Vintage Vending #1: Random Toys!

Welcome to Dinosaur Dracula’s latest ongoing blog series: Vintage Vending!

As kids, there wasn’t one among us who didn’t get butterflies at the sight of those stupid red vending machines — the kinds with tiny toys and trinkets as prizes, hidden inside neat little egg-like capsules.

Those prizes never ruled our worlds, but they sure made the plainer parts of life a little more interesting. Every time I was forced to tag along on a trip to the supermarket or a department store, those vending machines saved the day. Even when Mom was in one of her “I shouldn’t spoil him” moods, it was never hard to talk her out of a few quarters.

And that was all it took! A few quarters! A few quarters, and I’d have a handful of stickers, slime and impossibly huge gumballs!

I’ve been doing these nostalgia rants for a hundred years, and it’s pretty surprising that I never dove into those old vending machines in a bigger way. Over the past year, I’ve amassed a huge collection of the prizes I grew up with, and man, they are a trip. Hundreds of little windows into the past, in the forms of cheap toys and reflective stickers.

In Vintage Vending, we’ll be revisiting many of these ancient prizes. By “ancient,” I guess I mean 10-30 years old. Some of these things will be foreign to you; others will magically transform you into a whining six-year-old, all over again.

Since I’ve been collecting the old vending machine teaser cards (the cardboard things placed in the glass, typically with the best prizes attached, to lure you in), most entries in this series will focus on one specific “type” of prize. This one? Not so much. It’s all over the place.

We’ll call this, I don’t know, Random Toys? Yeah, Random Toys. I’m starting with this one because it has something for everyone. (That’s a lie. Actually, I’m starting with it because there are at least five things for me.)

Spreads like this were (and continue to be) a vending machine classic. It was such a gamble, because no matter what piqued your interest on the teaser card, there was a pretty big chance that you’d end up with crap.

Worse yet, we sure were good at convincing ourselves that these teaser cards were indicative of the machine’s prizes in total. Never once did we consider the truth: Aside from the featured prizes, there was an unseen sea of trash hiding in the machine. Prizes so bad, they’d never be taped to the display.

And hell, even within the featured prizes, there are plenty of losers. I would not have been happy with one of those ominously numerous roller skate keychains, but I’m sure someone might’ve liked them. Then there’s that tiny red boat on the left – that was junk no matter who you were.

But Vintage Vending is supposed to be a celebration!  Let’s focus on the good stuff.

If I had to pick my chaser, it’d be the Ninja Turtles movie button. The button’s inclusion effectively dates these prizes – we’re looking at stuff from 1990, or maybe ’91.

As you were recently reminded about in my horrible vlog, I was a huge Ninja Turtles mark. This certainly extended to the movie, and nothing would’ve made me prouder than wearing a live action Donatello on whatever my lame jacket might have been at the time.

And let’s not discount that yellow Tiki/totem thing, either. I don’t know what it is, but I want a tattoo of it on my forehead. On job interviews, I’d say it was for religious reasons.

Random charms like this replica Nestle Crunch bar were the in-thing for the longest time, and they always seemed so much cooler when they bore real life product likenesses. It was one thing to find a charm that looked like a Pepsi bottle; it was another to get one that had the Pepsi logo right on it.

For a while, charms like this were as good as gold in school. In a black market full of jelly bracelets and Garbage Pail Kids, nothing traded higher than a charm based on real candy.

In a rare variation of the typical charm layout, this Crunch bar appears to be a full-blown necklace. Finally, a little class around my suprasternal notch.

Whoa, hold up. Did I call that TMNT button the chaser? I take it back. This was the chaser.

A bootleg M.U.S.C.L.E. figure! You remember these — the little pink wrasslers who ruled the tiny toy market in a way that Battle Beasts only dreamed about. If these prizes were from ’90 or ’91, M.U.S.C.L.E. figures were already out of stores. I can only imagine how much I would’ve freaked for the chance to get just one more of those guys, even if it was a malformed infringing version.

