In this guest post, University of Brighton student Olivia Terry discusses a clairvoyant exhibit in Brighton Museum, and how it records the history of the English seaside resort.
Tucked behind the entrance door of the Images of Brighton Gallery in Brighton Museum is a fortune-teller machine. The nearby caption titles this exhibit as “The Gipsy Fortune-Teller Slot Machine” which once resided on the Palace Pier and dates from the early 1930s. Trapped in a tall yellow and blue box is a one-eyed woman, decked out in gaudy jewelry seemingly busy writing fortunes with a quill. On the outside, the fortune-teller invites her audience to place a penny in the appropriate gender slot, and there are knobs that can be adjusted to select the viewer’s birth month. Towards the base of the box, a fortune was supposed to shoot out of a red aperture with golden cursive writing stating “tickets here” above it.
Machines like this were once a big part of the British seaside resort holiday culture. People would come from all over to take part in the fun that was seaside amusement parks and indulge in the thrills it had to offer. However, during the 1950s, amusement parks reached their peak in popularity when people started finding newer ways to entertain themselves such as visiting cinemas, concert halls and live shows, and the massive cost of the Second World War weighed heavily on the funding for amusement parks. Anya Chapman states ‘the decline in demand led to the closure of many attractions, tourist infrastructure and accommodation from the 1970s onwards,’ so novelty machines like the “Gipsy Fortune-Teller Slot Machine” would often become decrepit due to lack of upkeep.
Despite the near extinction of old amusement park games, there has been a rise in so-called ‘old penny’ arcades. These celebrate the nostalgia of antique slot machines similar to the Gipsy and now more than 20 reside in towns in Britain, the majority of them in seaside towns. Brighton has one fifty yards from Brighton Pier called “Mechanical Memories Museum”, and it contains machines ranging from the 1900s to the 1960s, including a fortune-teller, similar to this one in Brighton Museum. It is through old arcade games that we may understand Brighton’s rich history of being a town known for its many amusements, fun, and cheap thrills.
Olivia Terry, student on BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History, University of Brighton
Chapman, Anya, “ “The ‘Heritagisation’ of the British Seaside Resort: The Rise of the ‘Old Penny Arcade,’” Journal of Heritage Tourism (2011) : (n.p) Taylor and Francis Online. Web. 17 Oct 2018.
“Mechanical Memories Museum.” Steam Heritage, Steam Heritage Publishing Ltd. (n.d) Web. 17 Oct 2018. https://www.steamheritage.co.uk