The coming bull run

By frdelrosario

August 16, 2021


31 days ago

A pinball museum in Banning, Calif., closed, and its 1100 game cabinets are up for auction in Sept.

I suspect this event will push the home pinball hobby over the edge -- it was teetering -- into the sphere occupied by comic book, sports memorabilia, and automobile collecting. 

The Boom generation,  flush with capital and a bent for nostalgia, did its utmost to grow their fandoms into industries. This turned old-school collectors into headshaking cynics, but who needs those dinosaurs. It also meant their children couldn't experience collecting as fun; they've been flippers and brokers from the start, but they never knew any different. No harm, no foul.

Pinball collectors remind me of paper collectors in their painstaking attention to the condition and vintage qualities of every inch and corner of an item. Though they're better than toy collectors in that they intend to play with the goods.

Pinball collectors are like car collectors in their need for an additional garage or warehouse, because an acid-free longbox or polyethylene binder pocket won't do in their case. Car and pinball collectors are similar in their religious insistence on original or OEM parts where possible, though they're divided about modifications (I don't get Volkswagen enthusiasts who mod Karmann Ghias -- isn't a perfect design enough?!).

Pinball machines come equipped with rules cards, that thing only oddballs read about the game's objectives and happenings. I saw a fellow the other day who sought an original rules card to replace the ratty one in his machine. Dude, said some, it's a piece of paper; type one yourself. Nope, said the dude, he'll wait for someone to scrap their machine for parts, including the rules card.

Pinball and car collectors similarly like to get their hands dirty (unless they can afford not to), and restoration projects abound.

Pinball as a pastime died twice. First in the '30s when the machines were classified like slot machines. Then lawmakers learned pinball is a skill game in the '70s, and it boomed (the Ken Russell movie of Pete Townshend's opera about a pinball champion helped). Then video games came along, which occupy less floor space, and take in more money while costing less in maintenance.

For about 20 years, there was *one* pinball manufacturer afloat. Then one startup after another discovered that arcades and convenience stores were no longer the places that wanted pinball machines, but the homes of those capitalist Boomers. Pinball enjoys another renaissance among players and collectors, if not retailers.

Demand for pinball machines is outpacing supply. Only those with too much capital can afford five figures for the newest products, while prices escalate for older models.

Next month's museum auction will send prices rocketing across the board. The hardcore collectors will bid on pieces they don't have yet. People who want to start in the hobby or just want one to play will compete for the rest. Couple this with a 17% auctioneer's markup, and the fact that pinball machines only appreciate in value, and this "one time only" event is likely to affect the market forever.

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Comments

28 days ago

Sorry to see Banning go, but this auction will not be as big a deal as you’re making it. As you know, most of the 1100 pins are EMs, and while collected by some, I’d wager the boom generation is not as interested as they’d be in a modern pin. More machines for sale will deflate the market, not inflate it. With the exception of grail pins, I’d expect to see prices around average or possibly less. I wouldn’t mind grabbing their JJP Pirates CE, but it’s obviously going to be way out of reach for most. If someone’s looking for a Radical, Dr. Dude, or god forbid, a Hardbody or Future Spa, they should get a great deal. I might show up to grab one of their arcade games.

28 days ago

It's actually an additional 26% for the auctioneers markup. 23% if you pay in cash in person.

28 days ago

Usually we think of an increase in supply having the effect of lowering prices, but you could be right.

28 days ago

This is a pretty spot on assessment for the moment we are in, let's hope for the best and prepare for the not so best.

28 days ago

The Weeks family has an international audience for this once in a lifetime event. So yes, the grail pins will go higher than I think anyone is expecting. And during the auction as those go up and up and become out of reach, the next tier of games will have all kinds of bidders vying for them. Suddenly your list of “must haves” now may include games you originally might have passed on. This pattern most likely will trickle all the way down to the dogs of the collection.
Yet there aren’t a whole lot of dogs in the collection- and some of those seemingly dogs may be sample games or some other form of a rarity. The sheer number of games may create some bargains as buyers will be passing on certain titles waiting for the games they truly want. But then those passed over games may go higher than we think with new people entering the hobby, bidding against each other and willing to pay for a piece of pinball history. Who knows how it will go? I just can’t hardly wait to see how it all plays out!

27 days ago

Good read and I think you’re spot on. Check out the TWIP article today on Pinflation (by me) and you’ll really get depressed!

24 days ago

Hmmm wonder why they are going out of business?? $150/adult entree fee? Wow! That is absolutely ridiculous that one would charge that much! Go to pinball hall of fame in Las Vegas and it’s free entry! This place was doomed with those prices?!