I think he’s meant to represent Terri-Bull, the leader of the villains. But then, I always think things with horns are Terri-Bull.

This is why these “random” vending machines were so dangerous. I could be five bucks down and still have no Terri-Bull to show for it. I’d be hating on my 17 roller skates and 3 red boats so, so hard.

This green dude is great. I feel like he too was based on some name brand toy or character, but I can’t place it. Just a wee bit bigger than the fake M.U.S.C.L.E. figure, he appears to be an alien robot, possibly engaging in sports. I did some research, but nothing’s come up.

Of course, my research only went as far as typing “robot basketball” into Google.

Even if I was aiming for pink wrestlers and Turtle buttons, this would’ve been a nice consolation prize. If the roller skate keychain was a parting gift in the form of a home version of the game show I just tanked at, this green dude would’ve been the complimentary $500.

I feel like what I just wrote came super close to making sense, so I will not blow it by continuing.

Finally, a wooden Guam keychain. I can appreciate the absurdity now, but no doubt, this would’ve been justification for a fiery revolt had I received it back in 1990. Guam. Give me a break.

Now, scroll back up to the photo of the teaser card. Some of you are surely pissed that I wrote at length about certain prizes, but not others. That was the beauty of these random spreads. They appealed to us all, in all different ways.

Still, you’re nuts if you thought I was going to blow two paragraphs on the one-inch plastic handgun.

I’m looking forward to doing more of these. You won’t believe some of the treasures I’ve found. Haven’t decided if I’ll do them weekly, or every few days, or if I’ll just do 50 in a row and make you positively sick of hearing about quarter prizes. Stay tuned!

Special thanks of Jason Week for the sweet Vintage Vending logo!  Jason also did Dino Drac’s main logo. He is one crazy talented mofo, and you should check out his Tumblr. His art will blow you away. Jason is also really good at capturing the spirit of Dinosaur Dracula on a novelty coin.


57 Responses to Vintage Vending #1: Random Toys!

  1. Do I see a purple hippo in the upper right side of the card? Or is it a purple alligator? Either way, that’s pretty cool. Not sure exactly one would do with it, but still looks cool.

  2. @Reginald: You know, I’m still not sure what that is, and I have it right here in front of me. It’s attached to a necklace, and it kind of looks like a bathtub based on a hippo’s head, or a male torso with holes for nipples, or Snaggletooth, of Star Wars cantina fame.

  3. These vending machine prizes were great! I still get sucked into the random vending machine display every once and awhile. I always end up with Simpsons sticker or jewelery. I had a cool helicopter spinner and a family member promptly broke it. Sad thing is he was older than me. Keep these up Matt!

  4. I had a HUGE collection of tiny rubber/plastic mens collected from these machines. I mean, multiple pencil boxes full of those things. I even had (in retrospect) some little rubber gundams, though at the time they were just cool robot men. I do remember that one time my brother actually got a watch out of the same machine I droned quarters into for more little men. And once I got a got this huge dangly skeleton keychain that had fake jewels for eyes. It was SO awesome, even though it probably was worth less than a buck. Also, just a heads up, the email and website fields on your comments section do not line up in firefox.

  5. OH GOOOOOOODDDDD!!! WHY DON’T I HAVE A CHAM BRACELET FULL OF THESE AWESOME CHARMS???
    I WANT THEM ALLLLLLLL!!
    right now….

  6. I am potentially in love with that Guam keychain.

    Also, the skates are absurdly detailed for junk. I can get down with that.

  7. Loved these when I was younger. The big popular ones were, of course, the ones you got Slap Bracelets out of. Personally, I loved holographic stickers and little metal guns.

  8. My top five choices would be:

    1) Green Robot Dude
    2) Muscle Man (And I have to agree he does look like a bad Terri-Bull)
    3) Hershey Bar
    4) Nestle Crunch Bar
    5) Tiki Head

  9. Makes sense that I didn’t know who Green Dude was, as I’ve never been anything resembling a Gundam fan. That just never crossed my path in any way, shape or form. Aside from Green Dude, of course.

