As anyone with knowledge of investing will tell you, the most efficient way to make consistent money is through diversifying your portfolio.
While stocks and bonds will always be a valid option, many prefer to invest in physical items that they know will increase in value over time. A current trend that’s a perfect example of this is Pokemon cards (in November of 2020 a rare Shadowless Charizard card sold for a record $369,000), which has in recent years become a booming industry.
But what about something substantially heftier and with far higher prices, like pinball machines? While this is considered a niche investment strategy, there is a fair amount of debate surrounding this topic. The following is a complete guide to whether investing in pinball machines is a valid option for you.
Do Pinball Machines Increase In Value?
As has been proven time and time again, just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s valuable, or even that anyone will be looking to buy it. And, as we all know, an item is only as valuable as the public is interested.
Even if something is classed as an antique, that means very little if no one is interested in buying it. The same rule applies to pinball machines. And, unfortunately, this class of items has not seen much of an increase in value in recent years.
However, this doesn’t mean they don’t maintain their value. While a pinball machine in mint condition is unlikely to increase significantly in value anytime soon, it’s also unlikely that they’ll decrease in value any time soon.
Obviously this isn’t guaranteed- it all depends on the condition of the table, and the condition of the title itself (is it actually fun to play? How many of the title were produced? Is, or was, the title popular?). No one can really know how much a pinball machine is going to cost a decade from now, obviously.
But a machine in mint condition is by far your best bet. More and more collectors are getting increasingly picky about which pinball machines they want to purchase. So unless you’re fine with the possibility of your machine stagnating in price, the best idea is to buy a mint condition table.
Exceptions To The Rule
The only main exceptions would be in circumstances where the manufacturer of the pinball machine in question had gone out of business, or if there was some new media being released that related to the title (like a movie, for example). But these instances are relatively rare, and not something to bank on.
Another factor to consider here is that pinball machines are still being manufactured to this day. Speaking from a purely entertainment standpoint, pinball machines of recent years have a lot more to offer the average person. They’re flashy, more interactive, more responsive, and in many cases, they’re more fun.
For this reason, most people who are new to the pinball machine game will be unlikely to put down any substantial amount of money on an old machine. Hence the barrier for entry is far higher than for, say, Pokemon cards. Even kids can get in on Pokemon cards, due to their base prices being moderate, and so the market is far bigger.
Naturally, the market for pinball machines is significantly smaller than most alternatives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a market worth stepping into.
Can You Play A Pinball Machine You Intend On Selling Later?
Much like cars, the more you use a pinball machine, the more its value might decrease. Even light use is not really recommended by pinball machine investors. Besides, you probably wouldn’t be having much fun when considering that any slight wear and tear could reduce the machine’s selling price drastically.
Even if your playing a machine doesn’t affect its overall value, you may still have to pay for repairs or replacement parts, so you’ll still be losing money. It all depends on if you’re willing to take that extra risk.
Valuing Pinball Machines
Checking the value of your own pinball machine, or any pinball machine, should be as simple as finding the listing on eBay or other bidding sites. On BostonPinball, you’ll be able to see a wide range of eBay sales, dating back an entire decade.
This is probably your best bet for seeing the machine’s value over time. A similar resource is Pinpedia, as well as IPDB, Pinwiki, and Pinside. By using a combination of these websites, you should be able to get a clear picture of a pinball machine’s entire history, starting from way back when it was manufactured.
If there’s very little information on a machine you’re interested in, this might be an indicator that there’s not much interest in the product.
Tips For Buying Pinball Machines
If you’ve decided to take the plunge into the pinball machine market, there are some factors you should consider in order to avoid getting swindled (whether on purpose or by accident). If it’s your first time buying a pinball machine, specifically an older pinball machine, it can be tricky to know what red flags to look out for.
Be sure to check not just the playfield, but the translite and the back glass as well. Check every part of the machine, to be on the safe side, but the playfield and the back glass are the priorities. If there are any cracks, rust, scapes, or other damage to the machine, it could be the only difference between a high price and a low one.
This is because getting your hands on an original replacement for either the playfield or the back glass can be nigh impossible. The best you’ll be able to find in many cases will be a plastic reproduction, and experienced collectors will see this from a mile off, and no longer be willing to pay a decent price.
As with any arcade machine, the cosmetic condition of a pinball machine is far more important than that of the electronics. Unlike cosmetics, faulty electronics can usually be repaired or replaced fairly easily. Nonetheless, when inspecting a machine you should be looking out for any corrosion, burn marks, or overheating.
Try to do as much research as possible when considering the purchase of a specific pinball machine. The world can be a cruel place, after all, and it’s not entirely unlikely that a seller might bend the truth in order to trick you into overpaying.
This probably goes without saying, but if you’re new to buying pinball machines, go for one that works. While it might be tempting to buy a cheaper table whose price is lower because it needs repairs, you might not be capable of repairing it or finding the right replacements, meaning its value will not increase now that it’s in your hands (and it might even decrease, if you were the only one willing to buy it in the first place). First and foremost you should be looking locally, rather than heading straight to eBay where you’re far more likely to get burned.
Do as much research as you can. This should be far from a rush job. Track down collectors, call manufacturers, weigh up multiple opinions.
Tips For Selling Pinball Machines
Something that justifiably turns many off from investing in such hefty items as pinball machines is location. Imagine: you’ve got your hands on an antique machine that’s in mint condition, and Google tells you it’s worth several thousands of dollars- but the only people who’d be interested in buying it are hundreds of miles away!
Location is a huge factor when it comes to how much collectors are willing to pay for machines like this. Unless you’re in a city with an abundance of arcades and/or collectors, you’re going to have a nightmarish time selling your machine.
Collectors are very unlikely to want to pay the extortionate fees that come with shipping an item of such bulk. And what if they did pay the fees, and the machine suffered even a small amount of damage in transit? Local pickups are really your only option when it comes to buying or selling pinball machines, unless your machine is very, very rare.
As a rule, buying and selling pinball machines is not guaranteed to make you rich. But so are very few investments. If you already have a genuine interest in pinball machines, then any price of machine will be worth paying, even if it doesn’t increase in value.
If your only goal, though, is to make money, then buying pinball machines is not something to rely on. You can make money in this market, depending on the condition of the table and the popularity of the title. But a high quality machine can cost thousands of dollars. Unless you can absolutely afford it, a pinball machine should not be viewed as an investment exclusively.