Wall mounted amusement arcade machine

Made:
1931-1940 in United Kingdom

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Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Amusement arcade machine, for wall mounting, with central targets marked either 'won' or 'lost', activated via penny (1d) slot and rewarded winning players with a cigarette payout, no maker indicated but probably made in UK, c. 1930-1940.

You’re in an amusement arcade in the 1930s, and you’ve put a penny in this slot machine hanging on the wall. The pinball has spun around the ring, and dropped into the nail maze where it…falls…into…a target marked…won! You hold your hands out to collect the cash. But out pops a single cigarette. Has somebody fiddled with the machine?

No, this really is the payout. It’s hard to imagine now, but cigarettes were part of everyday life, and not an unusual prize. Even in 1958, when the link between smoking and lung cancer was becoming known, fourteenth prize in the Royal College of Nursing Christmas Raffle was 100 Churchman No. 1 cigarettes – more valued than the box of cosmetics for sixteenth place, but less than the nylon stockings for twelfth and thirteenth places.

Anyone could play this machine, if they were tall enough. Was this a problem? The Children’s Act of 1908 had forbidden the sale of tobacco, cigarettes and cigarette papers to under-16s, but who would be policing this arcade game? Street vending machines were similarly difficult to regulate, a problem that persists today.

Once won, it seems there was an overwhelming urge to smoke the prize cigarette straight away. What’s the evidence for this? There is lots of crusty old chewing gum on the bottom of the wooden cabinet. Is this what happened: win a cigarette, ditch the chewing gum on the nearest available surface, and puff away?