Pinball machines are a perfect example of a product becoming art. Over the years, several pinball machines have been discovered to be incredibly rare and valuable both intrinsically and historically. You might be asking what the rarest pinball machines of all time are.
The 8 rarest pinball machines of all time are:
- 1776 (1948)
- Star Ship (1976)
- Combat (1977)
- The Pinball Circus (1994)
- Kingpin (1996)
- King Kong (1990)
- Thunderball (1982)
- Krull (1983)
Most of these rare pinball machines are either one-of-a-kind or they only had a few units produced. In this article, we’ll look into these 8 rare pinball machines, their origins, and how much they’re worth.
The rarest pinball machine is the one-of-a-kind 1776. This rare pinball machine is the modified version of a 1941 pinball machine called Showboat. 1776 was created for the movie “The Time Of Your Life,” a 1948 film featuring a character called Wally, also known as the “Pinball Machine Maniac.”
1776 is a truly impressive machine, with a theme based on American history. When a high score is reached thebackglass rolls away to display a fully lit second layer. This second layer then plays a patriotic tune to the backdrop of American flags. Given that this ultra-rare machine was created in 1941, the manufacturing alone is impressive.
Even more incredibly, the machine was discovered in a Burbank,California antique store in 2004 and was promptly bought by a lucky collector. The price paid is unknown, but the value of this one-of-a-kind masterpiece is likely to be very high.
While two more machines are in the same lonely position as 1776, all three being one-of-a-kind machines, it is 1776 which takes the top spot as the rarest. This is due to its age, historical value, and highly original twin playfields, which just pushes it into the realms of the fantastic.
1776, the rarest of rare pinball machines, is undoubtedly unique, as only one of these modified 1941 Showboat pinball machines was ever made. Made by the Chicago Coin Manufacturing Company in 1948 for the movie “The Time Of Your Life.” In the movie, a character called “Willy” who is known as the “Pinball Machine Maniac” actually plays 1776.
An impressive game to start with, 1776 has a second backglass that is displayed when the player hits the high score, with the backglass rolling up to display American flags. It also plays a patriotic tune, with more American flags extending from the top and sides of the backbox. 1776 has 15 passive bumpers, a mechanized winning sequence, and an electro-mechanical design.
1776 is a real piece of Americana, with a rich history that encompasses both pinball and movie history. With the overall patriotic theme around the machine, it is easy to see why this example of a truly rare pinball machine stands out above every other rare pinball machine.
Like 1776, Star Ship has the honor of being a one-of-a-kind machine, with manufacturers Bally only ever producing one prototype of this classic Sci-fi themed pinball machine.
The reason Bally only made one prototype called Star Ship was that during the 70s, Bally realized justhow powerful licensing could be when used with a well-known franchise behind it. With the release of the Star Trek series in the late 60s and then in the early 70s, Bally found the perfect theme with which to monetize their new Sci-fi pinball machine, and so left Star Ship in its wake.
The backglass of the Star Ship pinball machine has a ripped-off version of the USS Enterprise ship from Star Trek, but once licensing was agreed, Bally brought in a new designer, and quickly forgot about Star Ship. The one-and-only prototype ended up with a retired executive from Bally, who took it to the gas station they ran.
The Star Ship machine was bought from the retired executives gas station in 2008, making someone the proud owner of one of the rarest pinball machines ever made. And with its Star Trek connotations, especially given it has the USS Enterprise emblazoned across its backglass, the value of this rare gem must be incredible.
The third, and last, one-of-a-kind pinball machine on our list is the 1977 Combat pinball machine, created in Bologna, Italy as a prototype by Zaccaria. With a theme unsurprisingly based around combat and artwork by Lorenzo Rimondini, Combat was created to showcase the signetics microprocessor.
Combat was first presented at the ENADA show in Rome in 1977, and also made an appearance in both the Automat magazine (Oct/Nov 1977) and the Pay Meter magazine (Dec 1977). A solid-state electronic system, Combat had a modified backglass from the electro-mechanical version of the game and hadmuch smaller digital displays than its predecessor.
Combat has an impressive array of features, including 3 pop bumpers, 2 slingshots, 7 rollover buttons, standup targets, a spinning target, and a 5-bank drop target. Being so unique, it is difficult to put a price on such a rare pinball machine as Combat. You can expect to pay a handsome sum if you want to lay your hands on this ultra-rare machine, assuming it would ever be available for sale.
When a pinball machine is rare enough that it’s in a Hall of Fame, you know it has to be something special, and this 1994 masterpiece by Midway is a true example of pinball history. Not only is The Pinball Circus one of the rarest, but it is also popular with fans, for its incredible artwork, design, and gameplay that is some of the most innovative ever seen in a pinball machine.
The Pinball Circus had only 2 units created, although there are rumors that potentially 6 did get made. Still, former General Manager Ken Fedesna was quoted as saying his meeting notes clearly indicated only 2 were ever made.
A Pinball Circus machine that had belonged to Steve Kordek is now in the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, and the other belongs to a private collector. Unlike many Halls of Fame, where a look but don’t touch policy applies, the Pinball Hall of Fame allows the Pinball Circus to be played by fans. The reviews suggest a superbly original and well-designed game.
