Something to sing about: an arcade coin-op recording booth

The rare coin-op Calibre Auto Recording Booth. Morphy Auctions image

What you see: A 50-cent Calibre Auto Recording Booth. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Don Grimmer, vice president of Morphy Auctions Las Vegas.

So let’s imagine I’m wandering along a boardwalk, or in an amusement park or an arcade, and I see this and I want to use it. How do I do that? You open the door, go in and close the door behind you to keep the outside noise from coming in. You inserted two quarters and began speaking or singing when the red light was on. It was recommended that you stand 6 to 12 inches from the microphone.

And the recording time lasted about 4 minutes? A few minutes per record, I don’t know how many. It stopped on its own. A machine behind the microphone created the record for you.

Do we know how many of these units were made? We don’t know, but they were popular in the UK also.

And this is the only version of the unit that the manufacturer produced? I think this is the only style. It’s very rare. It’s the only style I’ve seen.

Is this the first one you’ve handled? This is the first one we’ve had to auction. One sold privately recently, which is how we created the estimate.

Do we know when this particular unit was made? Mid- to late ’60s. That’s what I’d say as a guy who’s been around coin-op [machines], judging by the look and feel of it.

Does it work? Everything is there. It appears to be complete. It hasn’t been tested, and you’d need to fill it with blank discs. The collector will be the one to get it wired and working. We don’t have the discs to put in it. It probably needs maintenance to get it in full working condition.

Have you heard any records that were made by a booth such as this one? How do they sound? It’s mostly a low-fi recording, despite the hi-fi ad on the exterior. It’s not a great quality record. It’s a cool novelty.

So you hear pop and hiss? Right. Sometimes you can find one somebody made. They pop up in old record stores and thrift stores.

The lot notes describe its condition as “very good.” What does that mean in this context? It’s structurally sound. The graphics are intact. The mechanism is intact, which is a major plus. It’s not a hunk of crap. Perfect equals mint. Because the mechanism is there, that makes it very good. It’s very easy to see the wear markers, the scratches, the condition.

Have you sat in it? What is that like? There’s no seat present in it. You stand inside and it makes you want to put a coin in the slot and give it a try. It’s a good experience. It gets you excited that this will be a great thing to try.

How many people can comfortably fit inside the booth, really, knowing that you have to close the door to get a legible recording? It measures only about 2½ feet by 2 feet. You could possibly get two or three skinny people in there, or five kids, but honestly, it’s made for one.

What do we know about the provenance of this unit? It comes from the Seaside Heights boardwalk in New Jersey, and was used in Seaside Heights and Wildwood, New Jersey.

Is there anything we can say about the graphics decorating the machine? The good thing is that they’re intact. They’re legible and clear. There are wear issues. This thing was used! You climb in it and your friends climb in with you, having fun and being rowdy, especially when you start singing. It’s lucky to be in the condition it’s in.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this, knowing that none of these units have been to auction before? What are its comparables, beyond private sales? Very few exist, and very few survive. I’ve talked to two guys who know of these. The market will do what the market will do, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? When you get in it, it makes you want to use the machine. And it records you. Not many things out there actually records yourself. It makes you want to something silly, like stand in a booth and sing to yourself. And this is a rare, fresh to market piece, which makes it even more desirable.

How to bid: The Calibre Auto Recording Booth is lot 1179 in the Coin-op & Advertising sale at Morphy Auctions Las Vegas on April 13 and 14. Bid absentee or live online through LiveAuctioneers.

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By SHEILA GIBSON STOODLEY

Visit the author’s website, The Hot Bid, at www.thehotbid.com .