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The Latest Addition to Uni Watch HQ

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In February of 2023, shortly after E and I began dating, she took me to a vintage shop not far from her house in New Jersey. I was tempted by an old gumball machine, but it was more money than I wanted to spend, plus I didn’t know where I’d put it in my apartment (my rule for this sort of item is that I can’t buy it unless I have some idea of where I’d put it), so I resisted the temptation. But I did take a photo of it — the one shown above.

Over the next few months, I periodically looked at that photo and sort of fantasized about owning the gumball machine. I showed the photo to a few friends (“Look at this beauty that I recently saw in a shop”) and occasionally mentioned it to E (“Remember when we saw that gorgeous gumball machine?”), but I could never quite talk myself into spending the money. After some more time passed, I assumed that the machine had probably been sold. About a month or so ago, E’s daughter and her boyfriend were planning to go to the shop, so I showed them the photo and asked them to see if the machine was still there. They came back a bit later and said it was gone. I was a little disappointed but not surprised, and I figured it was all for the best.

You can see where this is going. Three weeks ago was my birthday, and E presented me with a big, heavy box. Inside, of course, was the gumball machine, which she had purchased a while back. Not only that, but she had shown the machine to the kids before wrapping it, so they knew about it when I asked them to see if the machine was still there at the shop. But they played along. Everyone was in on it!

She also gave me a bunch of M&M’s to put in it. Here’s how it looks:

There are lots of noteworthy details here. One at a time:

  • Hershey-ets were Hershey’s version of M&M’s. They were introduced in 1954 but never caught on at candy shops and were removed from mass distribution in the mid-1970s. They still show up as holiday items, however.
  • The top decal lists the manufacturer’s address as “Cleveland 11, Ohio.” The “11” was part of the postal zone system, which was used from 1943 until 1963, when the zone system was replaced by zip codes. So the machine was made somewhere between 1954 (introduction of Hershey-ets) and 1963 (final year of postal zone system).
  • Most gumball machines open at the top via a removable metal plate, so you remove the plate if you want to refill the machine with candy, or nuts, or whatever. But this one has an unusual design with no top plate. In order to fill the machine, you have to turn it upside-down, unlock and remove the front plate, which releases the base from the glass container, fill the container, put the base back in place, put the front plate back in place and lock it, and turn the whole thing right side up again, all of which is pretty cumbersome (but worth it, of course).
  • When E bought the machine, there was no key. So she had to take the machine to a locksmith, who picked the lock and reverse-engineered a new key.
  • Like it says on the front decal, it’s one full turn for a penny (which dispenses just two or three M&M’s) or five turns for a nickel. Either way, the machine gives off a very nice mechanical clickety-clack as the handle turns (with thanks to E for her hands-on assistance):


There was still the question of where to display it. When I first saw the machine at the vintage shop and tried to envision where to put it, my living room mantel wasn’t an option because I had a big TV there. But I reorganized things last fall, so now the mantel is available, and the machine looks good there:

It’s a little dangerous to have a big supply of M&M’s staring me in the face all day long. But like most people, I use cash less and less these days, so it’s not often that I have any pennies or nickels on hand. That should keep me from overindulging — I hope.



Membership Update

Every now and then we get a card order that works better in a vertical orientation instead of our usual horizontal format. That was the case with a recent order from Varun Sarja, who asked for a cased based on the jerseys worn by the 1998 Kansas City Wizards. I love how this one turned out!

That design is one of five cards that Varun recently ordered for himself. Those five cards, along with several others, have been added to the membership card gallery.

The membership program will end when I step away from Uni Watch at the end of May, so move fast, or at least fast-ish, if you want to get on board. As always, you can sign up for your own custom-designed card here, you can see all the cards we’ve designed so far here (now more than 3,400 of them!), and you can see how we produce the cards here.


LAST CALL for Purp Walk Preorders

If you want to get a 2024 Purp Walk T-shirt or cap in time for Purple Amnesty Day, you need to get your pre-order by today. Full details here.

After today, we’ll still take orders up through May 17, but we won’t be able to guarantee delivery in time for Purp Walk.




Can of the Day

A surprisingly tiny can for sliced pineapple. Cute!

Comments (26)

    I was on the other side of this kind of story. A few years ago my wife found a pewter cordial service at an antique shop that she was smitten with. When she went out of town for a few days, I went and bought it. When she came home, I made sure to visit the shop again so she could see that it had been sold. Long story short, she still talks about the surprise she got Christmas morning when she saw the little cups again.

    What a great gift. I love at the end of the videos the happy “hmmmm” when opening the machine to get the candy. Something about that pleased response makes the videos feel like a vintage instructional video.

    That’s awesome Paul! My brother got a gumball machine for Christmas probably 15 years ago, but it doesn’t have the charm that yours does! Are you able to find Hershey-ets around the holidays? I live 45ish minutes away from Hershey and can take a look later this year if you’d like

    Andrew I am also near Hershey, PA and I swear I saw some Hershey-ets the last time we were at Chocolate World. I want to say they were Valentine’s Day theme.

    There is this story about how the former co-owner of Mars saw chocolate duds in England and approached Hershey about making them in order to thwart his stepfather who owned Mars at that time.

    Oh wow! What a nice, clean looking machine! And I don’t think I ever saw a machine that took a penny or a nickel, that’s a great find and a great present by E!

    Always love to see the bobbleheads from Robert Marshall around the Uni-Watch HQ.

    Paul, my parents had those same peacocks in the living room when I was growing up!

    Paul, this is the kind of story that just make someone smile. That’s a very sweet thing E did for you, and the fact that everyone was in on it. Also speaks to how special they knew it was to you. That is just good soul stuff.

    Fun fact: ZIP stands for “Zone Improvement Plan.” The 5 digit ZIP Code system was definitely an improvement over the old zone system, so yay. Also, as an acronym ZIP should always be in all caps.

    Saw Hershey-Ets at the Hershey’s Chocolate World store over the holidays and was intrigued. Love that machine and the story of how you got it. Is it too heavy for the cats to push off the mantel?

    Yes, definitely too heavy! But more importantly, Waffles has stopped going up there. Not sure why he lost interest, but I’m relieved!

    I adore Hershey-Ets, and once purchased a 5-pound bucket of them. Truly a fantastic alternative on M&Ms (which began their production with the use of Hershey’s chocolate – I wonder if the original M&Ms taste was closer to Hershey-Ets?)

    What an excellent story, what a great gift and wonderful everybody played along. I love the complicated way to fill it and the Thank You on the slot is also very good.

    Super gift from E! Enjoy it. I was wondering, are the decals on the outside of the glass or the inside? I am fascinated by the design of vintage objects.

    Great gift and story! Appears you have a regular/peanut M&M mix. I prefer the peanut, but like both.

    I’m assuming the Hersey versions have that distinct Hersey chocolate flavor vs what’s in M&Ms? Never had them before.

    Having received plastic candy canes full of Hershey-Ets for Christmas as a kid, I can see why they never caught on. They taste weird and are not as good as M&Ms. (And now I know they are called Hershey-Ets.)

    Hershey’s also used to have a candy called Kissables. They were candy coated like M&M’s but in the shape of a Hershey Kiss. They did not last long.


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