The majority of the machines we collect are known by their correct manufacturer and model names (think Northwestern and Columbus). A few, however, are known by “names of convenience”, such as the lantern vendor (AKA Mystery 19) and the Reliable Vendor. No one has found hard evidence to show who actually made these machines, so in order to have a common reference we assign them a name taken from information found on a decal or flap if available, or perhaps based on the shape or some other characteristic of the machine.
It got me thinking about a scenario which, while hypothetical, is based on realities of the vending machine industry of yore.
In 1911, I. B. Handy invents a new vending machine. He patents it and then sells the rights to Shoddy Products Mfg Co. Shoddy Products names their new acquisition the Mammoth. They contract with Losten Foundry to produce them and then begin to market them for sale. Shoddy Products is a well-known east coast company, but in order to expand sales to the west they offer the Mammoth to a catalog house called Lagging Sales Corp. Lagging Sales adds the Mammoth to its catalog and is now handling west coast sales.
Meanwhile, there is an operator running a route of Mammoth gumball machines who buys his gum from the Blow Hard Gum Company. With each box of gum he buys from Blow Hard, he is given a stack of decals to put on the machines that read as follows:
Blow Hard Gum Co, Dayton, Ohio
Since the decals are free and they look great, the operator uses them on his machines.
Another operator takes notice of the Mammoth machines. He is so impressed by them that he decides to replace all of his machines with this model. He special orders 200 of them from Shoddy Products and requests that they are to be made with his company name, Tustale Vending, NYC, embossed into them.
Now fast-forward 100 years. One of these Mammoth machines is found in an old barn. The only identification on it is the Blow Hard Gum Company decal, so it becomes known to collectors as the Blow Hard, made in Dayton. A couple of years later someone turns up two Mammoths embossed with “Tustale Vending, NYC”. Finally the mystery is solved. They were made by Tustale Vending in New York; right?
Of course a records search might turn up several alternate possibilities. A catalog from Lagging Sales, advertisements by Shoddy Products, a patent by I. B. Handy, or an old photo of the Losten Foundry showing a newly produced row of Mammoths can each lead to different conclusions as to the maker.
Hopefully you’re not too dizzy from reading this fictional account, but I believe it makes the point that even with so-called hard evidence we don’t necessarily know the entire story of these machines.