Trea­sure hunt

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - HELAINE FENDELMAN AND JOE ROSSON

DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: I am cu­ri­ous about the sale value for my Park­way Ma­chine Corp. gum-ball ma­chine. Any ideas?

— C.M.

DEAR C.M.: Who among us would imag­ine that chew­ing gum has an­cient ori­gins?

Many cul­tures around the word used var­i­ous sub­stances as chew­ing gum. In the re­cent past, a chewed wad of birch resin was dis­cov­ered by ar­chae­ol­o­gists on the Swedish is­land of Orust. It was es­ti­mated to be 9,000 years old. We are sure there are li­brar­i­ans and school­teach­ers fa­mil­iar with the la­bo­ri­ous process of dig­ging out old pieces of gum from un­der desks and ta­bles who do not find that hard to be­lieve.

If you were a Greek from an­cient times, you might have chewed mas­tiche, de­rived from the mas­tic tree. If you were Mayan, the pref­er­en­tial chew would be sap of the sapodilla tree (chi­cle). If you were Amer­i­can In­dian, it would be the sap from spruce trees. In fact, it was this lat­ter sap that formed the ba­sis for the chew­ing gum in­dus­try in the United States.

It is said that the first com­mer­cially avail­able chew­ing gum in the United States was made in 1848 by John Ba­con Cur­tis and was called “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.” The first patent

on chew­ing gum, how­ever, was is­sued on July 27, 1869. It went to Amos Tyler, but he never ac­tu­ally man­u­fac­tured his prod­uct.

One last note be­fore mov­ing on to C.M.’s gum-ball ma­chine: It was Mex­i­can dic­ta­tor An­to­nio Lopez de Santa Anna of Alamo fame (or in­famy) who in­tro­duced chi­cle from the sapodilla tree to Thomas Adams, who tried to make rain boots and toys out of it be­fore fla­vor­ing it in 1869 and tak­ing the first step to­ward mod­ern chew­ing gum.

Over the years, there have been many ways to buy chew­ing gum. One of the most vis­i­ble is the gum-ball vend­ing ma­chine, which could (and can) be found in parks, small stores, trans­porta­tion hubs (Thomas Adams, for ex­am­ple, placed them on New York

sub­way plat­forms), restau­rants, pub­lic build­ings and a va­ri­ety of other places.

The gum-ball ma­chine was in­tro­duced in 1907. Early mod­els from the 1920s and ’30s were made from cast iron and had glass globes. Later ex­am­ples tend to have plastic tops and cast alu­minum bases. These silent sales­men worked (and still work) 24 hours a day — ex­cept dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, when they were out­lawed as gam­bling de­vices be­cause in some ma­chines of the day every 10th gum-ball was free.

The Park­way Ma­chine Corp. was founded in 1938 by cab driver Irv Kovens. The com­pany re­paired vend­ing ma­chines at first but was sell­ing them by 1941. The com­pany is still in busi­ness but has moved to Cock­eysville, Md.

We be­lieve C.M.’s ma­chine is late sec­ond or early third quar­ter of the 20th cen­tury and sim­i­lar pieces sell in the range of $75 to $100.


This gum-ball ma­chine ap­peals to some col­lec­tors.

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