Pocklington’s Penny Arcadia amusement machines up for grabs at Spicers auction this Friday

The last part of the world’s finest private collection of historic arcade amusement machines – amassed by a self-taught fire-eating escapologist and once housed in a museum in Pocklington – is to go under the hammer this Friday (April 23).

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 1:35 pm
This mutoscope is one of the items up for auction this Friday.

John Gresham was a third generation member of a wealthy Hull timber importing family who picked up the art of fire eating from a book while still away at public school, and then chose to become a performer in the music halls, circuses and fairgrounds for several years.

He did eventually return home to Yorkshire to join – and later run – the family firm but he never lost his love for the entertainment business.

That interest included a collection of historic amusement machines which began when a showman friend gave him an old coin–operated game that was about to be scrapped.

An automaton which will be sold at Spicers.

Ten years later the collection had grown to such an enormous size that it filled his manor house home and the outbuildings and so in 1980 he bought an old cinema, the Ritz in the Market Place at Pocklington, and opened Penny Arcadia, a museum to house what was reckoned to be the most important private collections of coin-operated amusement machines anywhere in the world.

Andy Spicer of Goole-based auctioneers Spicers said: “Penny Arcadia closed after Mr Gresham’s death in 1995 and parts of the collection went to other museums around the world but many items were retained by the family and have remained in storage for the past quarter of a century.

“The 100 lots that we’re putting under the hammer include amusement machines dating back to the late 19th Century, automatons, a fairground stall, escapology equipment, sideshow attractions and other memorabilia.

“The stars of the show include two rare early American mutoscopes, perhaps better known as ‘What the Butler Saw’ machines.

A Love Meter that will ‘measure your sex appeal’

“Other noteworthy lots are ‘The Man of Mystery’ who will tell your fortune for a penny and the ‘Love Meter’ that will ‘measure your sex appeal’.

“It sounds incredible but at the time John Gresham started to collect these old machines they were just being dumped, in a number of cases quite literally – they apparently went over the sides of piers.

“Today interesting or rare machines make hundreds of pounds and in some cases thousands of pounds at auction.

“In addition to everything else the remarkable Mr Gresham was a long-serving president of the Musical Box Society of Great Britain and the auction has his private collection.

“It includes a key wind quatre overture musical box by the Lecoultre and Falconnet, the finest maker of the 19th Century, that goes into the auction with a pre-sale estimate of £3,000-£4,000.”

Go to spicersauctioneers.com to find out more about the auction on Friday.