Former pinball museum owner selling off collection

David Silverman, of Silver Spring, says he's going through a range of emotions as he liquidates most of his pinball machine collection. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Pinball History 1993 Williams Indiana Jones Pinball Machine (Courtesy Morphy Auctions)
1978 Stern Ted Nugent Pinball Machine (Courtesy Morphy Auctions)
Creature From the Black Lagoon Pinball Machine (Courtesy Morphy Auctions)
1936 Daily Races D. Gttlieb & Co. Payout (Courtesy Morphy Auctions)

WASHINGTON — If you love pinball, you’ll flip for this.

The man who founded D.C.’s now-closed National Pinball Museum is selling his collection of hundreds of machines, and the second in a series of auctions is set for 9 a.m. Sunday, April 27.

David Silverman, of Silver Spring, Md., first opened the National Pinball Museum in Georgetown in late 2010, then moved it to Baltimore before closing it for good last year.

Silverman says he then moved hundreds of his machines to a storage area at a former mall in Sykesville, Md., where he was told he would have one year’s notice before he would have to move them.

He considered opening the museum a third time when he got word that he would have to move his items out in just 30 days. That’s when he called Morphy Auctions, in Pennsylvania. Although the auction will be held in the Lancaster, Pa.-area, D.C.-area bidders can participate online or by phone.

See what is in the auction catalog here.

Silverman says he doesn’t plan on going to any of the auctions.

“It’s partially painful, and partially, I’m trying to get beyond it.”

Among the items for sale in Sunday’s auction is a 1936 machine called Daily Races, which was banned in many places because players could win money from it. That makes it a rare machine because it would often be confiscated, Silverman says.

“The interesting part about that game is that, the one that I found, it was confiscated to the basement of a policeman’s home.

“I don’t know how many of this game exist, but it was one of the highest-priced games that I ever bought.”

Another game, called Safe Cracker, is a game within a game within a game. Scoring in the pinball game help move you forward on a second Parcheesi-style game board on the backglass, the upper part of the pinball machine. If you win this second part of the game, something amazing happens.

“You get a token that rolls right out of the game, onto the playfield glass, into your hands. That token then you can use to put into a different coin slot, and that coin slot plays a different game.”

Other interesting machines in Sunday’s auction include an “Indiana Jones” machine, another based on “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and a very hard-to-find rolldown machine, which was made for states where shooting a ball with a plunger was considered gambling.

Silverman says it’s a good time to buy and a bad time to sell. He says the economy has really affected the value of older pinball machines.

“The first auction has kind of taught me a lesson … I don’t even expect to come close to getting what I paid for these games.”

Silverman collected about 700 games over almost 35 years, but he’s not selling all of them.

“I’m keeping about 12 or 15 games, and they’re for all the wrong reasons that people would think of. They’re not necessarily the rarest, and not necessarily the most beautiful. They just have a lot of historical importance to me — not only from their own historical perspective, but they had importance to me based on my collecting, where I was in my life during it.

“Like the first game I ever bought was a game called Fireball. I’ve always kept that game — we kept it in this house. At one point we kept it as a night light because it had the most beautiful backglass — these reds, oranges and yellows.”

He also has a brand-new “Wizard of Oz” pinball machine at his home that he intended on showing off at the museum. Sadly, it was delivered after the museum closed.

Silverman has gone through a range of emotions since the museum was shuttered, but now he can look back and smile.

“I’m sad that it didn’t survive, but it came as close to my mind’s eye of what I wanted as it could have ever been. And so I’m satisfied with having that happen, and that’s taken a lot for me to actually say that.”

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