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How To: Buying Your First Soda Machine
by Dan Kwate

"How To: Buying your first Soda Machine" originally appeared in the May 1997 issue of Club Soda and is reprinted here thanks to author and publisher Dan Kwate. Follow the link at the end of this article for information about Club Soda subscriptions and Club Soda's restoration services.

For the prospective collector of soda machines, the sheer number of models available can make choosing the one that's just right for you a daunting task. Although the choice can be influenced heavily by such subjective things as aesthetics--"I bought it cause it looks cool."--there are some general guidelines which one can follow to focus and direct their search for the perfect soda machine. This article is a discussion of these guidelines.

Quikold produced embossed chests like this Nesbitt's Standard for several of the smaller soft drink companies.

Chest Coolers and Uprights

Chest coolers were produced from the late 1920's through the late 1950's, with cooling system design evolving from ice to cooled water to cooled air. Three types of chest coolers were produced. Ice chests rely solely on ice to cool the machine's contents. Water cooled chests have a refrigeration unit which cools the water in which the bottles rest. Some water cooled chests have a small motor which circulates the cold water to provide more efficient cooling. Still other chests have a refrigeration unit which cools the air inside the chest. Some air cooled chests have fans to circulate the cold air. As if this weren't confusing enough, some chests (like the Quikold 1400 WD2) were designed to be used as water-bath or air-cooled units.

Most chest coolers were self serve--that is, they lacked a coin-operated vending unit. Instead, the thirsty customer was responsible for paying the clerk at the counter. The most notable exceptions to this rule are the Vendo line of chest coolers (actually Westinghouse water cooled chests on which Vendo installed coin-operated vending units, of which the Vendo Jr. is by far the most popular) and the Ideal chests known in the hobby as Sliders because of the way the customer must slide a bottle through a maze to remove it from the machine.

The 1950's was the decade of upright, coin-operated, mechanically-actuated soda machines. The vast majority of soda machines which permeate our dreams and cause us to drive hundreds of miles chasing down not-so-promising leads, endure colossal phone bills, and engage in other acts of demonstrated obsession are 1950's uprights. All upright machines are air cooled.


The Vendo Jr. is actually a Westinghouse Jr. ice chest which Vendo equipped with a water-bath refrigeration unit and a coin-operated vending unit.

Brand

Some machine manufacturers (Vendo, Westinghouse, and Cavalier) produced machines exclusively for Coca-Cola, while others (Vendorlator, Ideal, and Jacobs) produced machines for "off-brand" (anything other than Coke) companies as well as for Coca-Cola. Still other companies (Quikold, for instance) seem to have produced machines for almost every soft drink company except Coca-Cola.

Generally, compared to off-brand machines, Coke machines are downright common. For every 7-Up VMC-33 I see or hear about, for example, I'll watch at least 100 Coke Vendorlator 33's float by. There are two notable exceptions to this rule:

Twenty distinctly embossed Ideal 55 Sliders, representing 16 different brands, have been verified.

Embossed Coke Ideal 55 Sliders are much less common that their 7-Up , Pepsi, and RoyalCrown counterparts. Similarly, the Coke VMC-88 is heavily outnumbered by the Pepsiversion.

Amongst the general public, Coke is undoubtedly the brand of choice. Restorers reportthat retail sales of soda machines overwhelmingly involve Coke machines over any other brand.

Round vs. Square

Round-top soda machines were produced through the 1959 model year. The dawning of the 1960's brought with it the beginning of the square-top era. The transition from round-top mechanically-actuated, external coin door machines to square-top, electrically-actuated, flush coin door machines was not an abrupt one. As a result, there are square-top mechanical machines (Vendorlator 56, 81, 88) with either external or flush coin doors, as well as square-top electric machines with external coin doors. Most square-top machines were not embossed: I have seen a few electric 7-Up Vendorlator 56's which were embossed below the external coin door, however.

The jury is still out regarding the collectibility of square-top machines. At present,their value is generally determined by the extent to which their parts will interchange with those of round-top machines. If square-top machines do indeed become collectible, I'm certain that the ones which share the most characteristics with their round-top counterparts (mechanical actuation, external coin door, embossing) will command the highest prices.

Size

When it comes to soda machines, like other things in life, size does matter. In general, but unlike some things in life, the smaller the machine, the better. The Cavalier 72, for instance, is worth more than the Cavalier 96, an identical machine except for its 10" increase in height and corresponding larger capacity (note that machine manufacturers named upright machines for the number of bottles they hold). Similarly, Quikold's Junior chest coolers are worth far more that the Master or even Standard models.

