I’m a big fan of the old fashioned machines like this one. This article is excerpted from a longer one in The Courier-Journal, published on January 24, 2014. Listen to The Collectors Show on Web Talk Radio (www.webtalkradio.net).
Fortune tellers have been popular for centuries. In the United States, many 20th-century amusement parks had fortune teller machines that enticed customers. Put a coin (or, in later years, a dollar bill) in the slot, and the life-size figure in the glass-fronted booth nodded and moved mouth, hands and even eyes while giving you a card telling your future. The most famous fortune teller machine is the 100-year-old Zoltar, the exotic figure featured in the movie “Big.” He turned a boy into a grown-up Tom Hanks. But many machines featured female gypsy fortune tellers dressed in appropriate clothes.
The most famous of these is Esmeralda, a machine that has been made by several manufacturers, many of them unknown, since the early 1900s. An Esmeralda even sits on Main Street in Disneyland. She moves, hands out a fortune card and then winks. The rarest fortune-telling machine known today was discovered in a restaurant in Virginia City, Mont., about seven years ago. It’s about 100 years old and spoke to you in a 100-year-old voice if you inserted a coin. The machine is said to be worth more than $2 million. Vintage fortune teller machines sell for thousands of dollars. New ones are being made today and can cost $9,000 or more.