Who Invented the Coin Operated
Penny Press Machine?
"Penny Press Machine"
Mr. Vance Fowler is known as the inventor of the modern day coin-operated "Penny Press Machine". Above is a picture of of Mr. Fowler’s first coin-operated coin press machine from the 1970s the Cimeter "Automatic Coin Rolling Vender". It is acknowledged as the first modern day coin-operated penny press and pioneered the industry that made possible the wonderful hobby as we know it today. Current day Cimeter Elongating Machines are much smaller yet still extremely dependable.
These inspirational words were written in "The Book", Angelo A. Rosato’s Encyclopedia of the Modern Elongated* about Mr. Vance Fowler:
"...Without any prior knowledge in mechanics, it was an instance where self-discipline and confidence, through improvision and inventiveness.... With determination, the challenging undertaking, along with the investment of many months, materialized into a masterful craftsman like triumph: He had ultimately perfected a fully automated coin rolling vender."
Mr. Fowler’s comments: "[this is] the only surviving picture known of my original automated coin press built in 1979. It was absolutely HUGE...about like a standing freezer. It weighed well over 400 pounds.
It was a single die device using a segment type system. The very first impression was "I Love Oregon" and placed in the Meier & Frank Company department store...a branch of The May Company Stores. I’ve since engraved nearly 500 dies and constructed about eight different machine formats...each one getting smaller and more compact and extremely proficient and trouble free with multiple dies. (One single die machine has made over a half million impressions and is still cranking out coins.) From my original automated machine through several redesigns, 1979 through about 1985, I had the market completely to myself and had a ball. As you are more than aware, there are thousands of machines today and I’ve counted dozens and dozens of different manufacturers."
Mr. Fowler's invention of the Automated Pressed Penny Machine made
history. In the world of penny collecting there are a few historically significant people that are in my opinion, of special interest to Disneyland pressed coin souvenir collectors. Vance Fowler is surely one of them. When called the "Inventor of the Coin Operated Penny Press", he modestly replied that about 70 years before him, a company that manufactured silent movie projectors may have also developed an automated, closed box, elongated coin machine. Personally, I don’t know, could be. But, there is no doubt that today’s "Pressed Penny" collectors owe a lot to Mr. Fowler and his elongated coin vending machine company, The Cimeter Group, that pioneered today’s vended "pressed penny" industry.
By many accounts, The Cimeter Group made quality penny press machines and quality engravings, e.g. their noted "Penny Scenes Of Hawaii". When The Cimeter Group used their expertise to press two themed prototype pennies for Disneyland in 1986 and in 1988, (Which would have been available from this 1980's Cimeter Group coin press.) they immediately became coins of very special interest to collectors. Today, those early Disney coins are known by many as the legendary "Straw Hat Mickey" prototypes or the DN0002 and DN0003pressed coins.
At about the same time, Centek Inc., another manufacturer of penny press machines, had pressed a Disneyland themed prototype elongated souvenir coin. It also became a coin of special interest, known by Disneyland collectors as the "Mickey Mouse Rays" prototype or the DN0001.
Although the images offered here may not do the coins justice, when the DN0002, DN0003 and DN0001 coins are viewed in person, the superior quality of the DN0002 and DN0003 Cimeter coins is obvious. To many collectors, they are excellent examples of the highest-quality coins vended in the 1980s. The "3-dimensional" engraving and excellent detail set them above and apart from the DN0001 Centek coin. As you can see, the Mickey Mouse Rays Centek prototype is a very nice coin also. But features a comparatively less interesting, flat, outlined engraving that was common at the time.
So why didn’t the "Straw Hat Mickey" greet park guests in 1987? Our research starting in the early 1990s, as well as conversations and correspondence with helpful "people in the know" all combined with my high blood sugar level :-), have helped form some insights. My personal opinion, based on those insights, is that 100% ownership (or nearly 100% ownership) of the arcade machines and or their income was required by Disney at the time they chose arcade machine suppliers. However, the coin press machine business model at the time was to share revenue between the manufacturer / vendor and the location owner with no sales of penny press machines offered. The Cimeter Group machines, although desirable in many ways, were available only on the customary terms. The Centek Inc. machines, on the other hand, were up for sale. The choice was made, the Centek Mickey Mouse Rays machine took stage and advanced collectors were set searching for three extremely hard to find never onstage prototype coins, the DN0001, DN0002 and DN0003.
Disneyland ultimately made the outright purchase of two Centek Inc. penny press machines in 1987. One of them vended the coin acknowledged as the first on-stage Disney® pressed penny, the DL0001. (A coin much like the prototype Centek Inc. DN0001 in appearance and design.) The second Centek Inc. machine purchased at that time vended the large image Bear Country elongated cent, the DL0002.
This pair of new Centek machines were said to be both profitable and popular. However, they were also said to be prone to failure given the high Disneyland guest usage levels. Subsequently, the Centek machines were replaced by Eurolink machines. Soon dozens of Eurolink Inc. machines were pressing coins at the park and not long after that, in Disney Resorts around the world.
Eurolink Inc. provided most all penny press machines and dies (coins) seen at Disneyland for many years, although in the early 2000s the Disneyland Resort began upgrading their coin press machines and their design. Fortunately, and to the delight of many collectors, most of today’s Disney coins feature the quality "3-dimensional" high detail style of engraving reminiscent of The Cimeter Group’s DN0002 prototype coin. (For many years Disneyland's excellent high-quality three dimensional pressed coins were engraved by Eurolink’s legendary master engraver, Mr. Jimmy Vargas.)
So, next time you are pressing pennies in one of those very cool automated coin pressers, why not take a moment to reflect on the history of the penny press machines and people that have made this great hobby possible? After all, when you press a penny, you are part of that history. Read more about The History of the First Disney Pressed Coin Machines in the World.
* Mr. Rosato’s excellent reference, Encyclopedia of the Modern Elongated offers additional history about Mr. Vance Fowler, The Cimeter Group and other famous names in elongated coin history. The encyclopedia also has extensive history about elongated coins and how they are made.
ParkPennies readers are encouraged to refer to this 1700+ page corner stone book for in depth coverage of the hobby and profession. One can truly call this a coffee table book. It’s nearly the size of a coffee table! But, I can’t think of a thing I’d want omitted from it.
Available directly from the publisher:
ISBN 0-9626996-2-4 firstname.lastname@example.org and selected libraries.