Treasures: Gumball machine has flavorful history

This gumball machine appeals to some collectors.

This gumball machine appeals to some collectors.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I am curious about the sale value for my Parkway Machine Corporation gumball machine. Any ideas?

Thank you,

C. M.

Dear C. M.:

Who among us would imagine that chewing gum has ancient origins?

Many cultures around the word used various substances as chewing gum.

In the recent past, a chewed wad of birch resin was discovered by archeologists on the Swedish island of Orust. It was estimated to be 9,000 years old.

We are sure there are librarians and schoolteachers familiar with the laborious process of digging out old pieces of gum from under desks and tables who do not find that hard to believe.

If you were Greek from ancient times, you might have chewed mastiche, derived from the mastic tree.

If you were Mayan, the preferential chew would be sap of the sapodilla tree (chicle).

If you were Native American, it would be the sap from spruce trees. In fact, it was this latter sap that formed the basis for the chewing gum industry in the United States.

It is said that the first commercially available chewing gum in the U.S. was made in 1848 by John Bacon Curtis and was called “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.”

The first patent on chewing gum, however, was issued on July 27, 1869. It went to Amos Tyler, but he never actually manufactured his product.

One last note before moving on to C. M.’s gumball machine: It was Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna of Alamo fame (or infamy) who introduced chicle from the sapodilla tree to Thomas Adams, who tried to make rain boots and toys out of it before flavoring it in 1869 and taking the first step toward modern chewing gum.

Over the years, there have been many ways to buy chewing gum.

One of the most visible is the gumball vending machine, which could (and can) be found in parks, small stores, transportation hubs (Thomas Adams, for example, placed them on New York City subway platforms), restaurants, public buildings and a variety of other places.

The gumball machine was introduced in 1907. Early models from the 1920s and ‘30s were made from cast iron and had glass globes.

Later examples tend to have plastic tops and cast aluminum bases.

These silent salesmen worked (and still work) 24 hours a day — except during Prohibition, when they were outlawed as gambling devices because in some machines of the day every 10th gumball was free.

The Parkway Machine Corporation was founded in 1938 by cab driver Irv Kovens.

The company repaired vending machines at first but was selling them by 1941.

The company is still in business but has moved to Cockeysville, Md.

We believer C. M.’s machine is late second or early third quarter of the 20th century and similar pieces sell in the range of $75 to $100.

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