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Buying Pinball Machines


Staff member
Oct 5, 2012
South Wales
1. How to Find Them

Private Sellers




Private Sellers

Network, network, network- everyone you know should know that you are always looking



On-line newspapers

Post your own "Wanted to Buy" ads

Bulletin boards


Advertising circulars

Church bulletin

A sign on the side of the road


Befriend a plumber, HVAC person or electrician. They spend a lot of time in other people’s basements


US Amusements, Super Auctions and Auction Game Sales are three traveling auction organizations that sell amusement devices

Check on-line and watch your newspapers for dates

Claim to be selling off assets of closed arcades, and older items from places like theme parks

Usually only a handful to a couple dozen pins, in all kinds of conditions

Often moving the same junk auction after auction


Operators are the people who own the games seen (or used to see) in bars, bowling alleys, theatre lobbies, etc.

Yellow Pages- they are listed under "Amusement Devices"


Our opinion: Buy on eBay only if you are nuts

EBay is good for sellers, rarely for buyers

More ways to get scammed than we could possible cover in an afternoon.

Remember this: Buyer beware, and, If it’s too good to be true, it is not true

2. Make Contact

Private Sellers

Call or email right away- do it now!

Tell them you are a collector- they may like that better than a business, especially operators

Be friendly, relaxed, clear and professional- put the seller at ease. Resist the temptation to jump right into the game discussion

Ask for the name of game- often they do not know

Ask if it is working, or when they last remember it working

Be prepared to look at it right away, and tell the seller you are ready

If you are interested, state clearly to them “I am interested in buying the gameâ€

Give them your name and ask them theirs - it makes a personal connection between you and the seller

Get the address and map it on an Internet map service

If you have to delay seeing it, establish a time when you will be there.

Specifically ask them to call you before they make any other deal

Tell them you deal in cash and can take it away right way

Ask if the game is in a house, basement, barn or chicken coop.

Ask if there are stairs to negotiate

Ask if there is someone who can help you move it


Show up early, during the “inspection†time period

Bring your extension cord, price guide and tools

Register and get a number to bid

Bring cash

Be prepared to tear the game down and move it

Socialize! It’s your chance to meet other pinheads, including ones that may be selling a game or a part you want.


Call and ask if they have any older games they no longer want and may be interested in selling

Tell them you are willing to take dead or cannibalized games, or even parts like backglasses, playfields, etc.

Tell them you will pay cash

Explain that you will not expect a perfect or even functional game, and you will not ask them dumb questions about how to fix it

3. Inspect and Test

Tools/equipment needed (you can leave some of it in the vehicle):

Flashlight(s) or trouble light- bring at least two bright, battery powered lights


Mirror (handy to check inside and under things)

Wrenches: (2) 9/16â€, (2) ½†(multiple wrenches are in case the leg bolt plate is stripped and there are bolts inside the cabinet), 8mm hex

Screwdrivers, flat and Phillips

Rechargeable drill with a sharp ¼†bit (for keyless entry)

Ratchet straps or mover’s stretch (shrink) wrap

Big zipper bag for bolts, balls, keys, manuals

Foam rubber or other cushioning material for folding heads

Extension cord

Paper towels and glass cleaner

Cell phone

Latest Price Guide

Collector or Business cards (make some up on your computer- they are handy for leaving behind)

Cash- in a pocket, not a wallet, so you can show it without fumbling


Dust mask- we aren’t kidding- we should have had these on several occasions when games were covered in dirt

Friend w/ a strong back

In the vehicle:

Fold-up saw horses


Blankets, cardboard or similar for packing in vehicle

Appliance dolly or at least a hand truck

Private Sellers

When you show up, look clean, neat and trustworthy. Appearance is very important to private sellers. Introduce yourself and start to build a relationship. Tell them how nice their town/neighborhood/house is. Ask them how they got the game, how long they have had it, why are they selling it. Be friendly and open; try to be someone they like having in their house. They are more likely to give a good price to someone who puts them at ease. As you go through the inspection, ask if it is OK to open up the game, turn it on, etc. This shows respect and builds trust


Dress warmly in the winter; be prepared to stay the whole day. Pinballs are almost always auctioned last. You may be allowed to open the game, you may not. Power it up and see what it does- if it smokes, it’s not your game


Some may leave you to wander around piles of bird-crap encrusted games, others will watch you like it says “criminal†across your forehead. Ask before doing anything, like opening a game or powering it up. Try and get a feel for what they expect you to be doing. Building trust is important. Dress appropriately for a really dirty environment.


