Thursday, October 30, 2008

Amazing Slot Machine Wood Carvings by Polk/Sanchez


You might recognize figures like these - amazing old-west wood-carvings with slot machines from the 1950's. Not that you are that old, but hey, they've been around since then. You can still see them in some vintage settings like Virginia City, NV (near Reno).

In the late 1940's, Frank Polk began carving the first of 92 wooden western figures to fit slot machines, and they were sold to casinos in Northern Nevada, as well as other places.

Originally produced for Harry Skelly's Character Manufacturing Company of Reno, the sculptures held both post-war Pace machines as well as the preferred Mills High-Tops. Skelly's also produced twenty-one plastic cocktail waitresses, each holding a Pace BELL, for the Golden Casino in Reno. Those machines graced the lobby of the Golden Bank Club when it was still owned by Bill Graham and Jim McKay.

In 1979, Master wood carver Mannie Sanchez (Trinidad, Colorado) produced 15 old-west figures (shown in the photo above) using the same care and precision that went into Frank P0lk's carvings. These newer figures were fitted with re-manufactured Mills High-Tops, and have been in private hands ever since.

Mannie is an amazing artist, and now dreams of teaching others to do the kind of work he has spent a lifetime doing. A few years back, it appeared we would be working together at a new equestrian center in Raton, New Mexico.

Unfortunately, the deal for the center fell-through, but Mannie continues to do wonderful work. The circus wagon he made for the town of Raton (same link as above) is just beautiful. One of his students, Rose Cozzettte, of Canon City, CO, has a number of examples of her work on the web, and her work reflects his deep belief in high craftsmanship.

Anybody own one of Mannie's slot figures, or one of the original Frank Polk's?

Thanks for reading - Al W. Moe

4 comments:

Don Scheffler said...

Thanks for this article -- along with the picture of the slots. Always thought that I might have one of the 90+ character slot machines originally crafted by Polk in the 50s, however, after seeing the picture you have posted here, I'm now convinced I own an original 'Sanchez'...1 of 15 no less!

My father bought this character slot back in the late 1980s from a once-high-rolling friend who need some cash at the time...think my dad probably paid <$1,000 for the machine. It's been in either his possession or mine ever since, and I currently have it on display at our ranch house, here, in Texas. The sculpture doesn't seem to be signed, though, so I've never been able to really attribute it to any particular artist for sure -- I just guessed as to what I had from all the limited prior info I could come across online and from local dealers/various slot machine repairmen.

Mine is one of the 'bandit' figures. To try describing it (...and please bare with me), he has a red bandana covering his face, and 'wears' a black shirt with white stripes, and red-'stitched' black Levi's-looking jeans. There's a drawn revolver with white grips in his hand, held over a black leather gun holster on his hip, and he has on black cowboy boots with fancy yellow or gold 'embroidery' and silver-capped toes. He didn't have a hat on when we got him, so we found a felt Stetson that fit. For his chest/torso he has a red, black, and chrome Mills "High-Top" 25 cent slot machine (in working order, that's used sort of regularly I might add)...it's a really cool piece to see, and one of the best looking carved wood figure slots that I think I've seen. Here's a pic of it online: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dscheffler2/6773734890/in/photostream/

I know Frank Polk pioneered the wood-carved character slot machines, and his will always remain more sought-after, but now that I see/know there's a difference between the two, I think I might actually prefer the later work of Mannie Sanchez...his seems more realistic/life-like than do Polks, with cleaner lines, more balanced proportions, and even more vivid color. Though, apparently it seems, I own a 'Sanchez' now, so maybe I'm just being biased here.

Do you know where I might be able to find more detailed info on my machine and learn about its history, production, and what exactly I have? Is mine even a Sanchez piece, you think, or maybe could someone else have carved it? This is one of my most cherished possessions, and I've been searching to know more about it and its past for years. Appreciate the help -- any and all I can get. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have knowledge of the original "One-arm bandits". I worked for Mrs Freedman and Mr. Skelly in 1951. The slot machines were in a souvenir store on Virginia Street in Reno, Nevada.

lane fleischer said...

i think i have a polk miner ,because to date only mr. polk was the only carver that did one

regards lane fleischer enalg@juno.com

Jason L. Kuenstler said...

My great uncle owned the Bonaza Land and Cattle Company Casino in Virginia City back in the late 60's, early 70's. I have an original miner that was in the space under the casino. The insides of the slot was missing but the carving is in great shape. I also have the carved bust and head of a saloon girl that sits on top of a machine.
Jason L. Kuenstler, Midland, Texas