One of the most recognizable pieces in the collection is the 1906 verbal gypsy teller machine. Anyone who has seen the 1988 movie “Big” starring Tom Hanks will be able to spot it in a heartbeat. Due to the fame from the movie it has been tussled over by private collectors, the state, historians and citizens. The fortune telling machine is one of the three remaining that used a recording to “speak” fortunes to whomever was brave enough to ask, and fed it a nickel. Magician and collector of historic Penney arcade games David Copperfield thinks it make be only one of its kind remaining, and of course he wants to buy it. However, he’s not the only one.
The fortune telling machine was used by visitors through the early 1970s when its deteriorating condition necessitated its removal to storage. It was put back on display in 1999, but it was for looking only, no touching. Conservators finally began to restore it to functionality in September of 2004, finishing in June 2006. In 2008, the gypsy returned to public display in the Gypsy Arcade, to turn of the century gadgetry museum.
Once it was successfully restored it was brought to attention of collectors. Around that time, Copperfield approached the Montana Heritage Commission offering a reported $2 million of the machine for display purposes. Yet, they turned him down as well as other collectors that have offered to pay high dollar for the piece.
Since then the Montana Heritage Commission has taken the stand that they do not want to sell the piece as they believe it is more valuable as a piece of history for everyone to see verses it being stashed away is some private collector’s basement hidden to the world. This does not mean that if times get tough the Heritage Commission will not reconsider; however, for now it is available to the public and those brave enough to hear what their futures may hold.
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