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Ode to a Phony Doubloon

23 August 2010 Stories and Appreciations 26,459 views 4 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Near the exit of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction at Disneyland there’s a tiny shop called Pieces of Eight. It has served your every swashbuckling need since the attraction opened in 1967, many, many years before the “Pirates” concept was translated into feature films. If you need a handful of plastic jewels, a safety-orange flintlock or to have your fortune read by Fortune Red, Pieces of Eight stands ready to serve, me hearties … in every capacity save one.

Until recently, Pieces of Eight was home to one of those carnival midway machines that would print any sequence of letters onto a souvenir coin. You’d drop your four bits, swing a “Metropolis”-like clock hand to the desired letter and pull a handle — and deep within the machine you’d hear and feel a satisfying, metallic ker-chunk as the die stamped a letter into the soft metal of the coin. When you were finished — I think you were allotted 30 spaces, though the machine had no safeguards to prevent you from printing over the beginning of your message — you’d pull a handle and out would fall your custom-stamped coin, which looked just like a genuine Spanish doubloon.

(“Genuine” is admittedly relative; the coins don’t look much like an actual real de a ocho. But they looked enough like a doubloon to a certain 12-year-old who, in the Wikipedia-free 1980s, had never seen a real de a ocho with his own eyes. I bought at least fifty of those coins over the years; I have a little more than a dozen remaining in my possession.)

As satisfying as the process of making your doubloon was, it was an even greater pleasure to finally hold the coin in the palm of your hand. Other such carny machines issued coins of flyweight aluminum, but Disney gave you a nice, heavy piece of nickel alloy that actually felt like it had some value. You had made your own money. You could melt it down for grapeshot; you could spend a lifetime attempting to transform it into gold; or you could simply use it as a decorative anchor for your keychain, as I’ve done.

I’d love to tell you to run down to Disneyland and get your own customized filthy lucre, but the machine is gone, and has been for several years. There are rumors of occasional re-appearances (dropped off by the Flying Dutchman?), though whenever I query one of Disneyland’s Cast Members about the machine’s absence, they either tell me that it’s out for repairs, or they stare at me blankly.

On one such occasion, a young Cast Member, 18 years old if a day, insisted that the machine had never existed at all — and without another word I handed her my keychain. She turned it over in her hands, utterly bewitched. She couldn’t get her head around the fact that I’d purchased such an attractive and durable Disneyland souvenir for less than a dollar.

“I wish we still did have that machine,” she said ruefully.

For her sake, as well as my own, I would now address the cowardly cacklefruits at Disney who will probably never lay eyes on this piece, but here goes: Please bring back the coin-stamping machine formerly located at Pieces of Eight. And if it’s at Pieces of Eight now, please keep it there until I can make another few coins.

I’m sure that you have your reasons for having removed the machine, reasons that seem valid to you. I imagine that it’s fairly expensive to maintain and stock the machine, and considering how skittish you’ve become about stitching nicknames on souvenir hats, I’m sure that you don’t want the kids imprinting your merchandise with four-letter words, gang slogans and Juggalo-isms.

And not one damned bit of that of that should matter. Yours is a billion-dollar concern, Disney; you can afford to eat a few thousand bucks a year in machine-shop bills. If you have the wherewithal to make three multimillion-dollar “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies — one-and-a-half of them good — you can build a second doubloon-stamping machine to sit in for the broken one.

By the way, the coin on my keychain has bore a prodigious number of filthy words for 25 years now. When I made it, Disneyland did not pop into flames, and in all the years it’s mingled with my keys, it has created no great rift in the public decency. To the contrary, I get a wholesome and gratified feeling every time I take it out of my pocket, because I remember being young and feeling like a bloody pirate. Believe me, you want to know how that feels, and you want to remember how that feels. Simply watching a Johnny Depp movie doesn’t cut it. You have to hold the treasure in your hand.

Geoff Carter

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4 Comments »

  1. I would seek out such a machine.

  2. @Carbunicle — Would that I could. Unfortunately, a reader made me realize something: Disney probably pulled the machine due to new legislation outlawing the sale of metal toys to kids. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sighted ship and sank same:

    http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09086.html

    I don’t know if Disney’s coins contain lead, but even on the chance they don’t, the company probably doesn’t want to wait for the gov’t to outlaw whatever they are made of.

  3. geoff,
    the machine does still exist
    the people in charge of all the machines in the arcade area, and the coin machine, (dave allen is one of the techs, he told me this) are repairing it (years now) hand making the striking dies. it should be back in about a year or 15 months (fingers visably crossed)
    hope this puts you at ease
    also its not the metal (they are tin,) or the words (?+*&@@#$%), just a whole lotta people using it over the years.
    thanx randy

  4. Interestingly, I got the sudden urge to find my old Pieces of Eight coins earlier today. This must be collective thinking. I did research this morning and ended up buying one on Ebay today. It’s supposedly from 1967 as it has the old Pirate Face on the back with dark ink. I can’t verify this but I can say that I have never seen one with this face, even when I was a kid in the 80’s and 90’s.

    Here is another cool site that talks about the coins. I can confirm the stamper may come back next year if all goes well per this article below. Cheers and as long as you believe in Disneyland, you can keep the joys of being a kid inside…

    :-)

    http://www.parkpennies.com/pressed-pennies-disneyland/piece-of-eight-coin.htm

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