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Fun With Guns: The Art of the Arcade Target

There are objects from bygone eras that most of us have never even heard of, yet someone somewhere will be a collector and an expert on them. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were arcade games in which one could shoot actual live ammo from a .22 rifle to test your skill and win prizes. That seems thoroughly daft now, but it happened, and the targets were made of cast iron to withstand the beating they took. Richard and Valerie Tucker, the authors of Step Right Up!: Classic American Arcade and Target Forms, collect these targets, and can tell you some wild stories about those old arcades.

Of the few galleries that have survived, the stories of how they were discovered are similarly intriguing. One shooting gallery in Ohio was revealed during a restaurant remodel. The gallery, which proved to be in full working order, had been boarded up behind a wall. “So now Richard and I are going all over the country trying to tear down walls,” Valerie says.

The Tuckers found one, too, but restoring it and setting it up for public use proved unworkable. “At one time, we found a complete gallery out at Coney Island,” Richard remembers. “It was another one of these stories where the gallery had been boarded up and was behind a wall. We thought we might buy it because we had a friend who ran a country-western honky-tonk in Fort Worth. We were going to put the gallery in his honky-tonk, but those conversations quickly came to an end because nobody wanted to accept the responsibility and potential liability behind it.” Apparently, even in open-carry Texas, the prospect of handing loaded weapons to patrons of a bar was simply too much.

Read more about live ammo arcade galleries and the antiques they left behind, at Collectors Weekly.

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