  10. The 7-Up thing is the bomb. It reminds me of the little bottles of Coke I had for the Barbie Soda Shoppe.

  11. Dude I HAD that 7-Up charm! Wow you could’ve put a gun to my head and asked me about my childhood and I would’ve never mentioned it because until I saw it in this post I had zero conscious memory of it… Wow!

    Thanks man for unearthing an awesome memory :)

  12. Back in the early 90′s I had an army of these tiny, multi-colored ninja dudes. Seriously, dozens of them. I also remember being so excited when, after having my mum pump a machine with quarters, I got a sweet Power Rangers digital watch.

  13. My favorite trinket in the pic (and one you didn’t talk about) was the blue UFO keychain. It looks like a Diener one, or at least a knock-off of a Diener one. See the green one here for reference. (I have a complete collection, just too lazy to take a picture of it at the moment.)

  14. Ah vending machines, how I love them. I don’t think there was one single time I went to the grocery store with my parents, that I didn’t get something from the machines. The prizes weren’t that great, but that wasn’t the point. The point is, you got something, and it was cheap. That was good enough for me. Well, back then it was at least.

  15. What’s up with the random blue shield? looks like it could be a random masters of the universe accessory.

  16. I think it was like 1992 or 1993, but in Germany the big thing was little plastic pacifiers, in all sorts of colors. Some were see through, some were neon, but they all came in several different sizes, from little tiny one’s to huge one’s the size of Jawbreakers. We’d collect them, and put them around necklaces. Boys, Girls, everyone did it. They were traded like money in our school.

    I’ve mentioned this to so many people, and nobody knows what the hell I’m talking about. I have come to the conclusion that it was a dream, or the phenomenon was so incredibly isolated.

  17. I was way more careful about those kind of vending machines- if I didn’t like most of the stuff in it, I wouldn’t put a quarter in, even if had a few REALLY COOL items.

  18. You know, I think with our society, casinos could make killing on these. Especially, these from our past. You’d win $500 just to blow it on a vending machine with a vintage necklace or slime in it!

    …maybe only I would!

  19. How did you manage to post in the future, Matt? Or are your servers located in the Atlantic Ocean?

  20. I lived for those roller skate key chains as a kid! The ones where the wheels actually moved were the best, as we’re the ones that you could put your fingers in so your hand could skate. That way, they suckered you into trying for two of them :)

    Today, I’d love the Guam charm. I’d wear it on a necklace, all casual, but be secretly thrilled by it. Guam.

  21. Oh man, I still love these random quarter machines enough that my husband teases about getting me one for my 35th birthday. :) (if I had to pick one of the prizes to pray really hard to get, it would have been the tiny 7up can!)

  22. Those roller skates are amazing for a 25 cent toy! Just look at that stitching, those metal trucks and actual wheels.

    Compared to the red boat, the skates are 100X more detailed. BITD I would have been all over those.

  23. I like the little tugboat.

  24. I’ve had 50/50 luck with vending machines. The worst prize is a little glow stick that didn’t even light up when I bent it. One of the best, is a Little Mermaid sticker. Ariel’s my favorite of the Disney Princesses.

  25. Oh, that’s definitely Trri-bull, aka Buffaloman. :)

    I loved getting the rip-off MUSCLE figures as a kid.I think I even did a few times

    Great first article on this subject… I hope we see one on the tiny football helmets one day. I always liked putting them on my wrestling figures for some reason, even though they were too big for that.

  26. My first picks were the Ninja Turtles keychain and the Crunch bar as well! And now I really want a real Crunch bar. However I would have liked that red boat.

