Location: National Pinball Museum, Silver Spring, MD 20904, USA.
Date: October 2009
Approaching the home of the National Pinball Museum on the outskirts of Baltimore, it's hard to know what to expect. The website explains they are at a temporary location until a permanent base can be built and occupied.
So would this temporary home turn out to be nothing more than a draughty storage unit with a pile of beat up games awaiting restoration?
Happy, nothing could not be further from the truth and our trepidation soon turned to excitement and then wonder as the National Pinball Museum was opened up to us.
It's immediately obvious that the Curator, 61-year-old David Silverman, on whose property the Museum is located, is hugely passionate about pinball. This 60ft x 40ft custom designed and constructed building easily demonstrates that and shows no signs of its temporary status, at least as far as the quality of the workmanship goes.
Even before you step inside, there is pinball to play right there on the covered veranda.
But the main show takes place inside the two-roomed building, where an superb collection of machines from all ages demonstrate pinball's development over the years.
The first room is the one you enter from outside and contains the bulk of the collection.
It immediately become more apparent exactly why the home of this collection needs to be in larger premises. While the selection and variety of machines is the stuff of dreams, the gaps between machines and the rows are testament to the way the maximum number of games have been squeezed into the limited space available.
Facing you as you enter is a Chicago Coin Miami, flanked by two Gottliebs - Slick Chick and Square Head.
On the right as you enter is an even older machine.
This 1935 Criss Cross A-Lite was designed by Harvey Heiss and has been carefully restored to look like new. It also happens to be a rather fun and challenging game to play.
The room contains 33 machines from the '30s to the end of the '90s.
The Big Bang Bar is unusual enough - being prototype #16 of the original Capcom run and sitting next to a Capcom Kingpin as well - but it is unique in having a coin payout system built into the front. Designed for the Japanese market, this would pay out 99 coins for achieving the grand champion score.
This illustrates one of David's intentions in building the collection - to amass historically significant machines; either because of their rarity or because they are representative of the age in which they were built. He described the machines on show, saying "These are the records of this pop culture. This is a pinball gallery and not a pinball arcade".
The overhead lighting is arranged in two strips above the walkways, so there are no reflections on the playfield glass and it evenly illuminates the floor area.
It's easy to concentrate on the machines and not notice the display of backglasses on the ledge which runs around the room. They are not lit as brightly as the machines, but are certainly worthy of some time spent enjoying the varied designs.
The second room brings more of the same and is just a couple of steps up from the main room.
Inside are 17 more pinballs spanning 60 years from the 1936 Daily Races to Barb Wire and Safecracker from 1996.
The museum is often hired for private parties and so the second room also contains a kitchen area. David said the parties serve two purposes; they help boost the building fund for the Museum's next home, and they help to get a new generation of players interested in the game.
Another event also helped in that regard when David ran the Pinball Music Hall Of Fame at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia over the summer of 2009. Those going to - or returning from - the music concerts could stop by and play 9 music-themed machines.
David has also been involved in other pinball promotions, appearing twice at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington this October. The first time he brought four machines as part of the William Wiley retrospective, and featured again at the end of the month in his own Tilt! presentation where he brought 9 machines along for visitors to play.
Downtown Washington is also David's preferred location for the Museum's eventual home. He is currently putting together a business plan to present to potential investors who could provide the necessary funding to make it happen.
His aim is to create a kind of community centre to run alongside the exhibition of machines, with classrooms where related skills such as art, electrical and electronic design can be taught. "It needs to be large enough to be kitschy, but sophisticated with a pinball theme to the buildings", he said. The museum needs to be "a history lesson, but a fun history lesson".
Until the funding for this final resting place is achieved, a home capable of displaying a much larger number of machines is being sought. To fill this proposed 20,000 square feet of exhibition space, there will need to be significantly more machines than the 50 currently on display.
Fortunately, though, David has that well and truly covered.
Since he started buying pinballs in college - one of his earliest acquisitions was a Fireball he still owns - he has amassed a collection of over 850 machines. He keeps around 500 of them around the property in out-buildings, and we went to visit one such building to see what's inside.
If the Museum was an amazing sight, seeing all these games in storage is an equally jaw-dropping experience.
It is tempting to lament so many machines from pinball's golden age sitting here in pieces and not being played.
But the truth is that these machines are kept in dry, well conditioned buildings and are waiting their chance to become part of the Nation Pinball Museum's collection when it can finally be exhibited in its entirety.
In the meantime, these machines are also taken out for restoration and are rotated through the existing Museum's collection. For beneath the Museum building is a restoration area where a machine can be worked on until it is ready it is brought up.
Returning to the main building, we can see how that process is made much easier by a special elevator built into one corner of the museum.
It's probably the case that the National Pinball Museum has not had the recognition it deserves. David has built up an extraordinary collection of machines and created an equally impressive home to house them.
It should certainly be part of any pinball enthusiasts visit to the Washington/Baltimore area and his aims to expand both the size and the ambitions of the Museum is worthy of both our applause and our support.
The National Pinball Museum can be booked for private parties and can be visited by appointment with David on Saturday mornings between 9am and noon. Further details can be found on the Museum's website at www.nationalpinballmuseum.org.
© Pinball News 2009