Buying a pinball machine

Here are some guidelines when buying a pinball machine. These don't include everything, although this document has grown a lot. This is to help beginners who don't have a clue. You want a pinball machine. You search for pinballs for sale. You find a lot of pinball machines for sale, but don't know how to choose the right one or know if you found a good deal and don't want to be ripped off. If you have any questions, need help, or disagree about something I say here, you may always mail me your comments. Also let me know if these page helped you, so I stay motivated to updates these pages..

An addition to this page about choosing the correct pinball machine for you can be found here. Please read that page too !


About prices of pinball machines

Don't buy a pinball machine to get rich. You won't get rich buying and selling pins. OK there are some exceptions: if you know very well what you're doing, know the right people, have a lot of time, a warehouse with lots of room to store, a large truck, a lot of money to invest, know how to make repairs, and maybe have a showroom in a good location, or put them into pubs yourself, you may be able to make a living from pinballs and other amusement devices.
Or if you check every ad looking for games for sale, be the first to drive over there and buy it, and either store them until prices increase or visit shows to sell them, you may make a nice profit. But calculate storage and transportation costs, your time, and that 'nice profit' will decrease a lot.
But don't think that one pinball machine you buy now, will be worth 10 times as much in a few years. (Unless you bought it very very cheap.) Some NIB (New in box) pinball machines raise in value. If you had bought a Medieval Madness or TAF Gold and kept it until now in the box, you may be able to double (or maybe triple) your investment (but you probably would have done much better on the stock exchange or investing your money in other items).
But if you had bought a NIB Popeye or Stern Striker machine, you may have lost 50% or more. There are other ways to invest money which have a much better return on investment and are more safe. (btw if you have NIB pins, be sure to remove the batteries !)
Prices of used pinball machines have increased a lot the past years (especially in Europe where they were just too cheap because there was not a lot of interest in them). So people who had 5 years ago already a nice collection, will probably make a profit if they sell them now. But I really don't think another price increase that big can happen again. Arcade games crashed in price, jukeboxes are also less worth then 10 years ago, so I see no reason why pinball machines would be an exception.

old pinball machine for sale

Same thing applies to old pinball machines. That 60ies pinball machine which your grandmother had in her pub may be antique now, but you have to find someone interested to buy it. If it is in perfect condition (and I really mean perfect !) there will be a collector who's interested. But if it isn't in mint condition, don't expect very high prices for it. Most people are interested in newer games because they have more to offer (read: more fun to play). An antiques store may offer you more for your old pinball machine than a collector, certainly if it's not working or is cosmetically not so good. If it's not working and has not been used for years, it may take many hours to get it working again..

Just because something is old, it's not rare or valuable or wanted. Note: some real old woodrails (40ies and 50ies) do seem to reach high prices in Europe.. not because they're that much fun to play, but because some collectors look for them and there just aren't many around here..

Consider your pinball machine as in investment. Yes I know the above paragraph says the opposite. Let me explain. While that pinball machine won't make you rich, that used pinball machine you buy for entertainment, will probably hold its value. If you didn't overpay for it, it's in good condition, and you keep it like this (clean your pin regularly !), you will probably be able to sell it for about the same as for what you bought it now, maybe loose a bit, maybe make a bit on it. So overall it's a much better deal then buying something else for entertainment (toys for kids which get thrown away as garbage when they're tired of them after 6 months, or that new home cinema system which will be obsolete in 3 years time). Consider a pinball machine as a toy, something for entertainment, which will hold its value much better than those other things you buy for entertainment. Especially if you pay yourself 50 cent each time to play, you cannot loose money on these machines.

If you learn to fix pinball machines as a hobby, you can acquire a nice pinball collection by buying and selling pinball machines. A lot of collectors have done this.
Buy one game (look for a bargain), fix it, clean it, play it until you're bored and sell it with a bit of profit. Buy another bargain game, repeat, repeat, repeat. Do it enough times and you're able to afford more expensive games and build out a nice collection. Only works if you consider it pure as a hobby: you don't value your time, costs for transportation of the games, learn to do all repairs yourself and don't have to pay someone to fix the games for you, ..

For the europeans: prices in the USA are usually (much) higher then in Europe.. Although prices in Europe are also increasing, this is only happening for some recent (Williams and Bally) machines (some of these you'll even pay more in Europe then in the USA :-( There aren't a lot of collectors in Europe interested in old pinball machines.
Sorry, the guy who sold you that machine may have shown you an american price catalogue which said that 70ies pin you bought is worth $2000 to collectors. If you want to sell it in Europe, it's worth much less, maybe only 10 or 20% of this 'collectors value'. Certainly if it isn't in perfect condition. First try to find a collector who's interested in this pin. Then try discussing prices. Use catalogue prices to compare pins that you don't know well. For instance of all pins between 1970 and 1975 use it to check which are more interesting to have above others. More expensive is usually more in demand because it's more fun to play.

