What does a pinball enthusiast do when his collection grows to 900 pinball games? Start a museum, of course!
David Silverman has been buying and restoring pinball machines for more than 30 years in an effort to preserve the game’s history. Until this month, the only way he could display a fraction of his enormous collection was by building a small exhibit in his Silver Spring, Md., backyard.
After his home setup got some media attention in early 2010, Silverman started receiving calls asking whether he was interested in moving the museum. Six months ago, he signed a lease, and now the National Pinball Museum is settled into the Shops at Georgetown Park.
The museum has space to display about 90 games from Silverman’s collection and features games that date from the 1870s to some that just came out last year.
Silverman said he became interested in pinball while on a family vacation when he was about 5 years old. From that point on, he was mesmerized, but he had a difficult time finding information when he wanted to learn about the game’s development.
“I started to realize there was really no written history about it,” Silverman said. “When they built a machine, they threw out all the paperwork. They didn’t see these as pieces of art, pieces of American culture.”
With the opening of the museum, Silverman has more than made up for the previous lack of information on pinball’s history.
“I got into collecting not because I liked or disliked a game, but because they had significant historical meaning for pinball,” he said.
One of the museum’s exhibits brings visitors up to date on pinball’s story, with a history that starts in France in the late 1700s.
Pinball evolved from the game Bagatelle, developed at the Château de Bagatelle, an estate owned by the Comte d’Artois, younger brother to King Louis XVI. To play Bagatelle, a player would use a cue to hit ivory balls through wickets on a table and hope that the ball would land in one of the holes on the other side. When the French allied with the colonists during the American Revolution, they brought Bagatelle with them and introduced it to American military officers.
Silverman said early French Bagatelle games are at the top of his wish list to add to the collection, but he may have to make a trip to France if he wants to find one.
“These were substantial pieces of furniture,” Silverman said. “I don’t think people are willing to give them up if they exist.”