24 days ago

Is there a list of the games being auctioned?

24 days ago

Unlike cars, pinball is still a fairly niche hobby. I'm 31 now and can't name a person I know closely who takes any interest in pinball beyond an occasional passing novelty at a barcade.

Home arcades have always been a symbol of disposable income, regardless of how cheap they may have been in some eras. A new machine is still out of our price range if we want anything beyond a single game at home, but as much as prices have increased for old titles, there are still deals to be had with patience and scouring. All five of our pins were bought well below the low end of pinside's estimates and three are fairly in-demand Williams/Bally SS from the 90s

Eventually, the Boomers will start dying off and their kids and grandkids will begin inheriting these complicated, large, and heavy machines. Some may take an interest, but I imagine most will sell off for pennies on the dollar regardless of any market research informing them.

As for Banning, it'll be a bit of both outcomes. Some machines will go for nutty prices and the less desirable machines will sell for fair deals, but the influx of these games on the private market will create more supply; an anecdote on my first hand experience. Last year, two sellers in San Jose tried to sell almost identical Judge Dredds for around 4k. I thought given the shape, they were priced a little high, but by virtue of the competition, each seller continually undercut the other until both machines dropped roughly 600 bucks.

This will happen with the Banning Machines. Folks are going to frenzy over some of them, but we'll also probably see more machines hit the used market as folks are forced to make space or refresh their collections. 600 pins coming available is good for all collectors regardless of how much they're overpaid for.

I digress, looking forward to this auction and making some popcorn for the proceedings!

24 days ago

Unlike cars, pinball is still a fairly niche hobby. I'm 31 now and can't name a person I know closely who takes any interest in pinball beyond an occasional passing novelty at a barcade.

Home arcades have always been a symbol of disposable income, regardless of how cheap they may have been in some eras. A new machine is still out of our price range if we want anything beyond a single game at home, but as much as prices have increased for old titles, there are still deals to be had with patience and scouring. All five of our pins were bought well below the low end of pinside's estimates and three are fairly in-demand Williams/Bally SS from the 90s

Eventually, the Boomers will start dying off and their kids and grandkids will begin inheriting these complicated, large, and heavy machines. Some may take an interest, but I imagine most will sell off for pennies on the dollar regardless of any market research informing them.

As for Banning, it'll be a bit of both outcomes. Some machines will go for nutty prices and the less desirable machines will sell for fair deals, but the influx of these games on the private market will create more supply; an anecdote on my first hand experience. Last year, two sellers in San Jose tried to sell almost identical Judge Dredds for around 4k. I thought given the shape, they were priced a little high, but by virtue of the competition, each seller continually undercut the other until both machines dropped roughly 600 bucks.

This will happen with the Banning Machines. Folks are going to frenzy over some of them, but we'll also probably see more machines hit the used market as folks are forced to make space or refresh their collections. 600 pins coming available is good for all collectors regardless of how much they're overpaid for.

I digress, looking forward to this auction and making some popcorn for the proceedings!

23 days ago

Given the location, average cost per square foot of storage and inflation I do not think this is going to be the case at all.
If the Captain's Auction team is smart they will have set some low reserve prices with the stakeholders on some of these
units to ensure they get sold. If you factor in the cost for Crating and shipping + premium your looking at a significant barrier
for many but the most passionate collectors. I'm sure that most of the local folks like me have some limits on just what they can
accommodate. That leaves big $ collectors who I'm sure are really only interested in about 5% of the games on this list those games
I'm sure will be popcorn worthy. Games that fall in the Pinside top 40 will surely sell at 10-20% over what they normally do.

The other games will likely not sell very high. Personally I'm eyeballing a couple games but long term I do not see this as a wise
investment unless I can get a game close to reserve. I think many people want games from the 90s or modern era or recently reviewed
or hyped on a stream. That said I am optimistic that a hand full of games that I have in my collection that I've earmarked to sell do well enough
so I can sell them at a good price.

23 days ago

Do you need to be on site to bid? Or is there a call in or online bidding system?

23 days ago

$150 entry fee?????? I'll take 3

22 days ago

Pinball, like any hobby, needs to evolve to survive. The influx of the young blood that you seem to be frustrated over is the only way it will keep going. As people get bored and move on, there needs to be new people that move in to take their place. One place going under will probably have a negligible effect on the industry. Look at video games, there are very few arcades left, but their industry is alive and well.

Just be careful not to let an age gap develop in pinball enthusiasts. We need to encourage young people, not push them out.