If you really want to get american prices for your pin, don't try to sell it to me. Sell it on eBay. Don't forget to subtract their fees. Don't forget to calculate the exchange rate and associated costs with money transfers. Don't forget the cost and time involved to package the machine properly. Don't forget the cost to send it to the USA (around 500 euro for one pin).
You know how to make a crate to fit a pinball on a pallet, don't you ? Btw you can not use any type of wood for your pallet/crate !
I hope your car is large enough to bring the pin on its pallet to a FedEx/UPS/.. depot from where it's sent. And you have a forklift to put it in your car, don't you ? Because once it's palletted and crated, it is too heavy to lift it manually. If you have the game picked up: most shipping companies in Europe come to pick up a pallet with their large trailers and do not have a forklift with them. Normal shippers require you to put the game on their trailer, and are only from then responsible for transport ! So specify you do not have this and they need to pick up the game with a truck that has a lift or forklift on it ! (which can cost you more).
Or if you want to send pins cheap, you have enough quality pins (50 or so) to fill a whole container and send it by ship to the usa ? You have room enough to store all these pins, and fill the container at your house ? You know how to stack them properly so they won't get damaged ? You know how to arrange all the paperwork to get the container through customs (and pay taxes on your sale as it will be registered) ? If you answered yes to all of the question, then spend your time and send it to the usa yourself. If you answered no to any of these questions, then don't complain you might maybe get more money for the machine. You could also hurt your back trying to move it yourself..

Really, if it was so easy to say: a game sells in the USA for $1500 and can be bought in Europe for only $750, so that's $750 profit - I wouldn't have a job but would be shipping pins every day !
Unfortunately reality is different, and once you take in account all costs involved, there is not much profit left anymore.

Kiss pinball for sale

Some pins are more valuable for their theme. Kiss, Dolly Parton, Star Wars, Star Trek, James Bond, Rolling Stones and others come to mind. High prices are paid by collectors of this theme. For other pinball collectors, a pinball machine is a pinball machine, and condition and fun will be more important than the logo on the machine. So find out who you want to sell to. Sometimes you will have to wait a long time before you find anyone interested in this theme.. can you afford to wait or do you just want to get rid of the machine ?
You may find someone who will buy your pin. He may not pay a lot, but you'll have cash in hand, he'll move it out of your house, and he won't complain for months if something doesn't work anymore. So you can choose how easy you want it for yourself.

Compare prices. Don't buy the first machine you find. There are lots of machines for sale. Look around, phone operators, find collectors, ask opinions. Also compare the total package. One person may be $200 cheaper, but the pin may have different replacement parts whilst the other still has original parts. Does it get delivered to your house ? Do you get a manual ? Do you want to learn how to fix a pin yourself, or do you want someone who'll still come in 6 months to service your pin ? Will you clean the pin and do minor adjustments, or should it be perfect ?

Note I have added a page with average prices in Belgium.


Where to buy a pinball machine

pinball for sale

If you're a newbie I strongly advise you buy a pinball machine which is working, and which you can inspect and play before buying. So first try to look around locally before you get burned on ebay.

To find a dealer, you've got to keep your eyes open, and do a bit of research. First take the yellow pages and phone people who deal in amusement games. Instead of asking if they have pins for sale, first ask if they operate pins. (someone who hasn't one for sale now, may have one in a few weeks/months !). It may even be possible to find a dealer with a showroom which you can visit. But be prepared to pay a premium there.. although prices have risen so much that it may be worth it to buy a refurbish/shopped pin in as new condition compared to buying a cheaper dirty just off-route machine and tracking down parts yourself. If you see a pinball machine in a pub, write down the contact info of the operator and call him.

If there aren't dealers, or you don't want to pay retail prices, try finding collectors. Search around on the internet. Maybe there's a collector group in your area you can get in touch with. There are also some pinball collector lists you can search. Maybe they have some machines for sale, and probably for a better price than a dealer. But look out, there are collectors and collectors.. some are into this hoby because they love the machines and they will only sell something from their own collection if they really have to. Other collectors are like dealers and just buy and sell pins all the time, so what you buy from them may not be of 'collector quality'.

Next step: ads. Check if there are pinball machines for sale, also check garage sales, .. If you don't find machines for sale, you can put out ads yourself in which you ask for pins for sale. There are so many machines made, some of them have to be ended up in a basement/attic of someone around you. Note: most games you find this way may have problems and you won't receive support. So if you repair a pinball machine at all, be very careful when you buy a machine this way.

The reason why it's important for a newbie to buy a local pin is that you'll need the support/warranty. There are many things which can go wrong on a machine, even shipping itself may mess up something. If you don't know anything about repairing/handling pinball machines you need someone to help/teach you.

If you really can't find a local pinball machine, then consider shipping a pinball machine. There are dealers who will shop a pin and ship it to you, who have a good reputation. On auction websites you can also find some deals. Be careful, check out someones feedback, and see if he sells pins for a living, or just found one in a barn and wants to get rid of it. Don't believe all 'working 100%, as new, looks great' comments. Ask questions, detailed pictures, ... if you don't get a good reaction, search further.. And ask detailed pictures and believe your eyes, not what the seller writes..


About pinball machines holding their value..

