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.