Tuesday, April 21, 2015
A Penny a Light
ANSWER: From what you described, I’d say you have a Sellem match vending machine, most likely produced around 1912 by the Northwestern Corporation of Chicago, which also produced a varied line of gumball machines.
Northwestern released 70 different machines under the Sellem name, starting in 1911. In addition to the Sellem match vending machine, the company also produced stamp vending machines and another type called Penny Matches.
The Sellem line was the deluxe model of the Northwestern match vendor line. The top, front and base are all made in the beautiful Art Nouveau style from cast iron, not white metal as you supposed. Two dolphins decorate the front of this machine. The Sellem was the firm’s only model to have a cigar cutter and matchbox holder, both of which enticed customers to the machine and reminded them to buy a box of matches.
The Sellem came in two models. The A model had frames attached to the machine's sides and top that contained advertising panels and the more common B model, which seems to be what you have. The company also made a third version for a private match company, called The Scup. The Sellem dispensed small cardboard boxes of matches. The front of the machine had a holder that would hold the last box dispensed. These machines originally came in white, green or antique silver, and sometimes had brass-colored accents.
Back in 1912, you would have most likely found your machine sitting on a table in the smoking lounge of a fine hotel. It was the custom of gentlemen at the time to smoke cigars after dinner. When a gentleman inserted a penny, it would drop through the wooden piece and allow the push bar to go back and forth. The machine also had a removable match loading compartment which often is missing on ones appearing for sale today. The cigar tip cutter was an added feature that enabled smokers to prepare their cigar before lighting.
Sellem vending machines sell for between $300 and $400. However, a fine one sold at auction for $960, but that’s rare.