  27. I had the 7 up key chain! I also remember the pacifiers and also the glass jars of bubble soap with the wand attached to the lid…you wore it around your neck on a black silky cord…I remember literally 7 years ago, a buddy and me used to collect Homies figures in the vending machines…his step dad ran an auction house, and he got all the rare ones. Those things were so freaking fun to collect.

  28. I had that 7-Up keychain too. I can’t believe I’ve nevber thought about it until I saw that photo. I didn’t get it out of a machine though, and I’m sure the key ring was missing. I think I assumed it was meant for an 12″ action figure. If I had it now, I’d give it to my poor Bender robot figure, because yesterday his plastic beer bottle rolled into the “area of no return” behind my desk, and it means I have to find time to remove everything from the shelf so I can get in there. The 7-Up might tide him over.

  29. Now you have me thinking about my favorite vending machine prizes from back in the day. I remember one place had a rooster who would crow when you inserted a quarter.

  30. That 7UP keychain looks pretty sweet. I’d want one with that and the candy bars all hanging off of it, with the TMNT pin on my jacket.

    Incidentally, I sort of like the red boat. I don’t know that I’d actively want it, but I’d probably be happier with that than some other stuff as a kid.

  31. Awesome! Can’t wait for some more Vintage Vending.

  32. Dude, that’s Raphael and Michaelangelo on that TMNT keychain. You can clearly see one of Raph’s sai’s. That would’ve been the draw for me too.

  33. I had several infuriating episodes with these prizes as a kid, that I very early on decided they were not worth troubling myself over. My Mom always said “They glue all the good stuff on the front,” and that was exactly the case. I remember one prize appearing to be an actual tag ripped out of the neck of a T-shirt, and when I had my heart set on some animal or creature figurine as I am sure I did, this was quite disappointing. One machine that had super bounce balls in it literally did have the large cool colorful ones glued to the front and the only ones you could actually get were small. When the machine would get somewhat empty the fancy ones would still be “hovering” wherever they’d been glued to the glass.

  34. I wasted so much money on these machines as a kid. And today, my son loves them too, though I tell him up front they’re mostly a waste of money. But no kid can resist that sense of mystery, and that rush you get when you actually score something good.

    That TMNT button is obviously the best thing in there. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d wear it even today.

  35. The real question is, which one comes in a plastic egg, and did Fred Flintstone lay it?

  36. I remember seeing a lot of miniature NFL football helmets in those machines. That is definitely Terri-Bull! Love me some M.U.S.C.L.E. Also, I’m the special type of dork that’d totally wear either the 7-UP or Crunch bar necklaces today as an adult.

  37. I would have killed for that Guam one, but I was a big geography nerd as a little kid

  38. I too had a vending machine robot, and may very well have been a Gundam knockoff. he was brown, badass, and picked up at my local Roller Dome.

  39. “For a while, charms like this were as good as gold in school. In a black market full of jelly bracelets and Garbage Pail Kids, nothing traded higher than a charm based on real candy”

    That is classic, Matt.

    That green gundam guy reminded me of Z-Bots, which is something I haven’t thought of in maybe 15years, and I had to sit here for ten minutes trying to remember the name.

  40. I wasn’t really that picky. I probably would have been happy with just about anything up there except for the toy boat (Matt’s right – that thing is useless). Most of these tiny items became jewelery, weapons, or accessories for toys. I don’t know if I would have worn the candy bar necklaces – I might hang them off a hook or on my bulletin board.

    And yeah, the Turtles button would have been the big one. I was never a M.U.S.C.L.E fan, so I probably would have tossed those or handed them over to my sisters.

    Working in a grocery store, I can soundly confirm the continuing popularity of vending machines. Kids often cash dollars to get quarters for the machines. Parents ask for extra quarters in place of dollars for their kids.

  41. Holy shit! It’s a Zock! That is so random. And awesome. Husband and I are huge mecha/Gundam fans. I’ve noticed that toys from old mecha shows tend to pop up where you least expect them.