The camera does lie. Mediocre playfields and backglasses look like NOS champs in 90K jpegs. Descriptions are even less likely to tell the truth. Questions may help- make them as specific as possible. If the seller is cose enough and you are interested enough, ask if you can physically inspect the game. Learn to recognize obvious scams- sellers with no feedback, sellers in Nigeria that claim the game is your home town, games close to home that you are not allowed to inspect.

If they want to talk price right away, see if you can distract them or say “well let’s not talk price until we see what we’ve got†so you can get on with the inspection

If you are interested, start a methodical inspection, take your time

Turn on the room lights if possible

Clear away surrounding stuff


Use flashlight to inspect the cabinet paint/decals on all sides

Check legs/trim/coin door for rust, dents, damage

Check for paint/decal fade or wrinkling-look at all sides

Check condition of the power cord


Clean or remove PF glass- Open the coin door, find the lever and release the lock bar. 40s-50s-60s games may require you to remove the two wing nuts inside the coin door to remove the lock bar. Remove the lock bar and slide out the glass.

Place the glass somewhere safe, but not directly on concrete.

Inspect playfield, check the following carefully

All parts present? (especially plastics)

Ramps- look for cracks with the flashlight up close

Wear- Look carefully around inserts, pop bumpers, top lanes, slingshots, saucers and flippers

Backglass- get up close with lots of light. Look for scratches, paint lifting and “thinning†of the inks

If possible, remove the backglass and look at the screened side

Later games (90s-00s) have translates. They can scratch and they can fade

Inside Cabinet and Head

Be sure all balls are removed before raising the playfield!

You should get familiar with lifting the playfield and opening the backbox on various ages of games

Open it up- 40s-50s-60s games may require you to remove four screws on the rails around the playfield. 60s Gottliebs have a playfield lock inside the cabinet that requires you to pull a bar forward. Lift the playfield and support it with the propstick, or pull the bottom forward and lean the PF against the backbox. Some 80s-90s games like Addam’s Family have pivoting playfields. Later Bally/Williams and Sega/Stern games have a pull/ pivot mechanism. Opening the backbox: EMs have a key lock in the back door at the top. Early SS games have locks in the side of the backbox or top center in front. After unlocking, lift the backglass at the bottom, then pull it forward slightly to sclear, then lower it enough to free it. 80s Bally backglasses are in a door. Later SS games have a lock top center, lift out the backglass, then lift the speaker panel about 1 ½ inches and bring it forward.

Completeness- look for missing parts, boards, assemblies, cut wires

Condition- excessive rust, dirt, signs of spray contact cleaner or lube spray

Signs of poor repair- odd looking wire, connectors, electrical tape, amateur soldering

Damage- sign of too much heat (transformers, circuit boards and connector plugs especially), water damage, insects, mice, etc.

White powder on metal parts under playfield can mean water or saltwater damage


Are the manuals, schematics and other typical papers included?


It can be risky. Ask first if they know how functional it is. Be prepared to turn it off right away. Listen for locked-on solenoids buzzing

Modern games can give you error information and diagnostic tests

Late 70s-80s games can test switches, displays, sounds lamps

Resist the temptation to poke around and see if you can get it going- don’t fix anything, no matter how easy or obvious

Does it boot/reset?

Will it take a credit?

Will it start a game?

Sound board/chimes/bells working?

Solenoids working?

Score displays/score reels working?

General illumination (GI) lights working?

Feature lights (machine controlled) working?

TIP: Watch your poker face! Don’t talk about how rare it is or how you have been looking for that game for 35 years. Don’t talk the game down- a seller will take comments about the game personally- as if you were attacking them or their business. It’s OK to mention anything that concerns or disappoints you, such as completeness, modifications, and exceptionally bad conditions of any part. Just mention it in passing, like: “Wow, that playfield has seen a few miles†or “Gee, the plastics on this game always seem to be beat upâ€

4. Negotiate

Applies to Private sellers, Auctions, Operators and eBay

Getting a price in mind

Is it a popular title that you know the going price for? The price guide may go out the window.

Certain titles are so desirable, that it is more a matter of “what are you willing to pay†than market value

If unsure of any special collector value, start with what a “base†game of that vintage would go for.