I've added this as I've had this question a few times in a short time. Will pinball machines hold their value ? Will they rise in value ? And should you spend all that money on a Medieval Madness ? A lot of this I've already said on other parts of my homepages but I'll recapitulate.I can't say if you should spend all that money on a MM. It's your money. You know what you did to earn it, you know if you can afford to spend it on a toy.Yes, good pinball machines may keep their value, I don't think they'll decrease (a lot ?) in value, but probably won't double in value either.I do expect prices to increase for games in very good condition, and prices to drop for worn-out games. More and more collectors are starting to be very picky and only want mint machines. On the other hand, EM machines are still very cheap in Europe, these may also start to rise in price when more people become interested in them. It's all about supply and demand. The past years recent Bally and Williams machines have increased a lot in price. My personal opinion is this will stop. Prices increased as Williams quit making machines. Word got out on the street that no new machines were made anymore. Stern was there but made bad machines (no fun, bad quality, go play a Striker Extreme if you don't believe me). And more people started to collect machines so demand was still there. However, now things have changed.
Stern does make good machines now. Quality has improved, and they're made by the same designers who made the great titles at Bally/Williams. Production numbers may be much lower however, and it's not known how good their playfields hold up and won't wear, so now it's too early for the Sterns to make an big influence on prices of used machines.. but the 'they're not being made anymore' factor is gone. Btw Williams produced a run of machines and then started on another model. They never did a re-run. This is also one of the causes why MM costs a lot, there aren't a lot of them produced, by the time operators noticed it earned very well, Williams was already producing the next model, and no new MM's were made, but the demand still was there.
Stern works different: if they have enough orders, they will re-run an old model when there is enough demand. So investing in NIB Stern pinball machines isn't a good idea. A hot title which has a lot of demand won't make prices rise above the price of a new machine because they'll make them.. Update: Stern does seem to have problems with re-runs of machines, Prices also increased because they were too low. Pinball machines were used by an operator to earn money. After a few years it was written off and stopped earning money. For an operator it had no value anymore, only for some spare parts. There weren't a lot of collectors interested, or operators didn't want to sell to them because if someome plays at home, he doesn't play an operated machine anymore, so they were dumped at low prices or destroyed. This is still the same for video arcade machines, a lot of these can still be bought for $100-$500. So the impressive raise in price also comes partially because it started very low. There's a limit to how much a used pin can rise in value. Medieval Madness and some other very good pins may be worth equal or more than a new Stern machine, but as Stern makes more great games, the amount of old Bally/Williams games which are better, will become lower, so if you think for a moment, an old, used pinball machine, will be less valuable than a new one which is more fun. So I don't think that prices of (average) used pins can ever raise above the price of new Stern machines. Of course there are exceptions, some pins are very very good, and people have their reasons to say why one machine is better or more fun than another or why they would prefer an older one over a new one.

I have no idea what your pinball machines will be worth in ten years. You never know, within a few years Stern (or someone else) may launch a total new concept of pinball (like Williams did with Pinball 2000) which makes all current pinball machines obsolete. And yes, this already happened. Solid state technology came along and electro-mechanical pinball machines were dumped. When dot matrixes were introduced, the older generation was dumped and suddenly obsolete. So you never know what the future may bring, maybe in ten years time your Monster Bash and Medieval and ... may almost be worthless because there's this cool new 3D pinball machine which everyone wants. OK I know it's far-fetched, and probably will not happen.. but you never know what can happen in ten years time..

medieval madness row
It's not because a game is difficult to find or expensive that it's impossible to find.
Picture by Bill Chavez.

Should you buy Medieval Madness or not ? Play the game and make the decision for yourself. I'm very happy I bought my machine, I play it most of all machines I own, and I don't ever want to sell it. But that's just me.. Although a lot of people still think about it this way - MM is still the best game ever made. Anyway, this whole large paragraph is all my opinion, I can be wrong..

Update 11 August 2003 - seems over the last months prices of some 'collectible' Williams/Bally machines keep rising, like Monster Bash and Cirqus Voltaire. While I'm not sure they'll ever rise above Sterns NIB price, I'm not saying it is impossible.. More and more people are getting interested in our hobbby and want a pinball machine for their home, which means demand keeps increasing. While most beginners only want one (cheap) pinball machine, some of them may become serious collectors too in the future. So demand keeps on increasing while supply is getting lower..

Another update, May 2004. Same as above, prices seem to be rising, especially in the USA. Even still for older games because the new collectors still want to have all the machines 'you have to have'. Stern did create an excellent game with Lord of the Rings, which a lot of collectors seem to have bought for home-use.. Prices in Belgium and the Netherlands are weird. Some seem to have dropped, especially the very expensive games, mostly because they were high and demand is low. As people wanted LOTR demand for other toppers has decreased. Some MM's even became for sale are reasonable prices (3500-4000 euro) Prices of the 'cheap' games are raising, it's very difficult to find any good deals (dmd games for less than 500 euro). Supply is also becoming less, as too many good games have been shipped in containers to the USA :-( Prices in the USA are still rising, especially for mint games, so I guess some older games (CFTBL, TOM, Funhouse..) which are very expensive in the USA will become more expensive here too if they're in good condition.. Some older games are suddenly back in demand, like Funhouse, Earthshaker and Whirlwind.