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A Mere Bagatelle

Alison Sofield - Volunteer - Whangarei Museum 

There are a number of interesting early toys in Whangarei Museum’s collections, one of which is this pinball machine or bagatelle as they are sometimes known.

This example serves a double purpose, to amuse and to encourage patriotism in a time of war. Whangarei Museum is fortunate to have this item as our national Museum, Te Papa in Wellington, also has an identical piece in its collection, which can be viewed online.

Our early pin ball machine was made by Advertising Craft Ltd. in Wellington in the 1940s as part of the war effort. It is a wooden toy and was played with three pairs of coloured glass marbles, representing the Navy (ship), Air Force (plane) and Army (tank). The aim was to propel the marbles up the sloping board to avoid the pins or pegs and get to Berlin. The rules were printed on the back of the board, but sadly the years have degraded the print, which is now barely legible. However if one refers to the Te Papa website the rules are clearer on their version. The slogan “Berlin or Bust” first appeared on a recruiting poster of World War One and was chosen as the appropriate title for this game.

Bagatelle was invented in the later part of the 18th century and was played on a table with metal balls. Billiards and pool are derived from these early beginnings.

In 1871 Montague Redgrave, an English Inventor, was granted a patent for an improved Bagatelle. He added a coiled spring and plunger, replacing larger metal balls with marbles and inclined the board. The board replaced the table and became a more portable version.

In 1933, Harry Williams made an electrified version, with flashing lights and music, and this type of pinball machine became a popular Arcade game. There are even electronic versions today often seen in dairies and public houses.  Advertising Craft and other like organisations, could not have foreseen how their game would be the forerunner of these electric versions, let alone present day digital options that keep both young and not so young glued to screens.