It’s not uncommon to hear stories about how old and rare vintage video games can be sold for significantly more than their original price on sites like eBay or Amazon. But can the same apply to pinball machines?
In most cases, pinball machines increase in value minimally over time. A pinball machine’s value depends entirely on its current condition, model rarity, and what the buyer is willing to pay for it.
What is my pinball machine worth?
Pinball machines can be bought from commercial retailers for a couple hundred dollars, but older and rarer models have been known to be worth at least a couple thousand. For example, private collectors have historically offered up to $15k (USD) for a TRON: Legacy pinball machine made by Stern Pinball (manufactured in 2011).
The best way to determine how much your pinball machine is worth is by actively engaging in community forums and checking websites like eBay or other sale pages to see how your machine has sold on average, as well as to determine if there is a lot of demand for your model. It’s a good idea to try and figure out where other models were sold, as well as when and to whom, to better gauge how much your machine is currently valued at.
What’s the difference between sale price and value?
A pinball machine’s value can affect its sales price, but its sale price does not necessarily reflect its value. If you have taken excellent care of your pinball machine and it can be classified as ‘like new’ or ‘new in box,’ you will likely be able to sell at a higher sale price. The exact opposite situation also rings true; poor condition equals a lower sale price.
But the second-hand market can fluctuate significantly and depend on how much you want to sell your pinball machine; its sale price may not reflect its value. If you’re looking to quickly get rid of your pinball machine, you may sell it at a lower price than it’s worth. If buyers just aren’t that eager to buy your particular model, they may offer less than what it’s worth.
What main factors affect my pinball machine’s value?
The most important factors that determine how much your pinball machine is worth ultimately comes down to overall condition and appearance, demand and the rarity of the title. Other factors to take into consideration if you’re looking to sell your machine include your location, your reputation as a seller in the pinball community, and general timing of a sale.
You can check out the Internet Pinball DataBase to help determine many of these factors.
Is your pinball machine new in box? Would you describe your machine as “home use only?” If you were to sell your pinball machine, is it “complete?” Or would you describe it being sold “as is?” Similar to selling a used car or a rare pair of Air Jordans, your pinball machine’s overall condition is going to be the main factor that determines its value.
Externally, collectors will first look at the state of the machine’s cabinet body, its headboard, its coin door, and the machine’s legs. Are there any dents or scratches? Are there traces of rust on the coin door? Can it open easily to allow access to the internal components? Are the legs straight, or does the machine have a slight tilt?
These minor details are something that avid pinball machine enthusiasts will be on the lookout for, especially when it comes to determining your machine’s value. While minor disrepair is bound to happen over time, it goes without saying that the more pristine and well-functioning your pinball machine is, the more it’s worth to potential buyers.
The condition of the pinball machine’s playfield plays a big part in its overall value. Take a look at your machine’s playfield surface and components. Are all of the bumpers working? Do the drop targets and any other playfield plastics need replacement? A lot of these smaller components can easily be bought and replaced.
Is the art still bright and vibrant, or has it been worn down from years of use and improper care? Over time, dirt and dust can build-up on the playfield. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving the playfield a quick wipe with a damp cloth to avoid further wear and damage to the surface paint.
One last thing that you should inspect is the machine’s actual circuit board and overall playability. Be sure to inspect for burned out lights and broken, missing, or worn-down rubber rings. Replacing these parts is relatively inexpensive and can easily be ordered online from retailers.
It’s also a very good idea to inspect the machine’s batteries. Many pinball machine owners forget to change the batteries that are responsible for keeping track of high scores and leave them into either drain or corrode. When looking to value your machine, these tiny details are often looked at by eager and well-educated pinball machine collectors.
It’s also a good idea to inspect the condition of your pinball machine’s backglass. If there are any chips or cracks in the backglass, this can negatively impact the value of the machine. It’s a simple enough task to order a replacement sheet for newer models.
However, if you have an older pinball machine where the machine’s title has been hand-painted on, replacement may be incredibly difficult and expensive. Cracked or scratched painted backglass will have a negative impact on your machine’s overall value. Unless you happen to be quite the restorationist, try to treat these older backglasses with care!
Title Rarity and Demand
As one may imagine, there are some pinball machines out there that are more valuable than others due to their title rarity and overall demand. Some pinball machines were manufactured and released in small numbers.
You don’t have to be a business major to know that supply and demand will have a significant effect on a product’s value. Some machines have even been featured in movies and television, which only results in higher demand and higher prices offered.
Some rare machines include the AC/DC Let There Be Rock LE pinball machine by Stern (manufactured in 2012), of which only 200 unique units were produced. Another example of a rare pinball machine is the Addams Family Special Collector’s Edition by Bally (produced in 1994). There are offers of over $10k (USD) by private collectors seeking these treasured models.
Seller, Meet Buyer?
It’s not always possible to find a buyer that wants a pinball machine just as you’re hoping to sell. This can result in a lot of haggling, especially if your pinball machine isn’t necessarily high in demand. A pinball machine is only worth a significant sum if buyers are willing to pay for it.
A pinball machine’s sell price ultimately comes down to timing, but this doesn’t necessarily equate to its value. If you’re lucky, you may find a seller who’s eager to buy your machine, and they may offer a higher price for it.
Does the manufacturer matter?
In the long run, the manufacturer of your pinball machine has little effect on its value. From Gottlieb to Williams, every pinball manufacturer has made both good and not-so-great machines.
It ultimately comes down to the specific model that you have in your possession, as well as its current condition. Every manufacturing company has its hits and misses, but brand name has no bearing on a pinball machine if it’s not in a good and usable state.
Location, Location, Location
If you’re thinking of selling your pinball machine, one thing that can affect the overall value at which you sell it actually has to do with your physical location. Unfortunately, there are risks associated with shipping and handling, especially when it comes to rare and heavy pinball machines.
There is always the possibility that your machine could become damaged while in transit before it can reach the buyer. Many collectors are aware of this fact, so if you’re located far away, they may be less inclined to buy your pinball machine. If they are genuinely interested, they may haggle for a lower price for the pinball machine itself because the process to ship it is expensive in and of itself.
The pinball machine enthusiast community is relatively small, so the reputation of a pinball machine’s seller can come into play when valuing the machine for sale. If you are a known collector and have a reputation for high-end restorations, as well as known for keeping your own collection in good condition, you may be able to negotiate for more when speaking to potential buyers.
Knowing that your pinball machine has been in good hands offers a peace of mind to buyers who are willing to pay a couple thousand to add to their own collection. Unless the seller is really desperate in buying your specific pinball machine, most will hold out their offer for a machine that has been looked after and is in relatively good condition.
Value Over Time
In the grand scheme of things, most pinball machines can increase in value over time, but usually only by a minimal margin. Many pinball machines are in private collections and often aren’t serviced properly. As a result, any increase in value is negated if the pinball machine’s overall condition isn’t excellent. Much like a car, repeated use over time depreciates the overall condition and value of the machine.
This relates back to the section on the seller’s reputation concerning how they treat their machines. If they know how to service their own pinball machines or are willing to pay to have them properly serviced, machine maintenance will only result in its value remaining the same or increasing slightly if there’s enough demand for it.