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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.

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