar to the Erie Diggers of the time.

A private collector will sell this one to make space for new arrivals. If interested contact by e-mail jim@jamesroller.com

ROTARY MERCHANDISER, manufactured by Exhibit Supply Co, circa 1936

This is the casino model – a bit fancier than the usual rotary machines. Walnut and walnut veneers. Restored by James Roller.

Now in a private collection.


Replica made by Vintage Amusements, mechanism is a 1947 Evans Digger built by Frank Evans, circa. 1947.

CARGOMASTER, European made, circa. mid-1930’s

This is the Cargomaster with a revolving turntable for the prize field. It also has an unusual ‘mouse ear’ coin mech and much of the mechanism is hidden in the top of the machine. When this digger was restored I built a glass top on the cabinet so that anyone interested in the unusual mechanics could watch the ingenious operation of the chains and chain arms.

The drop of the claw from overhead is very much like the modern-day crane games, and this antique is now, fittingly, on display in the home of an executive of a modern day crane game company.

PANAMA DIGGER, Scientific Machine Co., circa. 1925

A wonderful restoration of a beautiful all-mechanical digger. Original proprietary one-cent coin mech. Machine works like a charm. Very few of this make and model still survive. Part of my private collection.

MUTOSCOPE “EMERALD CITY” ELECTRIC TRAVELING CRANE with Candy Vendor Manufactured by Mutoscope Reel Co., circa 1935

A James Roller full restoration of this desirable model, which has the automatic candy vendor feature. The vendor mechanism is located in the right hand silo (skyscraper building) and feeds small mint or candies into the glass front dispenser door below the hand wheel.

This restoration art is now part of a private collection.

RED TOP CRANE, manufactured by Mutoscope Reel Co., circa. 1937

This is a meticulous restoration of an Art Deco masterpiece of the late 1930’s. It has the candy vendor feature with the candy mechanism dumping from the right hand silo (skyscraper building) directly into the prize delivery chute behind the roll-up door. Beautiful walnut veneer and detail throughout. It operates flawlessly. Production of this model ceased at the beginning of WW2 and also was not in production for as long a time as the slightly earlier Electric Traveling Crane.

Currently in my private collection.

9th BRIDGE, transporter crane, European built overhead crane, circa 1937

This recent James Roller restoration features a glass enclosed turntable operated by the brass lever on the front of the face casting. Behind the lever is the original mercury switch to rotate the table. The coin mechanism is a very early type roll-down mech of heavy brass construction. The nickel coin actually itself serves as the conductor to close the electric circuit powering the cycle of the crane. The cabinet is solid mahogany wood with mahogany book-match veneers. The upper front corners are hand carved designs in the mahogany.

This Victorian style beauty now resides in the collection of a discriminating west coast collector.

Erie Digger, Circa 1931Erie Digger, Circa 1931

This is a completely original example of the ‘first’ digger games that were ever put into production. It is in excellent, unrestored, unmolested condition. The oak cabinet is solid, the mechanism works perfectly, the coin mech is still on 1-cent, the locks are original, the hand painted header sign is the original paint, and a small original test crank is still present, just as they were delivered from the factory in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It also has the coin box on the cabinet bottom, which was a $15.00 option offered in the early 1930’s.

There were such large numbers of these workhorse machines produced from 1924 to 1946 that it is puzzling to many collectors why so few of them have survived in original condition. The answer lies in coin-op history. Erie Diggers were a favorite of the early traveling operators and remained so up to, and even well past, the Johnson Interstate Transportation Act of 1951. Most of the original cabinets were used and abused in years of carnival service, and when the machine parts wore out the carnival operators who owned them often crudely handcrafted them. Then, Lee Moss and Tommy Wells purchased the remains of the Erie Manufacturing Corp. in 1946 meaning that from that time forward parts were no longer available.

The final destruction of most originals came with a mass re-modification by digger owner/operators following the Johnson Act. Lee Moss lead a small group of digger operators in a Washington lobbying campaign which was successful in changing the classification of Erie Diggers from “Gambling Devices” to “Amusement Devices” in 1953, but they could no longer be coin-operated. The operators who owned Erie diggers were frantic to get back into operation and they immediately began scraping the coin entries, the intricate mechanical coin mechanisms, and ripping-off the cabinet backs. They cutout parts of the cabinet tops in order to reach into the play area and control the merchandise. Some operators even blocked-off the prize chutes thinking to make the game more ‘legit’, and some operators whose cabinets were already in sad condition just threw them on the burn pile and built new cabinets of their own design, often in multiples to mount on trailer concessions.

