Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Gypsy Fortune Teller

Reigning over the Gypsy Arcade in Virginia City, the famous Gypsy Fortune Teller is the most unusual and rarest treasure among the hundreds of thousands of artifacts and antiques that fill the state-owned buildings there. Charles and Sue Bovey were inveterate collectors who bought whole inventories of antiquated goods. They bought the gypsy in the 1950s, and until the 1970s, tourists could drop a nickel in the machine and hear their fortunes read. The gypsy would flash her creepy eyes, click her teeth, and tell fortunes through a speaking tube.
When the gypsy eventually no longer worked so well, the Boveys placed her at Bob’s Place—a local restaurant—where she gathered dust for decades. The State of Montana inherited her with the Bovey properties purchased in 1998, and her real value only slowly was realized. The Montana Heritage Commission removed her from public display. In 2004, renovations of the gypsy’s internal mechanisms and appearance began. Completed in 2006, the gypsy was then exhibited in the Arcade where she remains today. During her restoration, word got out that Montana had a very valuable item. Famous illusionist David Copperfield tried to talk the state into selling her. He reportedly offered around $2 million, but the state fortunately refused. Copperfield, who is an avid collector of penny arcade games, claims the gypsy is one of a kind, the last of about ten that were manufactured. Other mechanized fortune teller machines dispensed cards, but the gypsy’s fortunes were recorded on a hidden player at the back.

The Virginia City Fortune Teller, one of ten manufactured in the early nineteenth century, may be the only one left.
Courtesy MHC.
The Mills Novelty Company of Chicago made the gypsy around 1906. The Mills Company also manufactured the first slot machines in the 1890s and the first refrigerated Coca Cola vending machine in 1935. It was one of few companies to deal in both vending and gambling machines. Between 1905 and 1930, the Mills Company was the world’s leading manufacturer of coin operated machines, including slot machines, vending machines, and jukeboxes.

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