The Art of Musée Mécanique

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Click here to see all my photos of Musee Mecanique.

Musée Mécanique (the Mechanical Museum) is one of San Francisco’s hidden gems down at Fisherman’s Wharf. My friend Aqui-Ali introduced me to the place last summer and I’ve been back down there several times since.

What is Musée Mécanique? It is a wonderfully cared for and curated collection of antique coin operated mechanical machines put together by Edward Galland Zelinsky. Zelinsky. It is operated in old time penny arcade style down at Pier 45 at Fisherman’s Wharf. It is one of the largest and most impressive private collections of antique machines in the world.

Zelinsky started collecting mechanical machines when he was 11 years old.

“I started my collection when I was about 11 years old, and that’s a long time ago. I went to the Ellis Theatre on Fillmore Street and during the intermission they had a Bingo game. My number was called and I ran on stage. They had a big wheel, I spun the wheel, and believe it or not, I won the grand prize! No, I didn’t win a slot machine or a music box; I won five quarts of motor oil. Well, as I was 11 years old and I didn’t have a car, I carried the five quarts of oil home and then sold the oil to my piano teacher for 75 cents. With the 75 cents in my pocket I rode the streetcar down to Golden Gate Avenue, an area where they sold slot machines and old jukeboxes. For 5 cents I bought a penny skill game that you put a penny in and get five balls and it goes around in a circle. I put pennies in it and taught my parents and my friends to do the same; it acted like a bank. I used the money I saved from the machine to buy more equipment and I visited that area many times over the years.”

To read the rest of Zelinsky’s amazing story about how he amassed his beautiful collection click through to the Museum’s About Page here. Zelinsky has a great story about how he once traded a machine for the only steam powered motorcycle in the world which is on display at the museum today and for which he recently received an unsolicited offer of $250,000.

As you enter the Musée Mécanique you hear the most wonderful laughs from a coin operated giant Laughing Sal. You can read about this piece as well as many of the other pieces collected by Zelinsky at their website.

And one of the best things about the Musée Mécanique? It’s free. Well, you may drop a few coins in the slots to get the machines to entertain you, but there is no charge to visit this Zelinsky’s collection and they also seem to have a very open policy about photography. Of the several times that I’ve been there no one has ever asked me not to take photos or shoot the machines.

Anyways, the next time you have an out of town visitor you are showing around San Francisco or you find yourself down at Fisherman’s Wharf check it out. And bring your macro lens because you’ll get some pretty cool photos if you do.

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