Subtract value for anything that is missing, broken, damaged, rusty, etc.

Add value for anything that is clearly above average such as a perfect backglass, cabinet or playfield

Evaluate the game’s “fun potential,†rarity, collectability or profit potential

How many of the repairs are trivial? How many are major? A missing flipper button is a couple of dollars, a missing backglass could be hundreds if one can even be found. Some things, such as ‘planking’ of the playfield wood surface cannot be fixed. Missing playfield plastics may be impossible to obtain, can you reproduce them? Cabinet repaints are difficult and time consuming.

If the game is generally good, but there is something wrong, like a poor cabinet, playfield wear or a flaking backglass, ask yourself how you will feel about that problem in the future- will it bug you forever or will you never think of it again?

Do you want the game, or will you just “take it if it’s cheap�

IMPORTANT: Good negotiation requires discipline. Decide on the maximum you will pay for the game, a specific firm number, not a range, before you open your mouth! Remember that game prices are constantly rising. Then stick with your number

Talking Money

Private sellers and Operators

Ask them for their best price. It is best if they say a number first

If you have to be the first to mention a price, start low but not insultingly low

If the seller gives a price that is at your price or below, and you want it, ask if they can “do a little better†or “that’s a bit more than I was planning to spend†to see if they will move

If they are insanely high, just say that you can’t afford it. Don’t tell them they are out of line, no matter how tempting. Don’t say a number, instead speak in generalities, or they may take it as an insult. Leave your card and part as friends. You won’t be able to re-educate them in 2 minutes.

If you are offering a descent price but they won’t agree, pull out the cash- seeing the green stuff is highly motivating- say: “I have the money with me…†(Depending on how safe/secure you feel)

If their price is too high but somewhat close, don’t say anything for a bit, then tell them that it’s “a bit out of my range†and start to pack up your stuff- don’t be afraid to leave, they may start negotiating again. You made up your mind earlier on what your maximum price is.

If you are ready to buy, tell them you accept the price and you will pay them before you take it away.

Lowballing- The practice of fishing for a really low price when you don’t care too much whether the deal goes through. You may get lucky and have an uninformed seller- or you may make a seller mad and get shut out of this and any future deals. We don’t recommend it when dealing with operators, and it can be downright mean when dealing with private sellers who may not be informed (little old ladies). If you can’t get your price, be polite, and give them your card- take the long view

If you were close on price, call back a few days later and see if it’s still available- they may be willing to deal

Auctions and eBay

Discipline! Avoid “Auction Fever†-The most important thing is to keep your pre-determined maximum price in mind and do not exceed it, no matter what the temptation

Auctions will have a “buyers premium†of about 10-20%. This can be significant on more expensive items. Keep it in mind as the price goes up- mentally add it on to your bid so you know what you are committing to

Watch out for ‘shill’ bidders- bidders that are working for the auctioneer or seller and drive the price up (live auction or eBay)

Watch out for “phantom bidders†– when auctioneers increase the price by pretending they have a bid- usually to keep momentum going (live auction)

You may also be bidding against the seller/owner – at live auctions they tend to have a really low bidding number because they get there early- these are called “buy-backs†and are legal (live auction)

If you lose the auction to a “buy-backâ€, approach the owner and try to see if you can buy it direct

5. Buy

Private sellers and Operators

Hand over the money- you may want to get this out of the way before you tear it down and pack it up- sellers can get cold feet when they see their childhood game going away

Pay cash- any other method could let them change their mind

Get a receipt- you could be buying a disputed or hot item! This is a must when dealing with operators!

Auctions and EBay

Auctions will charge a buyer’s premium. They used to charge for using a credit card. Using a credit card may give you some protection

EBay: Paypal is the best way to pay if the game is to be shipped, if you pick up the game, pay cash. Get a receipt

6. Teardown and Move

Private sellers, Auctions and Operators

Note: Live auctions will require you to pay before packing up and removing the game

Move the game out to where you can work on it

Take out all the balls, coin box, manuals and anything else that is loose in the cabinet.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR FOLDING HEAD GAMES! Check that all leg bolts back out when turned with a wrench- BEFORE folding the head. If some do not, the internal threaded plate may be stripped. You must address this before lowering the backbox

Open the backbox- Lower or remove the backbox:

SS: 70s-80s games: Unlock the backglass (lock is on side of backbox or top center), lift the glass up and out (70s-80s Bally- swings open like a door). Swing the lightboard out on its hinges. Remove all the electrical connectors that connect the backbox to the body and push the wiring into the cabinet. There is a wing nut or screw to hold the ground strap. Have someone hold the backbox to stabilize it, and then remove the bolts that hold the backbox to the cabinet. Close the light panel. Grab the backbox and lower it to the ground (there is a tab at the bottom back of Williams games such as Black Knight, requiring the backbox be slid forward slightly first). Replace the backglass and lock it, or transport he backglass separately.

