Photo of the day: Cigarette vending machine

On a recent trip to Pittsburgh, I passed this cigarette vending machine when I went to the restroom at Finnegan’s Wake (one of my favorite Irish pubs in town). It took me by surprise because they’ve been illegal in New York City for almost 20 years. I remember playing with the knobs as a little girl, but can’t recall noticing one ever since. I’m not a smoker so possibly they’ve just escaped my attention altogether, but this one in particular caught my eye because of how it has been modified.

The cigarette machine itself only has a slot for coins, no room for dollars. In 1980 when this machine was probably manufactured, cigarettes cost a mere 63 cents per pack. Now they’re being sold for $6.75. In order to accommodate the rising costs, The Bill Collector has been attached to the side of the machine, allowing the customer to pay with dollar bills “for credits,” as the machine states. But interestingly it also says “No change returned,” which leads me to believe that you’ve gotta insert six one-dollar bills and then three quarters in order to make the purchase, or else insert seven dollar bills and be out a quarter.

Since I don’t smoke and didn’t want to waste the money, I didn’t give it a try to test my theory. But I did happen to find some detailed information on The Bill Collector patent filed by Revenco.

If someone out there has used one of these machines and has a different understanding of how it works, let us know in the comments!

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  1. uxRob says

    Cool (or should I say Kool) machine! I remember buying smokes for my dad in one of these machines as a kid. It was always exciting to get the 2c or 3c that had been taped onto the pack of cigarettes because all packs were different prices but the analogue machine only accepted a single amount.

    Nice find!

  2. says

    The cigarette vending machine is such a unique interface. What else uses the pull-knob system? I seem to remember a handful of news stories in the 1980s about children pulling the machines onto themselves? Now *that's* a usability problem.

    Regardless, I think there's a lot of nostalgia for these machines…some are even being converted to dispense other items, like art (

    Love the plug for my town. “Visit Pittsburgh, where you can still smoke in many of our finer drinking establishments.”

  3. says

    I was surprised the other day when my younger brother (27) and I walked to the local bar for lunch. PA has no-smoking laws in place now as well, so when my brother went over to buy cigarettes from the vending machine, I thought it was kind of silly.
    The bartender explained that enough people still buy them (and smoke outside) to make it worth keeping the machine there.
    (and yes, it still uses pull knobs and bills/change)

  4. Altidude says

    Wow, just seeing that photo reminds me of riding my bike to the neighborhood bowling alley, with the dark entry hallway with garish carpeted stairs, little standalone vending machines offering peanuts and Runts candy, and a cigarette machine. I'd play Centipede and sip an overpriced, flat 7-Up in a skinny glass, with the constant sound of pins crashing and the smell of smoke in the air.

    Ahh yeah.


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