In recent years, mechanical slot machines manufactured between 1894 and 1898 have sold at auction for record prices. These Liberty Bell machines were invented by Charles Fey, the pioneer of the first-ever slot machine with automatic payout.
Collectors and Investors
Highly sought after by both collectors and investors, Fey’s Liberty Bell machines made history, which is one of the reasons they fetch such high prices. In barely a decade, their resale value has doubled.
Charles Fey’s Background
German-born Charles Fey was a qualified instrument maker, and a mechanic by trade. He was an inventor at heart, right from an early age. After traveling through France and England, Fey immigrated to the United States in 1885.
He opened a mechanical workshop in San Francisco in 1890. When he discovered Sittman and Pitt poker machines in San Francisco bars in 1891, he immediately realized that more exciting slot machines could be invented. Even though Sittman and Pitt’s poker machines were very popular, they were not really optimal. They did offer prizes for winning combinations, but they paid out in cigars rather than real money.
Development of the First Slot Machine with Automatic Payout
After designing and building prototypes of new types of slot machines, Charles Fey created one that would change the gaming industry forever. In 1894, Fey designed his first slot machine with automatic payout, the Liberty Bell.
Liberty Bell Slot Machines from 1894 to 1898
From 1894 to 1898, Charles Fey built hundreds of different Liberty Bell slot machines in his San Francisco workshop. The original models from 1894 and 1895 are invaluable to collectors. Other 1898 models are also highly sought after – when inserting a nickel into the machine, players had a chance of winning 20 nickels (instead of 10 nickels on 1894 models).
Estimated Sale Prices
According to information published on auction sites, there are only seven Liberty Bell slot machines dating from 1894 to 1898 still in existence. Some of them are in very good condition, and are valued at over $250,000 each.
Record-breaking Sales on Auction Sites
According to the sales archives of auction sites, and by consulting all possible information on the rare sales of Liberty Bell slot machines, three landmark sales can be noted. Two sales took place in 2017, and one in 2020.
Below you’ll find details of the record sales of the Liberty Bell slot machine.
1894 Liberty Bell – $225,000
The highest sale to date!
Bought for $225,000, this Liberty Bell model is believed to be one of the first slot machines built by Charles Fey in 1894.
- Sale date: October 22, 2017
- Sold for: $225,000
- Source: liveauctioneers.com
1895 Liberty Bell – $174,000
This 1895 Fey machine offered the chance to win up to 20 nickels.
The copper finish around the cabinet gives the machine a touch of luxury and opulence.
This model proved to be very lucrative for Charles Fey’s business.
- Sale date: January 29, 2017
- Sold for: $174,000
- Source: morphyauctions.com
1898 Liberty Bell – $144,000
One of the many 1898 slot machines that could be found in San Francisco saloons in the late 19th century.
Barkeepers issued the payouts in tokens which could be redeemed for mugs of beer or bottles of whiskey.
- Sale date: October 31, 2020
- Sold for: $144,000
- Source: morphyauctions.com
Since Charles Fey’s death in 1944, a few dozen Liberty Bell machines have been acquired by private collectors. Over the years, however, the condition of some machines has deteriorated through lack of care. Others have rusted away in cellars and attics and have no resale value.
Archive Documents, Tokens and Photos
Original documents on Charles Fey’s slot machines are very rare.
The earthquake and fire that ravaged downtown San Francisco in 1906 did not spare Fey’s factory, and many of his machines were damaged. The same goes for photos of Charles Fey and his machines, and coins featuring the Liberty Bell slot machine.
Liberty Bell Slot Machine Models
Fey’s Liberty Bell machines from 1894 to 1898 were made to order. Early models from 1894 paid out 10 nickels when 3 bells aligned. At the request of certain operators, other models offered tokens that could be exchanged for drinks in San Francisco bars.
Liberty Bell machines paying out 20 nickels date from 1895 and 1898. There are no reliable records of Charles Fey’s slot machine production in 1896 and 1897.