Your Friendly Local Kinetoscope and Mutoscope: Where can we see old school coin-operated movies?

I was feeling a little mischievous on Twitter today (and every day) and so I decided to poke a bit of fun at the raging Cannes Film Festival vs. Netflix debate currently underway.

(For the record, I don’t have a dog in the fight, I just like to spread the word about early cinema history.)

To my surprise, quite a few people responded with memories of using these old machines or stating that they would like to use them. So, I thought I would put a question to you, dear readers:

Have you used a Kinetoscope, Mutoscope or other peephole-type motion picture device? Where did you use it and is it still there?

I remember using one at Calico Ghost Town when I was maybe six or seven (I don’t know if it’s there anymore or what its make was) and I pretty much used every Mutoscope on display at the Musรฉe Mรฉcanique in San Francisco in December.

P.S. If you don’t have such a machine handy, you can watch them on an inaccurate but oh-so-convenient DVD.

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30 Replies to “Your Friendly Local Kinetoscope and Mutoscope: Where can we see old school coin-operated movies?”

  1. When I was young we used to go to Wildwood New Jersey and there were several arcades and at least two of them had the old penny machines. Some even had cardboard photos that would come out. I think there were some at Seaside Heights but those ended up in the ocean during hurricane Sandy.

  2. Hi Fritzi. What a great question. You can find a bunch of Mutoscopes at the Penny Arcade in Disneyland. They change the reels periodically but they don’t have a big selection. You can find a few Mutoscopes and many other coin-operated amusement machines at the Musee Mechanique at Pier 45 in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Now I need to find a Kinetoscope…

  3. In the 1960s- 1970s, the Arcade in Myrtle Beach, SC had 2 or 3 Mutoscopes, or some other flip cart type machines. I looked for them back 15-20 years ago or so, and they were gone, along with most of the other non-electronic games.

  4. As children, my sister and I marveled at a penny archade machine on the boardwalk at Atlantic City that featured a series of old photographs set on a rolladex type apparatus. (Technology!) You looked through a viewer and turned a crank to flip the cards, making the images appear to move. That inspired us to make our own series of cartoon drawings on flip pads to entertain each other whenever one of us was sick.

    That was nearly fifty years ago, so I doubt the machines are still there.

  5. There were mutoscopes in Sydney’s iconic Luna Park in the 50s, a place we regularly visited as kids . The first ‘Olympic’ pool in Sydney was next door, so it was an ideal Saturday ‘arvo’ (afternoon) for kids: a swim followed by a visit to the amusement park. They gave you a couple of free ride tickets, but the mutoscopes required a coin.

    The programs on the hand cranked mutoscopes were of the ‘What the Butler Saw’ genre, but permissible for curious boys; the butler didn’t see much…

    The updated park still stands following a checkered history (apparently professional ladies found a base there to ply their wares to visiting US servicemen during WW2) but few of the vintage attractions do. Those that do survive owe their salvation to eccentric artist, Martin Sharp, designer of psychedelic poster and album covers for Jimmy Hendrix and Cream etc. and patron of Tiny Tim.

    I’m not sure where the mutoscopes ended up, they don’t fit the current stylish version of Luna Park.

  6. When I was young, the George Eastman House here in Rochester, NY, had one of these machines on display, and visitors could turn the crank to flip the cards and watch the movie. After so many years, I can’t remember if it was a Mutoscope or something else, but the cards were on a big drum about three feet across, and the entire thing took about a minute to crank all the way around. One side of the wooden case had been opened and covered with a clear window, so visitors could see how the interior machinery worked. When my sisters and I were kids, this thing was one of the highlights of any visit, the thing we all clamored to have a turn at. Nowadays the Eastman House is called the George Eastman Museum, and the peep-movie machine was no longer on public display the last time I visited. I imagine it was probably removed to archival storage for its own safekeeping, after so many people cranking it over the years and wearing out the cards.

    1. How interesting! Yes, I think all the Mutoscopes I used had replaced the original cards; Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin were small boys at the Mutoscope heyday but they were the featured players in the machines I used.

  7. Spreading the word about early cinema history is always a worthy endeavor, so a hearty “Well Done!” to this post ๐Ÿ˜€

    Thinking back, of course there was the Main Street Arcade in Disneyland when I first moved to California, and I’ve also been to a show in Los Angeles’ Descanso Gardens of early music and movie machines- it included a Penny Peep Show tent (Kinetoscopes), But long before that I remember there was a cast iron Mutoscope in one of the museums on the main drag in Jim Thorpe PA. You could faintly hear the cards flipping when you cranked it (no communal or any earbuds, alas). Story was something about trains arriving and departing, loading and unloading passengers and freight. If you asked politely to the right person there were several rolls of cards that could be changed out, so I did see an additional one of more trains at a station. Haven’t been there in years, so the Mutoscope may still be hanging around in that little museum!

    There was also a Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe (same street) which is among the creepiest I’ve ever toured. It is where some of the Molly Maguires were imprisoned and hung. Not for the faint of heart, particularly coupled with the photo and newspaper collections depicting events that took place there.

    However, Jim Thorpe PA is a wonderful little burg if anyone cares to visit, loaded with Carbon County history. I had actually traveled there several times during university to see the Asa Packer mansion, his son Harry’s manse right next door, and listen to the amazing 1905 Orchestrion on the mezzanine floor of Asa’s place that plays a great number of danceable tunes so loudly it can be heard in town. Heavenly!

  8. Years ago I worked at the Cocoanut Grove, the relatively respectable restaurant on top of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. On break, sometimes I took the freight elevator up to the attic, where they stored old arcade games (the restaurant is directly over the arcade). There were a few old movie machines, one literally called “What the Butler Saw”. As far as I can remember, there weren’t any of this sort of machine actually in the arcade, although they do have plenty of vintage games–I was pretty happy to find a working Asteroids game (circa 1990)! Well, summer’s coming and I have kids, so I’m sure I’ll get over to the Boarwalk sooner or later.

    One other possibility in the greater SF Bay Area is “Playland-Not-At-The-Beach”, which has collected a bunch of amusements from an amusement park that disappeared from SF about the time I arrived (that is, was born). I’ll check that out one of these days too. http://www.playland-not-at-the-beach.org/penny_arcade_00.htm

    kaw143, thanks for the tip about Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe. I end up in Seattle about once a year so I’ll look for that next time.

  9. I visited the Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio several times in the 1970s and/or early 1980s, and once when I was there, they were doing a special temporary exhibit on early films. There were machines where you put your eye to the peephole and a short motion picture played. Sorry, I can’t remember any details, I was just a kid, but it really impressed me as the best thing about my trip that year (even better than roller coasters!) I think this happened at Cedar Point, although we did occasionally get taken to other amusement parks. I would love to see another one of these exhibits now that I am old enough to appreciate details!

  10. There are a couple of machines of this type in the lobby of the West Newton Cinema in Newton, MA, although it’s been a while since I’ve been there and they weren’t in great repair, if I remember correctly.

  11. I used one at Clark’s Trading Post in the early 2000s – no sound though, just a girl shimmying.

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