    As for my own childhood vending machine experiences, I usually just went for the ones that gave you a handful of M&Ms or whatever. When I tried for the prizes, I always got something incredibly lame. If I did go for the prize machines, I’d go for the fake plastic jewelry ones.

  42. Hah, Annette, as soon as someone said it was a Gundam, I knew you’d catch it. :)

    Definitely remember the football helmets. They were big for a while, for sure. Even I was into them, though I chose favorites based on color scheme more than anything else.

  43. Why do I have the sudden urge to rollerskate with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Guam while eating a Nestle Crunch Bar?Maybe The Little Green Robot knows…

  44. I love the adorable Dino Drac coin in the header. :D I still buy toys, stickers, and tattoos from vending machines and I’m 27-years-old.

  45. I had a ton of those knock-off MUSCLE figures, though I think one of the machines I frequented had real ones in it too. My mom would take me by the store, and I’d spend whatever quarters I had left over from my lunch money. I’m pretty sure I had that flying saucer thing under Terribull, though I think mine was actually green.

  46. I think the green guy looks a bit like Big Daddy(?) from Bioshock, if he was playing dodgeball.

    Here’s a top five list of prizes I would most covet at this very moment:

    1.Guam keyring
    2.Tiki Head
    3.7-Up Can
    4.TMNT Badge
    5.KO He-Man shield

    I would probably have been happy enough to chew the shit out of the little red boat, though.

  47. Back in those days the stuff in the bigger “top” machines cost 25 cents with smaller stuff along the bottom that cost a dime. So many super balls and miniature joke books were had from those dime machines. I really loved those little books I’d get at the machines from Giant, and I’m not sure why.

  48. Want. Blue. Rollerskate. BADLY!!

  49. Somebody pointed out the Zock (one of my favorite mecha!) already, so I guess I’ll just be a Kinnikuman nerd instead.

    In Japan, M.U.S.C.L.E. was actually a long running comic and cartoon with a cast of HUNDREDS of bizarre character. Terri-Bull is known as “Buffalo Man” over there, and while once the leader of the “Devil Supermen” wrestlers, he eventually befriends the oafish Kinnikuman (kinniku = muscle) and becomes one of his staunchest allies, using his deadly Hurricane Mixer attack to fight off the baddies. Kinnikuman was and still is pretty popular over there, and inspired a fair few homages. In fact, most of the characters from NES Pro Wrestling are lifted straight out of the comic!

  50. mandy_franken_knee_Reeves, I have a ton of the holographic “Homies” stickers which came around in my late teens. I just love them in all their politically incorrect silliness. Back in the 80′s I was all over the vending machines at the roller rink. Come to think of it, I have always preferred the holographic stickers, even at a whopping 50 cents. Especially if said sticker had unicorns on it.

  51. Well, these vending machine toys aren’t crap after all. They can be used as keychains, cellphone ornaments, or you can glue them to your most boring generic pen and have some fun :D

  52. Matt- in high school my one friend stuck the vending machine Bengals helmet on his LJN Jimmy Snuka to make a custom Flyin Brian Pillman figure. RIP.

    Annette-it’s funny how when you see old dollar store robots you assumed were generic as a kid, you now recognise them from all the 70s-80s anime you Youtune as an adult.

  53. I had the flying saucer but it was painted chrome silver. Do you have one of those?

  54. When I was a kid, my mom would give me one quarter for these machines. Back then, that was enough. I always ended up with stickers. Now, for many kids that would have been a win, but for whatever reason I was just not into stickers.

    I distinctly remember when moving out of my parents house I found this drawer whose back left corner was a giant pile of stickers. What the hell did I do with them?! I have no idea.

  55. I have one of those Tiki heads somewhere in blue that I got out of a vending machine many years ago. I’ll have to see if I can find it…. The blue flying saucer is neat as it looks like a mini version of the KIDS shoes flying saucer they had as a give away to get you to buy their shoes.

  56. The green robot is actually a Zock from Mobile Suit Gundam. It is very weird looking even in context of the series.

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