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Roll up, roll up – try your luck on the old penny machines by Karen Johnston

Wednesday 26th July 2017

I absolutely love anything that is a little bit different which is why I am crazy for the ‘All the Fun of the Fair exhibition’ at the Discovery Museum this summer. Celebrating 135 years of the Hoppings festival, the ‘All the Fun of the Fair’ exhibition is a fantastic nod to the nostalgia of the fayre. When I first walk into the exhibition as a volunteer I am struck by how deathly quiet it is on a morning. The colourful signs and strung fairy lights really add to the carnival atmosphere. ‘All the Fun of the Fair’ is an incredibly exciting exhibition as not only is the beautifully decorated machines a reminder of the craftsmanship, but the exhibition helps create a sense of nostalgia as you walk around the display. I am always a fan of the use of space in an exhibition and the clustered arrangement of the free-standing machines adorning the middle of the room work to provide a typical amusement feel.

What is even more exciting is that despite their age, most of the machines still work allowing visitors to become fully immersed in the nostalgia. As a volunteer we are there to remind visitors of this nostalgia selling old penny coins, five for £1. It is always something of a surprise to visitors when they realise that unlike most museum exhibitions, you can touch and play on the machines. It is a delight to see how much joy the exhibition has brought to the public both young and old. Speaking with the machine owner Kevin, you become aware of the care and time taken to maintain the machines. We all have our favourites I am sure but for me, it is not the one armed bandit (a game I constantly feed when I volunteer in the hope of winning more coins), nor the popcorn crane where the aim of the game is to fill the dump truck with as many popcorn kerns as you can before clocking off time (although this is a close favourite), but rather the working model machines. Upon writing this there are four working models which have been intricately designed to provide amusement. The working models of the Miser and the Night Watchmen are beautifully created and although they are not a game, they are quite comical in the scenes they present. As a former archaeologist however my favourite has to be the Pharos fortune teller machine, partly for the beautifully decorated Pharaoh death mask that adorns the machine, and, partly for the humour the revealed skeletons provide. The Pharos fortune teller game asks you to spin to a question and once the coin is placed inside, the inner workings of the game reveal your fate.

As a regular volunteer for this exhibition I have witnessed a few malfunctions which unfortunately has resulted in the replacement of some machines. This however, does not detract from the exhibition and seemingly adds an authenticity to the exhibition that might previously have been lost if the machines did in-fact behave. The exhibition caters for everyone with a hook-a-duck stand for young children, two player games to encourage adults with the exhibition and memorabilia surrounding the arcade. Logistically, it is a shame that the dark entrance tunnel could not have been transformed into a house of mirrors or ghost train to fully immerse you in the fayre. Undoubtedly, this is one of my favourite exhibitions and I promote it to everyone I speak to!




  1. Gravatar for twmuseums_usr

    twmuseums_usr31st Aug 2017

    Thanks for this John. The work that you and all of our volunteers do in 'All the Fun of the Fair' is tremendous. The gallery is always 'jumping' with people having a great time. I am very glad it brings back memories for you as well as our visitors. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing and for those too young to have played these machines the first time around, I hope that they build memories of their own for being in Discovery Museum playing the 'slots!'

  2. Gravatar for john mcmanus

    john mcmanus25th Aug 2017

    I've been working as a volunteer on the 'All the fun of the fair' since it first opened to the public, and I must say it's been a great success with the public, as you say young and old, people who remember the machines from their childhood, and children who see them for the first time. The event has delightfully restored the atmosphere of the old arcades up and down the country, with visitors staying for hours to use the machines, reading all the history of the hoppings, and taking photographs of themselves in the house of mirror images. Most if not all of the visitors have been smiling and chatting with us volunteers with tales of nostalgia as we guide them through the use of each machine. The machine's owner Kevin has been invaluable in helping volunteers like me gather knowledge , with tips and history and being on hand to repair the machines which public love seeing in action. The favourite among people in my age bracket seems to be the puppet band, where for a penny, the sounds and songs of the 60's play old favourites , again taking us back to childhood, and indeed the young toddlers love to dance to.

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