I remember wanting to buy my first vintage Coke machine for my office. I had no idea what to get, what different brands or models were worth, what to look for, and how to be sure I was not being ripped off! I would like to share some general thoughts to help you in buying your first old Coke machine or cooler, in hopes to save you from making a decision that you regret or one that costs you more money than you planned on.
(We are considering offering an advice service to buyers who need help, let us know if you are interested! You would send us your images and pricing details and we can look it over and let you know our opinion, what to ask, what to look for, and what parts may be missing. Our small fee could save you hundreds or more. )
Tips on buying your first vintage coke machine, or cooler
- How are you intending to use the machine? Or is it just a decoration?
If you plan to use the machine, it’s good to know that the older the machine the more likely it is to only take bottles. Yes, you can get similar glass bottles today. And sometimes the mini cans will fit, but not always. Bottles cost more than cans of course, and you are going to be limited in variety, but there is nothing like a cold coke from a glass bottle!
The shape of the glass bottle has changed over the years, so stacking them high is limited in a machine that has a vertical stack in it. This does not apply to a slanted shelf design or a drum design. If you prefer to use cans, some older machines can be converted for use with 12 oz cans, others can not. In this case, you may want to buy a can vending machine instead. Coke introduced the 12 oz can in 1960 and the machines followed.
Lastly, many people don’t want to use the machine at all, but just have it as a decoration. Some like the old patina, some like a full restoration. So I think the first step is to answer this question.
- Does it cool and vend?
One of the larger expenses is replacing the cooling system in your vintage drink machine. So it is good to know if it cools when you buy it. Please my blog entry if they tell you it “just needs freon”. Many times original cooling systems have not run for years and will quit after a short time of being used again. And in addition, the wiring is often decayed and needs to be replaced. So, if you are not intending on restoring the machine, knowing if it is cooling and vending can be helpful.
Two questions to ask: does the temperature get to below 40 inside? Are the wires frayed, rotted or damaged.
- How big is the machine?
Here is a general rule, the smaller the machine the more desirable and valuable it is. So for example a Vendo 44, Vendo 81, or Vendo 39 machines are going to be more popular and cost more than, for example, the very large Vendo 216. (The number after the brand is the number of bottles or cans it holds. ) If you are going to put the machine indoors, such as a game room or office, then a smaller machine is better. If you are putting it in a garage or outdoors, this may not matter as much. Same for coolers, smaller coolers like a WD5 or WD10 are more desirable than a full 6-foot long cooler.
- Is it a square top or round top?
Roundtop machines indicate an older model from the 1940s or 1950s. Then came the square top machines starting in 1960. Because round tops are getting harder to find and more expensive, we see many people starting to collect the earlier square top machines.
- Are you going to restore it, or just repair it?
If you intend to restore it, it’s good to know what it may cost to repair or restore the older coke machine. We have a general guide on our web site.
- What is the price they are asking for?
Ever since American Pickers came out, many people are hopeful that their barn find is rare and valuable. We see crazy prices listed all time by people, prices that are not even close to realistic. In fact, it’s my opinion that most prices I see are 50% to 100% higher than the market demands. There are a few ways to see the price is reasonable. One is to search eBay for sold items. (not list prices on eBay, but ones that actually sold) Secondly, you can join a Facebook group of vintage drink machines and ask the members for their opinions. Just be warned, in addition to a lot of very knowledgeable people, there are also a lot of strong opinions out there. And they are just that, opinions.
In end, the machine is worth what the buyer and seller are willing to agree on. If you like it and it meets your needs, go for it and have a piece of classic Coke nostalgia in your home!