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The Pinball Machine is Making a Comeback — And Yours Could Be Worth $15,000

Feel like a kid again — and cash in!


If you grew up in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s, you likely have fond memories spending Saturday afternoons at a dark arcade surrounded by the dings, clunks, whizzes and zings of a classic pinball machine. As the lights flashed, you concentrated on keeping that little metal ball in constant motion, while racking up as many points as possible. Every once in a while you may be caught “hacking” the system (tilting the machine with your leg or hip — shh, we won’t tell). Playing pinball relied on equal parts skill and chance, and every game took you on a journey of highs and lows, but ultimately you’d walk away feeling a rush of euphoric joy.

But after slowly being overshadowed by high-tech video games for decades, the beloved retro clankers fell out of fashion…until now! The pinball machine is making a big comeback–and not only can you feel that child-like delight again, but you may also be able to cash in.

What happened to pinball machines?

In 1931, the first coin-operated pinball machine, Baffle Ball, was introduced by David Gottlieb. Over the next decade saw the rise of many innovative pinball machines, including features like bumpers, flippers, and score reels. The game’s popularity increased during World War II as a form of entertainment for soldiers, but in the 1950s, pinball machines became more elaborate, featuring multiple flippers, ramps, and lights.

Soldiers playing pinball in 1941
A group of soldiers play pinball in 1941.Glasshouse Images/Shutterstock

It was in the 1970s when pinball really hit its stride, when the machines began using electronic circuits, more impressive graphics and digital displays. By the mid-1980s Pinball went out of vogue as arcade games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders increasingly came to dominate the market, and the home video game boom in the ’90s continued to make pinball a thing of the past… until now.

Brooke Shields with pinball machine in Tilt (1978)
A young Brooke Shields plays pinball in Tilt (1978).Melvin Simon/Kobal/Shutterstock

Why is the pinball machine making a comeback?

Just like vinyl records and bell bottom jeans, playing pinball machines works like time travel: we’re instantly transported to our younger selves. A recent episode of “The Intelligence,” a podcast from The Economist, outlines just how triumphant the game’s return has been. In it, correspondent Daniel Knowles reports that every year since 2008 there’s been a 15 to 20% rise in sales of machines by Stern, America’s oldest and biggest pinball manufacturer. In fact, the demand for pinball machines is so high that the company is even moving to a larger factory in Chicago in order to keep up. The International Flipper Pinball Association, a group that organizes tournaments, also stated that pinball tournaments have become far more common, and there are now over 8,000 of them a year. 

Since its inception, pinball has also been an essential part of pop culture. There are countless pinball machines themed around movies, TV shows, comics and music — with so many different variations, there’s an entire Internet Pinball Database. If you go to that site and search a cultural subject from decades past, there’s a good chance you’ll find a pinball machine dedicated to it. But while nostalgia is certainly a big factor in pinball’s appeal, Knowles is quick to point out that pinball isn’t just back because it’s retro.

Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, and Arthur O'Connell in Bus Stop (1956)
Marilyn Monroe and a pinball machine in Bus Stop (1956).Snap/Shutterstock

“It’s tactile and delightfully mechanical,” he explains, which makes it a powerful antidote to our world of screens. Playing a pinball machine delivers a very different sensation than scrolling on your phone, and people are eager to have that type of tangible connection. That’s not to say that pinball hasn’t also embraced technology. While pinball machines remain true feats of pre-digital mechanical engineering, there have been recent innovations like machines which allow you to automatically log your scores online. 

How much does a pinball machine sell for today?

Prior to the ’70s, pinball was banned in many states because it was associated with gambling, and many pinball parlors were believed to have ties to organized crime. Today it’s not only considered a fun and wholesome activity, the machines have also become prized collector’s items. On the Economist podcast, Knowles states that pinball machines now sell for as much as $15,000 — or more! On eBay, pinball machines are listed for up to $50,000.

Pinball machines
Pinball machines come in many different themes.John Angelillo/UPI/Shutterstock

If you have an old pinball machine gathering dust in your garage, you may want to check out Pinball Prices, a site featuring price guides and trends. Pinball Value is another useful service — they can appraise your machine and help you sell it. Like with any collectible, the value will vary depending on your machine’s condition and rarity, but many pinball machines sell for at least $1,000, and prices have been steadily rising.

Long live pinball machines!

In this fast-paced, smartphone-filled age, it’s comforting to know that pinball has made a return. If you haven’t played the game since your youth, you just might want to give it another go. The sounds, movements, and colors will transport you back to a simpler time, and we think this pinball resurgence is well worth celebrating.  

Read on for more retro collectibles!

Vintage Record Players Have Made a Comeback — Yours Could Be Worth $1,000s

The Polaroid Camera Has Made a Comeback — And Yours Could Be Worth $2,000

Hello! That Old Phone Sitting in the Corner of Your Garage Could Be Worth up to $8,000

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