22 days ago

I've got at least 20 bids already put in at $20 per game

wish me luck

22 days ago

Sorry bro. I'm in at $21 now.

21 days ago

‘Demand for pinball machines is outpacing supply’.

Let’s see what happens when the supply of ‘free’ government money dries up. A sign of a bubble is when people can only envisage prices going up. The pinball market isn’t sustainable, as a machine is only a luxury. Let’s see where prices are in 12 months, especially as more and more people go back to other hobbies that involve the outdoors.

16 days ago

Yeah, no. This isn't going to change the market, and the EMs are dogs. Nobody wants to own that heavy a paperweight, and forget trying to repair them. Some pins will sell for some good prices, as people get swept up in the live bidding war and get carried away.

There are more pins than people in this hobby, and as pointed out, the boomers are dying out, and their kids will be eager to dump the massive space wasters once they stop working correctly. I think you are wishful thinking, as the owner of something they hope will become a good investment. They have value, but this sale isn't going to change the market.

16 days ago

Lol @ "the EMs are dogs". Such ignorance! I agree with the OP, I think the buzz and hype from this auction will get a bunch of new people interested in collecting (along with grow the reputation of Captain's Auction), and when only one or two of each game are being auctioned off, there won't be enough supply being reintroduced into the market to affect the demand at all. I sure hope pinball prices crash at some point but I don't see it happening in the foreseeable future. Hope I'm wrong though.

14 days ago

The entry fee was only $150 for the last time it was opened during Covid. Limited numbers. Usually entry was around $50.

14 days ago

This above article was written by a guy who has only been on Pinside about a month? Lots of misconceptions here.

Prices aren't going to sky-rocket based on an auction of these 600 pinball machines. Most of the exponentially higher prices achieved on used/restored machines over the last 5 years or so were dictated by factors not widely achievable/applicable in this auction.

The main factors missing here to achieve the highest possible prices for experienced collectors is knowing the true condition of the games.

Most bidders will *not* be on site for close inspection, and detailed condition reports are not available. While there are photos displayed with many of the listings, it is easy enough to hide flaws without high-res pictures that cover all aspects of these games. Also, as bidders from afar, there is no ascertaining the full (or partial) functionality of these games. When I buy a game on Pinside (or even eBay) I can see the reputation/experience of the seller, and often can request more photos. I can also get a detailed description of any restoration performed and repairs made to the game. Not so with this auction.

Sure, as experienced collectors we'll gladly bid/buy games from across the country without ever seeing them. But we won't pay top/record-breaking prices for games that we cannot see or at minimum get a full history on, or often just as good, buy from a reputable/experienced seller who knows the game inside and out.

I'm certain there will be newbies way overpaying for some games in this auction. There will also be hardcore, advanced collectors bidding very high on the rarer games. The auction fees and shipping costs will also play a huge factor in keeping the hammer prices down. Thinking that every game here is going to achieve new records in value is naive.

12 days ago

To all the comments about this auction not making a difference…most also state that the top 40 will go for higher prices. That will effect the market. Even as top pins prices increase, demand then for lower pins increases also. The auction last weekend in Tennessee might be a barometer for future events. Some of the highest prices I’ve heard of at that auction. Being a collector in a small state, I’ve been really surprised at the amount of interest in pinball lately. The people in their 40’s that played 90’s pins as teenagers are now in the position to acquire some of these classics…and they are.

10 days ago

It doesn't make sense to me that the Banning auction would cause prices to somehow jump up and start a "bull run".

Pinball is a niche hobby, as you mentioned, and suddenly dumping 1100 machines into the market will disrupt it, you're right about that. It will be like the ReplayFX closure, except on the other side of the country. I don't think it will cause prices to jump up, though. Perhaps the opposite, as suddenly there's a much greater supply of machines on the market, against the same demand.

There's inflation everywhere these days, in case anybody hasn't noticed. All prices have gone up, compared to pre-Covid prices. And, there have been supply chain disruptions, especially with expensive electronic toys, which pinball machines certainly qualify as. Nintendo Switch, Oculus Rift, PlayStation 5, NVidia RTX 3000-series video cards, all tough to get or completely sold out during the past year.

Stern's raising prices, but everybody else also is these days. Stern continues to aggressively cost-cut (as they've always done, ever since Data East days). I'm honestly surprised a Pro is still under $8K. Location pinball is opening up again, and $1/game seems to be the going price, the days of $0.75/game seem long gone. I remember in 2004 when $0.75/game was introduced: http://krellan.com/pinball/75cards/

Pinball on location was doing really well, before Covid. One huge reason: the most common and durable games on location are still the Williams 1990's games, and these older games are "new" to the people currently in bars and bar arcades, because they are playing them for the first time! When the games first came out, the customers simply weren't born yet, so they missed the chance to play them the first time around. This is also true for all the 1980's arcade games.

