Pressing Matters at Museums
Tips to Succeed with Penny Press Machines

Penny press machines are a big draw for all family members, both as souvenirs and collectable items. These fun, interactive machines are a big hit with museum goers, and venues that use them view this attraction as a genuine crowd pleaser or in some cases, a draw to the museum in itself.

At the National History Museum of Los Angeles, gift shop assistant manager Luis Quintanilla said his machine, and the pennies it produces, appeals more to adults than to kids. “They like to collect them,” he said. “The machine itself, the way it looks, and the designs we offer, we have a triceratops, a butterfly, a T-Rex and a buffalo,  are a natural draw.”

“It’s important for people to see what they’re getting. A tip for other museums would be to show what the pennies look like once they’re pressed – use graphics that are large enough that people can see what they’re getting,” Quintanilla said.  With the machine placed next to the gift shop for over ten years, many of the museum’s annual 851,000 visitors seek it out.

In San Jose, Calif., Autumn Young, marketing manager for the Children’s Discovery Museum said her top tips to succeed with a penny press machine are to “have shiny pennies, and plenty of quarters for change, then place it where people can see it.” Children are drawn to the penny press, and at the Children’s Discovery Museum, parents like too. “We don’t have to actively promote it. It’s an interesting looking machine, and the images it creates relate to the overall experience of the museum. We have a fire truck, a mammoth, a duck and one of the museum building.”

Her machine was installed over 15 years ago, and it was selected because of its interactive nature. “It’s a fun thing for the kids, using the machine means choice making, and they can see the results of their work. For an interactive, hands-on museum like ours, that brings a little more added value to your souvenir selection.” The Children’s Discovery Museum sees approximately 320,000 visitors annually. And besides museum attendees, Young noted, “People will come just to find the machine, even if they’re not visitors, when we get a new imprint.”

At San Francisco’s Cable Car Museum, gift shop operator Dawn Cox said her hand- crank machine offers imprints of a Chinatown Lantern, two different cable car views and a Volkswagon Beetle. “The machine has been here six years. Before that we had a machine that wasn’t hand crank for over 15 years. This one is more efficient and fun. Kids will grab hold of the handle and just start spinning it even if they don’t put a coin into it. Of course their parents will see that interest and be drawn to it, too. Placement of the machine is the key to success, it does well for us because it’s right outside the gift shop.”

Mike Sickles, facilities and guest services manager at the Sacramento History Museum, said the best advice he can offer for success with a penny press machine is to make sure it’s operational. “Make sure the light inside is working, and nothing is out of order. Sometimes pennies will get stuck.” The machine was installed at the museum because it was known to be popular. The museum’s annual 57,000 visitors often ask for the machine, and it’s a draw for the museum itself. “People will actually show up because that attraction is here, adults collect them. And of course, lots of little kids like them, too.” The machine has been in place for over eight years.

In McMinnville, Ore., at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, home to the Spruce Goose, Executive Director Larry Wood said the best advice he can offer to make a Penny Press Machine successful is to put it in an accessible spot. “We put ours right at the entrance to the gift shop, right where you come out. It’s attractive. Sellers place candy in the grocery store right at check out to make sure you see it. It’s the same idea.” He said that the machine brings in close to $500 monthly, and earns more in the summer than in the winter months. The museum draws around 150,000 annual visitors.

Wood has had the Penny Press Machine in place for approximately eight years. “The reason we have it? Well, the goal at a museum in regard to any souvenir is to generate income for the museum. In this case, the penny press offers a product that’s a popular collector’s item for adults and children. It’s a relatively inexpensive souvenir with an added bonus – everyone likes to turn the crank.” His machine prints images of the Spruce Goose, one of the museum’s key attractions, the museum logo and an image of the Titan housed in their space museum, among others.

At the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park in Honolulu, Hawaii, a member of the Pearl Harbor Historic Partners, Director of Operations Billy Litchfield said the museum has no need to promote the Penny Press Machine, and the museum’s success with it comes primarily from its location. “Location is everything. We have ours near the gift shop on the lanai or porch area, where people congregate to relax and eat. It works as a souvenir and a collector’s item for both children and adults, and besides, people like to do something to create their souvenir. It fulfills all those needs.” The Bowfin has had their machine since 1990, and they receive around 400,000 visitors annually.

In short, museums with a penny press machine do well with them, with the pressed penny product a unique combination of both a collector’s item and a souvenir. –

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