It wasn’t the scantily dressed gal sitting in the paper moon–times two–that grabbed me. Although that, in and of itself, is intriguing. She could be a show girl from Ziegfeld’s Follies, or Earl Carroll’s Vanities or George White’s Scandals. Her cardboard sea is quite possibly the stage in the New Amsterdam Theater—when it was still new. And her costume, as revealing as it is, may have been designed by Erté.
But enough about the photograph—it’s the copyright that brought me to the penny arcade in that Barnum and Bailey world. And, it’s actually not all that phony…
Ex. Sup. Co. also known as Exhibit Supply Company was a Chicago company that had specialized in arcade machines and obviously photographs. They even produced a vending machine that sold the photos—direct retail 1920’s style. From 1900 until 1958 the company manufactured 360 different lines of coin operated machines, including 152 pinball machines, 124 arcade games, 21 trade games, 10 vending machines, 5 slot machines and 1 music machine.
The Hercules Ball Grip was a strength tester. One could play baseball and win gum with the counter top Batter-up Baseball Gum Vendor. Many fortune games including Color of the Hair, Color of the Eyes, Bouncer Fortune Teller, and Buddah Fortune Teller were manufactured; maybe they were the prototypes for Zoltar in Tom Hank’s Big.
Games of skill of many types–bowling, fishing, basketball, football–were designed and sold. As was quite possibly the original claw game—Iron Claw Model E. The juke box was appropriately named Listen to the Music Sweet.
The Model D and the Model E hawked the cards or photographs, which according to the International Arcade Museum included fortune telling, bathing girls, art pictures, autographed movie star portraits, cowboys, movie production stills, popular jokes, comics, and sports legends from the baseball diamond to the boxing ring.
I nicked a few of the lyrics of It’s Only a Paper Moon in the opening paragraph. The song was written long after the above photograph’s copyright date. Billy Rose and E.Y. Harburg scripted the lyrics, and Harold Arlen scored the melody in 1933. It was originally used in a Broadway musical set on Coney Island–naturally–called The Great Magoo. The musical didn’t make history, but the song has been recorded successfully by numerous musicians including Paul Whiteman, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and my personal favorite Paul McCartney.