Embossed vs. Decaled

Embossing is a good thing and, in this case, the larger the better. Both Vendo and Cavalier produced the 81 and 72, respectively, with large and small embossed logos. The large-embossed versions command significantly higher prices. Some soda machines were not embossed; instead, the logo was a decal. With these machines (like the Coke Vendorlator 27 and 33) the fact that they were not embossed is not a huge problem. I believe, however, that they would be more desirable had they been embossed. For machines that were embossed, the 7-Up Vendorlator 33 and 81 for example, an embossed machine decaled to look like the embossed model isn't worth anything near what the actual embossed version is worth. An unembossed Vendorlator 33 with 7-Up decals isn't considered a 7-Up 33--it's actually a Coke 33. Similarly, a decaled Royal Crown Vendorlator 81 is nothing more than an unembossed 81--still a desirable machine, but worth roughly one third as much as a real Royal Crown 81.

The development of the Coke 81 evolved from the 81A (all red, small embossing, small coin door) to the 81B (small coin door, large embossing, white top), and finally to 81D (large coin door, large embossing white top). Of the three, the B is the least common. Vendorlator made embossed 81's for Pepsi (right), 7-Up, Royal Crown (above), and an unembossed 81 which was adorned with porcelain signs by Dr. Pepper or with decals by various soft drink companies. All off-brand 81's have large coin doors and were originally one color, although they are often restored with white tops.

Rare vs. Common

Naturally, the harder it is to find a particular model, the higher is its value. This is not to say that rare machines are necessarily worth more than common ones, however. The Vendo 39, the most common upright machine ever produced, is worth far more than the Vendorlator 149, a significantly less common machine. But the rarity rule does still apply: the Vendo 39 would be worth more than it is if it were less common and the Vendorlator 149 would be worth even less than it is if it were more common.

Coin-Op vs. Self-Serve

Coin-operated machines are worth more than self-serve ones. A good illustration of this rule is the Westinghouse/Vendo Jr. mentioned earlier: the ice-cooled Westinghouse chest is worth roughly one half as much as the same chest with the water-bath refrigeration unit and coin-operated vending unit installed by Vendo. An even more striking example is the Vendo Six Case Vertical, also known as the self-serve 110. Unrestored coin-operated Vendo 110's currently sell in the $500 - $1,000 range, while their self-serve cousins aren't collectible, much less worth hundreds of dollars!

Intended Use

Most soda machines are single-selection, thus limiting the customer to just one flavor. A few models (Vendo 56, 81, 110 and Cavalier 72, 96) vend multiple flavors and, with the Vendos, multiple bottle sizes. Such vending flexibility increases the value of these machines. A few models can be modified to vend cans. Additionally, reproduction vending mechanisms have been manufactured for some machines which enable them to vend cans. The Vendo 39, 44, 80 and the Vendorlator 27, 33, and 72 are capable of vending cans through either the installation of a reproduction vending mechanism or the modification of the original one.

Restoration

he restoration of a soda machine, unlike many collectibles, does not decrease its value. In fact, while an excellent original-condition machine is worth more than one which needs to be restored, it is not worth as much as the same machine were it restored. Although decals, gaskets, and plastic parts have been reproduced for most soda machines models, the availability of some metal parts, because of their relatively high manufacturing costs, can be limited. Similarly, the demand for some parts might justify a single production run, but not a second one. Some parts are too complicated, and thus too expensive to produce at all, forcing the restorer to find original parts--generally not an easy thing to do. So although you shouldn't shy away from a machine just because it needs to be restored, you should do your home work. Find out what parts are and are not available before you find yourself standing in front of a Vendo 81 wondering if a missing coin mechanism means you should pass on a machine.

A Final Word

Hopefully this article has provided enough general information about the types of soda machines available to help you decide which one meets your needs. While none of the rules set forth in this discussion should be totally ignored, the weight you give each one is purely a matter of personal preference. Perhaps the single most influential factor in deciding on a particular model is--and in my opinion should be--how much you like it: I bought it cause it looks cool.

The Model 44 was produced by two companies. The Vendorlator 44 (pictured) lacks the large chrome coin entry bezel of the 44 manufactured by Vendo. Other than a few other very minor differences, the machines are identical. The Vendorlator is worthy slightly less than the Vendo

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April, 1997 issue of Gameroom Magazine.