That reminds me, let's catch up on the history. As for pinball dying two times, it actually died three times. The third death was around 2000-2001, when Williams closed, Sega Pinball changed hands to become Stern and the last man standing, and then the 9/11 recession happened and people started staying home (just as now with Covid, many people stayed home out of fear). I remember our pinball league having to cancel some nights because of lack of players to make a quorum. That hasn't happened since then, thank goodness. Except for an unusually great year around 2003-2004 (LOTR, TSPP), pinball kind of sputtered around, as Stern didn't have any competition, and there was little public interest in pinball, so no real reason to improve.

Fast forward a little to 2009-2010. Another bad recession, the subprime mortgage recession, almost takes Stern completely out of business, nearly as bad as 2001. Another coincidence of events saves things: Stern gets recapitalized, due to some really lucky and well-timed outside investment. Jersey Jack starts up his company, giving Stern some serious competition for the first time in a long time, and going after the higher-budget collector, instead of a route operator who has to make ends meet. And, the pinball industry finally solves the argument of price versus features, by taking a lesson from the car industry, and offering the same game in multiple trim levels.

Pinball underwent another era-changing scoreboard technology change, the first that has successfully happened since 1991. Now, we have full color displays, and flat panels nicely fit into a traditional pinball backbox shape. LED lamp conversion kits, and display colorization kits, freshen up the appearance of old Williams games as well. Due to this, and a lot of good luck and great timing, pinball started catching on among location players again. There was a trend of nostalgia for hands-on tactile things such as vinyl records, which made a great comeback around 2015 or so, and pinball was able to follow right along and enjoy this boom.

So, that's where we're at now. Covid has hurt pinball on location, obviously, but as people stay home and get bored, home pinball continues to boom, and pick up the slack. Unlike the 9/11 recession, though, there's a lot of money floating around, and people seem to be more than willing to spend it on things they really want. With the high inflation these days, keeping a lot of free cash is almost a losing investment, so people are buying desirable collectible things instead, that are fun to play and have at home. Makes sense.

And, circling around to the reason for the Banning auction, legal pot is booming. Pot is still federally illegal, though, so pot growers and dispensaries can't use banks to deposit the cash. What to do with all that cash, easily stolen? Buy something big and heavy and valuable instead, that's tougher to move, like a pinball machine. And, it's fun, and pot and pinball go together very well, to the point I sometimes wonder if games will get built-in cigarette holders again, like Gottlieb woodrails. I'm in the Bay Area, of California, and I know of at least 3 excellent home pinball collections funded by pot, and there's probably a bunch more that I don't know about.

So, that's my opinion of it. I don't think the Banning auction will cause pinball prices to increase across the board, as there's many reasons for prices to increase now, independently of what the auction does. If anything, the increase in supply will create a temporary glut of pinball, enough to cancel out any price increase. That said, there are some amazing one-of-a-kind games in the Banning auction. The prototype "Super LE" of JJPOTC, with the moving treasure chest lid and the triple spinning wheel, I predict this will top $100K. You simply can't get that game anywhere else. Will that be a record for a pinball machine?

8 days ago

The general public does not care about pinball and most don't even know that pinball is still being made...

The public (and most collectors) could care less about 1100 (mostly EM games) at an auction with a 23-26% markup. This "five figure" nonsense is not accurate. That pricing is definitely a minority of all games sold these days. Trying to plug in this "companies can't make new pins fast enough" idea and apply it to selling used/routed games at an "as-is" auction with a huge buyers premium are two completely different things that have little to do with each other. If there were 1100 brand new titles, you might be on to something here but that is obviously NOT the case.

Most people that collect newer machines either do not have any EMs or, have a couple. There are so many reasons nearly none of them sell for big $ and you left every single one of those reasons out of the piece.

I'm certain a few rarities there will sell for big money. But, the vast majority of titles will go for fair market value or below with that crazy premium in place.

8 days ago

With an 18% premium and then tax, the higher the bid, the less value you are going to get. To wit, a 4000 bid is really 5000 out of your pocket. Be aware.

There is quickly a point where you MUST win low, or you would be better off buying from the local and online markets from private sellers. I see some bidders not factoring this in and getting caught up, and I see some resellers who do "high end restorations" that will pay too much. One being foolish, and the other planning to bilk some unknowing buyer out of too much cash.