A 4-level playfield with each playfield having its own particular playstyle creates a pinball game that feels much more involving and complex. Designed by Python Anghelo, and with the superb artwork of Pat McMahon, The Pinball Circus is not only one of the rarest machines ever made, it is one of the most impressively designed pinball machines ever built.
5. Kingpin (1996)
When Capcom Coin-Op closed forever in December of 1996, they left behind their last ever pinball machine creation, Kingpin, a solid-state electronic pinball machine, with only 9 units ever produced. A cops and robbers-themed pinball game that had spinners at the ramp entrances.
Kingpin boasted a superb sound system, fluid gameplay, multiple ramps with spinners, and a great-looking backglass and playfield. The playfield has a 40s gangster vibe to it that along with ramps that look like train tracks over a metropolis, really gives this rare pinball machine a great feel to it. Kingpin has asudden death modethat allowed players to perform trick shots to keep playing.
There are mixed reviews of the gameplay on Kingpin, despite its array of features. Given that during production Capcom Coin-Op was laying off staff almost daily, Kingpin seems to have been passed around multiple designers and artists in an effort to get the game completed. This may have added to the difficulties in creating what had the potential to be a great pinball game.
King Kong, Data East Pinballs’ revamp of the 1931 version of the game, is a lovingly designed pinball machine with painstaking artwork and a great theme. The original King Kong game sold over 450 units in 1931-32, and players could get 10 balls for a very reasonable 5 cents. Unfortunately for the 1990 version of King Kong, and Data East Pinball, the machine never really made it past testing.
The 9 machines that were made are extremely rare, and with such outstanding artwork and design, especially the superb lighting that guides the player through the goals, it is quite sought after. The gameplay itself is slightly let down though due to the weak audio and a lack of initial testing during development.
It’s designed by Jerry Armstrong, with artwork by Kevin O’Connor, and voice acting by Fred Young. And for its rarity and historical value alone, King Kong is a worthy addition to any list of rare pinball machines, and anyone lucky enough to own one has an incredible-looking machine in their collection.
Not to be confused with the James Bond movie of the same name, the Williams Electronics Thunderball pinball machine of 1982 is a fantasy-themed, solid-state electronic game that had a dizzying array of features. From pop bumpers to multiple 5-bank drop targets, 2 spinning targets, and 10 standup targets, this rare pinball machine had everything a player could want.
This unique game looked great, played great, and had a very unusual rules system that made it stand out from the crowd. Oddly, despite 10 units being made, Thunderball was never actually sent into production. Each of the machines built were actually engineering examples rather than ready-for-sale units.
Thunderball is so coveted by fans because of the unique engineering experiments done on the machine. A close comparison would be a model train enthusiast given the option to buy a standard train set or a hand-made, unique, ultra-detailed model railway set by another enthusiast. The fascination with Thunderball is it’s a pinball machine made by other like-minded fans.
A timed multi-ball system was incorporated into the 2-player game, allowing up to 6 balls in play at any given time. With the huge array of features added to the game, Thunderball is packed full of targets to keep players entertained. This is another rare pinball machine whose price could be very high, given its rarity and fan appreciation level.
Gottlieb & Company have created many great pinball machines over the years, some machines that had thousands built, and some, as in the case of Krull, that never went into production. The reason Krull never made it into full production was due to theexpensive playfield design, which had a 3-level design, including a transparent playfield under a reducing lens.
Only 10 prototypes of Krull are known to exist, which makes it one of the rarest pinball machines around, The overall consensus by fans who have been lucky enough to play Krull is that the gameplay was fairly poor. Although, with 7 flippers, 6 pop bumpers, 3 slingshots, and 2 kick-out holes, the 3-tier playfield did offer a unique playstyle.
Regardless of this though, the cost to make Krull became prohibitive, and the game never really left the shop floor, apart from the initial 10 prototypes. The game itself was a solid-state electronic system. Krull had a wide body, which allowed the incorporation of extra features, but also greatly added to the cost of the build, and was available in 3 or 5-ball play,
Pinball manufacturers had long since seen the value in licensing potentially popular genres or movies, and given the overload of classic 80s Sci-fi prevalent at the time, it is understandable why Krull was taken up by Gottlieb & Company.
The most expensive pinball machine is Punball: Only One Earth, a William T. Wiley designed pinball machine, that sold for $125,000. Wiley’s work has been displayed in galleries worldwide, and every time another one of his artistic pinball machines becomes available, it is snapped up quickly.
Having been sold for an eyebrow-raising $125,000, this global warming-themed pinball machine is both environmentally conscious and apparently great fun to play. Punball: Only One Earth has been displayed at both the Smithsonian museum and the Pacific Pinball Expo. While Punball is a fully functioning pinball machine, it was primarily bought as a piece of art.
As with many artists, the value and appreciation of their work often go up after they have gone. And it was a sad day for the art world when, in April of 2021, William T. Wiley passed away in California.
It is highly likely that the value of Punball: Only One Earth has increased dramatically, not least due to their now static number of machines, but also, given the recent huge focus given to global warming and the need to address it. Punball is even more socially relevant than ever before.
Scarcity and value go hand in hand, especially with pinball machines, although in some cases it is the artistic connotations that make valuable machines. It is a testament to the pinball community that these 8 rare machines are not only known, but still lovingly cataloged, discussed, and revered.