‘We’ve got the largest arcade game collection in the UK with one-armed bandits from the 1890s’

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Father and son Ken and Stewart Jackson from Birmingham have been collecting arcade games for 34 years

A father and son from Birmingham could hit the jackpot when they sell their collection of classic arcade games for an estimated £100,000.

Ken Jackson, 89, and his son Stewart, 49, have spent four decades restoring dozens of historic slot machines. During their 34-year hobby, they have amassed a collection of 82 arcade games and one-arm bandits dating from the 1890s to the 1970s.

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The pair are now selling the machines - believed to be the UK's largest private collection - so they can downsize. The machines are expected to fetch between £50,000 and £100,000 when they go under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers’ on May 30.

One of the most treasured games is a one-arm bandit which had been left to rot at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Ken said: “As a child Stewart was fascinated by seaside slot machines when we visited Blackpool, Skegness and Torquay.  

“This inspired him to build his own primitive slot machine out of cardboard and wood when he was 10. Though I didn’t share Stewart’s passion for penny arcades, I discovered a passion for the restoration process.

“In 1990, when Stewart was 15, we saw a machine advertised - a 1961 Mills Bell-O-Matic Spanish Gold one-armed bandit. We purchased our first machine but when we got it home it wouldn’t work. We took it back and the seller thumped it with a hammer to make it work. 

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“We obviously knew this was not correct, so took it to pieces, bit by bit, taking photographs as we did. Eventually it worked correctly. I discovered I really enjoyed restoring machines to their former glory, so I had the bug for more.”

Stewart Jackson, left, and Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons AuctioneersStewart Jackson, left, and Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers
Stewart Jackson, left, and Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers

The pair soon became hooked on seeking out arcade machines which were damaged and dilapidated and restoring them to their former glory. Ken added: “All the machines were stripped down, repaired and restored. 

“Neither Stewart nor I have a mechanical engineering background, but I am a cabinet maker by trade which made it easier to restore the cabinets. The mechanical side we learnt as we went along but I have the correct machinery such as lathes and a sandblaster. 

“Also, I had some mechanical experience from stripping down and rebuilding car engines during my youth. Stewart was very interested in design and technology at school which gave him a grounding in mechanical problem solving. 

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“As we stripped the machines we took photos of each part, cleaned them up and eventually put them back together by looking at the photos. If they didn’t work the first time, we kept working on them to find out what the problem was. 

“We also acquired original manuals and books that showed step-by-step instructions on how to reassemble the machines. The first machine took two months to restore. All the work was done in our spare time, evenings and weekends.  

Stewart Jackson, aged 10, with his DIY one-armed banditStewart Jackson, aged 10, with his DIY one-armed bandit
Stewart Jackson, aged 10, with his DIY one-armed bandit

“On average, it probably took a couple of months per machine - some longer, others shorter. We didn’t buy any from seaside towns but we acquired one, a Bryans Bullion, when it was retired from Blackpool Pleasure Beach Dipper Amusement Arcade in the 1990s.

“We had contact with the Bryan family who owned Drayton Manor Theme Park at the time. They were descendants of William Bryan who manufactured machines from the 1920s, many of which we have in our collection.  

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“William Bryan’s son, Jim, supplied us with parts and instruction manual and allowed us to purchase original machines from him. It was never our intention to create an amusement arcade.  

“Once the machines were fully restored, we just wanted to retain them in pristine condition. We had the space at home to house them and, if we moved, we made sure there was a suitable room for them – they were part of the family.

“Sourcing them was a task. We found the first one, Spanish Gold, in Exchange & Mart in 1990. There were no internet classifieds such as eBay or Facebook back then. Also, in the 1990s travelling fairs and seaside penny arcades had machines in storage which they’d taken out of operation and replaced with electronic machines.  We sourced others from auctions all over the UK. But as the collectors’ market grew it became more and more difficult to purchase vintage machines.”

Watling Manufacturing Company Rol-a-Top (Bird of Paradise) 1936 one-armed banditWatling Manufacturing Company Rol-a-Top (Bird of Paradise) 1936 one-armed bandit
Watling Manufacturing Company Rol-a-Top (Bird of Paradise) 1936 one-armed bandit

The oldest and most valuable machine in the collection is a Mills Novelty Company Dewey 1898 floor roulette machine made between 1889 and 1930. The pair imported it from America and is worth between £15,000 and £20,000.

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It was named in honour of Admiral Dewey, hero of the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. Stewart said: “Another favourite of mine is a Watling Manufacturing Company Rol-a-Top, Bird of Paradise one-armed bandit made in 1936. It’s a high quality machine and has its original special award gold coins.” 

The pair have decided to auction the machines after they started taking up too much space at their homes. Ken said: “At the age of 89, I feel the time has come to look at downsizing and, unfortunately, Stewart’s home is not large enough to accommodate the collection.

"Obviously, because of all the work and effort we have put in on the machines, we would like them to go to good homes where they will be loved and well cared for.”

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