But neither of these two things are going to drive prices up - it will cause a shuffle of pins that must go to make room for new purchases, though, so I'm looking forward to that almost more than the auction itself.

8 days ago

"Given the location, average cost per square foot of storage and inflation I do not think this is going to be the case at all.
If the Captain's Auction team is smart they will have set some low reserve prices with the stakeholders on some of these
units to ensure they get sold. If you factor in the cost for Crating and shipping + premium your looking at a significant barrier
for many but the most passionate collectors. I'm sure that most of the local folks like me have some limits on just what they can
accommodate. That leaves big $ collectors who I'm sure are really only interested in about 5% of the games on this list those games."

This. well said

8 days ago

Honestly between the auction mark up over 20% plus shipping costs. Anyone past the midway point in the country probably will not be bidding. At least not unless they have deep pockets or a grail game they just have to have. The average auction mark up around here is not more than 10%.

6 days ago

Being a guy who refurb's old EM's, and btw there is still a market for them among younger people as well as us geezers, I agree this might tend to slightly and for a short time depress EM prices. But EM's are really today a niche within a niche. I never have trouble selling a nice refurbished machine. But they are never going to demand big money. And yes, sadly we boomers are slowly disappearing. Hopefully enough of the younger enthusiasts will like having an EM here and there to keep most of them from being junked. But EM's have one other advantage, for the "average" person who can't afford thousands for a newer machine, an $800, or $1,000 refurbished EM is a nice, inexpensive, gateway drug.

5 days ago

OK, I disagreed. I thought supply would outstrip demand, you are right, i am wrong. Jesus Mary and Joseph , these prices are bonkers!

4 days ago

Looks like you were right. 10k + 25% for Rocky with a new white paint job on the cabinet !

3 days ago

I stand corrected about pinball pricing. The prices were inflated to be sure!

3 days ago

This auction was a joke!!! Shill bidders running every pinball machine up easy behind what their worth. That will only inflate the market, because some people will actually believe that a Last Action Hero goes for $6700.00 plus the 25% auction fee. Should've just been an in house bid that way shills couldn't jack up the prices. Either way I knew it would happen and that's why I didn't register.

3 days ago

I second that.
Some people are completely out of their minds...
10k + tax for a regular Monopoly ?? WTH ?

3 days ago

Yes, this auction is kind of a joke but this is good for the museum and the auctionhouse.
The prices are crazy and not to understand.

2 days ago

Every machine in this sale has been on route it's entire life and is far from "collector quality" so, why are these prices close to double what one could buy these for on the open market? My two cents, people get caught up in bidding and the moment of the auction. In that moment they become excited and lose all rationale. I bet the person that bought that beat up old used Monopoly for $10k would hate to see this ad from a "one owner collector quality"
://pinside.com/pinball/market/classifieds/ad/119911
I don't think these ridiculously adrenaline inflated bids will affect the real market too much.

2 days ago

The prices were so far outside the realm of current reality that no one in the collecting community would ever use them as reference. If they had been a little high, possibly. But these were so removed from real prices that this whole auction will be a running joke for years.

2 days ago

Hoping this isn't the case.

My love for pinball was just recently re-ignited when the brewery I work at put in a Black Knight: Sword of Rage Premium and an Iron Maiden: LotB Pro. I grew up playing the best machines without even realizing how lucky I was: T2 and Dr. Dude at the laundromat my parents went to; Junkyard and The Machine: Bride of Pinbot at the athletic club; Medieval Madness and FunHouse at the pizza joint down the hill from my house.

Now I'm hoping to pick up a machine of my own and I would absolutely hate for this silly auction to inflate prices more than the pandemic and stimulus spending already has. Feeling pressured to pick up a machine ASAP...

2 days ago

I feel pretty lucky that I have 3 of the 4 machines I really wanted, all in great shape and were reasonably priced. I play the hell out of them. At these prices I could care less about the 4th one out of principle....

2 days ago

I need some help in the stock market..

2 days ago

Watching the auction I couldn't help but feel these buyers are not enthusiast but those with more money then common sense, honestly who on the board is paying $14k for a routed BTTF? or $18k for a routed Hercules and those aren't isolated instances

2 days ago

I've watched a number of arcade / pinball machine auctions over the years and find people forget about the added fees, get caught up in the moment and overbid. Given this is a one time event, it won't impact prices. When selling anything, you can price it how you want, but that doesn't mean someone will buy it. We should be thankful pinball machines hold their values. Imagine paying $10K for a pinball machine only to have it depreciate to zero over 5-6 years.

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