Truly original Erie Diggers started disappearing very fast after 1953, and the world may now be down to only 3 known.

Custom Erie Digger

This Dragline Digger was custom built to order for a game room hobbyist, using an original Erie-type mechanism that was completely refurbished. The play method is the “Skill-Stop” system with the stop button to the left of the hand crank.

The cabinetry is solid oak wood construction, and finished in Golden Oak with a high gloss final finish. The header signs are painted on the reverse of the glass panels, and back lighted by a florescent fixture. Signs on the cabinet back are “How To Play”, and “The Dragline Digger” (a brief history of the machine).

Custom Erie Digger

A number of these custom built diggers have been built to order for private game rooms and coin-op collectors. This one was built using an original Erie Digger mechanism (1924 – 1946) which was completely refurbished. The play method is the original 6-stop in rotation system

The cabinetry is solid oak wood construction, and finished in Red Oak stain with a semi gloss final finish. The header signs are hand painted on wood panels. Signs on the inside cabinet back are “How To Play”, and “The Erie Digger” (a brief history of the machine). The unit shown has an optional push-slide coin slot.

Original Erie in Red Enamel Case
Custom Erie Digger Floor Model

This custom digger was built to order. It was constructed from the exact 1920s specifications using an original Erie Digger mechanism (1924 – 1946) which was completely refurbished. The play method is the original 6-stop in rotation system.

The cabinetry is solid oak wood construction, and finished in Red Oak stain and a, hand rubbed, gloss final finish. The 3 header signs are hand painted on the reverse of the glass panels, and back lighted by an incandescent fixture. Signs on the interior cabinet back are “How To Play”, and “The Erie Digger” (a brief history of the machine).

This impressive piece is now owned by one of the nations foremost collectors of pre-1950 diggers.

Electro Hoist – A Decidedly Deco Style Traveling Crane

This Star Mfg. Co. Electro Hoist is a 1930’s overhead crane of superior design which has been faithfully restored by Starbillias. The Starbillias Company has galleries in Disney World and in Disney Land, which offer only the finest restorations and unusual, authentic, original devices from the entertainment and amusement world. All the cabinet wood has been refinished and the metal parts polished or re-plated. The electric mechanism works properly by the original Dumore motor on insertion of a 5¢ coin. I keep this beautiful machine in my personal office as a beautiful example of a Deco Era digger, and to show off a fine restoration.

Buckley, Treasure Island, 1930’s

Skill Crane, 1940’s Custom Replica

Stutz Mfg. Co., Yankee Traveling Crane on Wheels, mid-1930’s

Erie Skill Crane, 1940’s replica

European Built Bridge Transporter

Exhibit Supply Company, Blue Streak, circa 1939

Imperial, Mfg. by Exhibit Supply Co, circa 1935

Completely restored example of the elegant Imperial model digger which was manufactured in the mid-1930s by the Exhibit Supply Co. of Chicago. Now part of a private collection.

One more Imperial is currently on-hand in the studio for upcoming restoration.

Novelty Candy Vender (Rotary Digger), circa 1938

The Novelty Candy Vender was a quite involved, chest-type, claw digger machine manufactured by the Exhibit Supply Co. in the late 1930s. It was a very expensive model considering the formidable extra mechanical and decorative features it offered.

The playing method is a bit different than most diggers. The sweep of the crane boom arm is controlled by the hand wheel on the front of the cabinet. The turntable rotates upon the insertion of a coin. The player then manipulates the crane boom and uses the stop button to target the desired prize. When the stop button is pushed the turntable stops and the digger automatically drops, grabs, and returns to dump in the center opening of the turntable. The claw can therefore reach any area of the prize field, overcoming a common complaint of most diggers of the period.

Additionally, a mechanical vending assembly dumps a few small candy mints into the prize door with each play – an attempt to class this machine as a “vendor” rather than a “gambling device”.

Considering all of these very special features, along with the beautiful walnut and bird’s eye maple cabinet, this is truly a top of the line collector/investor machine and is now featured in a fine private collection of antique coin-operated machines.

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