SS: 80s-90s-00s Williams/Bally games: Check that the clip on the outside lower back of the backbox is engaged and holding the backbox. Unlock (top center) the backglass, lift the glass up and out. Lift the speaker panel up about 1 ½ inch and pull forward. Lay the panel on the game. Remove the bolts that hold the backbox to the cabinet. Swing the lightboard out on its hinges for access if needed. Close the lightboard, replace the speaker panel and the backglass and lock the backbox. Place cushioning material on the side rails. Hold the backbox, release the clip on the outside back of the backbox, tilt the backbox forward.

80s-90s-00s Data East/Sega/Stern: Make sure the backbox lock is locked and holds the backglass securely. Place the cushioning material on the rails, insert the 8mm hex wrench in the hole in the lower back side of the backbox and rotate the wrench to release the backbox. Lower the backbox.

EMs: Unlock (top center of back door) the back door of the backbox, tilt the door back and lift it out. Disconnect wiring connectors and push them into the cabinet. Hold on to the backbox and remove the bolts that hold the backbox to the cabinet. Lower the backbox to the ground. Replace and lock the back door.

Wrapping/Strapping (Folding Backbox Games)

With cushioning material between the backbox and the cabinet rails, hold the head in place with mover’s stretch wrap or a ratcheting strap. Use cushioning material to keep the ratchet strap from damaging the corners or sides of the backbox or cabinet. If the game could get wet, or you are moving into storage, cover the game in stretch wrap.

Legs Off

Remove the rear legs first. Support the rear of the game; he-men can stand on one leg, balance the game on their raised thigh and remove the legs, then lower the game to the ground. People who don’t want to damage their spine can get a helper, or a barstool, a pre-cut piece of 2x4, sawhorse, chair or other temporary prop. If the leg bolts turn but do not loosen, or only partially loosen, you have problems. The leg plate inside the cabinet is stripped. Open the coin door to remove the lock bar, then remove four screws on the rails around the playfield). Lift the playfield until you have access to the stripped leg bolt plate. If there is a nut on the bolt, hold it with a wrench or the Vicegrips. From the outside of the cabinet, remove the bolt. If the bolt is stripped, you may have to push out on the inside end of the bolt while someone turns if from the outside. As a last resort, if you can get the bolt out a little bit, cut off the head with a hacksaw. With the back of the cabinet on the ground and the front still on its legs, grab the front of the cabinet and tilt the game up to sit on the back of the cabinet. Remove the front legs. Put all the bolts in a bag. Stack the legs and stretch wrap them, or use an old rubber ring to hold them together. Don’t use tape

Out and Into the Vehicle

Check the path- can you make the turns, are the doors wide enough, are the floors likely to get scratched, and are hand rails or knobs in the way? The better the hand truck, the easier the job. An appliance dolly with a strap and stair climbers is great, but can add bulk and make it hard to turn corners.Into the vehicle- a piece of carpet, cardboard or heavy plastic can make the game easier to slide. Set the game on its back with its underside facing the door/hatch. Take it of the hand truck, then tilt it into the opening, coin door in first. Lift the rear end, and push it into the vehicle.

If the game has a removable backbox, wrap it in the blanket and slide it along side the cabinet. Make sure nothing can hit the glass. Make sure there is padding between the cabinet and the backbox to prevent rub marks. Don’t forget to pack the legs, bags, coin door, etc. Don’t let them scratch the cabinet or backbox.


Be sure to negotiate the exact shipping terms and cost. Understand exactly how the game will be packaged, and who will transport it. Get tracking numbers. You may want to have a friend or fellow pinhead that lives local to the seller go and check (under the guise of “helpingâ€) on the packing of the game. Try and meet the shipper when the truck arrives- if there is damage, that is the time to file a claim

Now enjoy your new pinball!
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