John Dennison fortune teller penny in the slot machine, £3600 at Special Auction Services.

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When a coin is dropped in, different mechanical 3D features are animated and operate for about a minute.

British examples offered in the Traditional Entertainment section of the December 6-7 sale at Special Auction Services’ (20% buyer’s premium) of Newbury proved popular with bidders.

A John Dennison of Leeds ‘extremely rare and probably unique’ penny in the slot counter-top clockwork fortune-telling machine c.1890s guided at £2000-3000 made £3600. Featuring a fortune-telling lady seated on a sofa with a crystal ball on the table, it was originally installed in Blackpool Tower.

Dennison (1847-1924) designed both the sets and the clockwork models himself. He first exhibited in the old Aquarium in Blackpool in 1891 and his family firm became based at the tower when it opened in 1894, leasing the models out to the attraction. After he died his three daughters carried on the business.

The Dennisons left the tower in 1944 and sold the machines to the Tower Company. They operated until 1963 but have since been dispersed around the world.


Tom Boland The Egyptian Tomb machine, £3200 at Special Auction Services.

A Tom Boland (also Leeds, c.1940s-50s) floor-standing penny in the slot The Egyptian Tomb model c.1954 realised £3200 on an estimate of £1500-2000. In a black and gold painted wooden case, it shows wooden tomb entrance with a mechanical metal figure sat outside.

Boland started out as a machine operator in 1926 but worked his way up through servicing and repairs before revamping old versions post-war when shortages were common.

Ill repute

Of US interest, a JP Seeburg Piano Company (Chicago) coin-operated electric Nickleodeon machine, 1925-28, Style C, named Xylophonium, sold for £3800 against an estimate of £1500-2000. Referenced in Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments by David Bowers, it was believed to have come “from a Kentucky dance hall of ill repute”.