‘iVend’ is about the normalisation of art and the accessibility of ideas such as social unity, environmental awareness, spiritual enlightenment and emotional evolution, and that it should be as normal and as effortless as being able to buy a bar of chocolate, a packet of crisps or a can of coke. So by replacing commercial snacks and beverages with a range of Poetry CDs, DVDs and books, the vending experience may provide intellectual food in the form of inspirational ideas for the mind and a visual feast for the eye, thus defying the traditional museological experience, for here the vending-machine becomes its own self-contained gallery, independent of an exhibition space for exposure or accessibility, where the act of buying the art and poetry becomes part of the piece itself.

The iVend installation contained copies of a book of poetry especially designed for the installation with an audio CD of spoken word (containing 15 tracks), a DVD of five visual poetry videos and a selection of individually wrapped poems, in handmade envelopes made from recycled cotton rag, sealed with sealing wax. All content featured my own original material.

The installation was open from 14th May until 17th June 2012 in The Foyer, Central House, 59-63 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7PF.

Previous art/poetry site specific projects in public spaces include work featured on The EDF London Eye, The London Underground and The Tate Britain.

Brief History of Vending Machines 

The earliest recorded coin-op vending machine was invented by Hero of Alexandria an ancient Greek mathematician and engineer who was active in his native city of Alexandria, Roman Egypt. It dispensed hot sacrificial water in a Greek temple for five drachmas through a slot on the top of a machine that resembled a Greek urn. When the coin was deposited, it fell upon a pan attached to a lever. The lever opened up a valve which let some water flow out. The pan continued to tilt with the weight of the coin until it fell off, at which point a counter-weight would snap the lever back up and turn off the valve.

Although the idea of ‘coined consumerism’ did not catch on for another 1,700 years, people are now completely familiar with the use of vending machines as they are firmly embedded into the fabric of the community upon their introduction into the UK at the beginning of the 17th century. These early devices in England were for the sale of tobacco and snuff until in 1851 beverage-selling devices were demonstrated at the Great Exhibition in London. Vending was first introduced properly in England in the 1880‘s, selling postcards with scenic views of London.

In 1897, the Pulver Manufacturing Company added animated figures to its gum machines as an added attraction.

Inspired by the invention of the post card vending machine, Richard Carlisle, an English publisher and bookshop owner decided to vend books from his own shop. As a result  Carlisle invented the first book vending machine which held six books at a time. The concept of the book vending machine has since transformed into the invention of newspaper vending machines and magazine vending machines.

The first patents for vending machines were granted in the United States in 1886, and in 1887 the first commercial firm for the sale of goods by vending machines was established in Great Britain.

In 1888, the Thomas Adams Gum Company introduced the very first vending machines to the United States. The machines were installed on the elevated subway platforms in New York City and sold Tutti-Fruiti gum.

The round candy coated gumball and gumball vending machines were introduced in 1907. Soft drink and nickel-candy machines followed in the 1920s and 30s.

In Philadelphia, a completely coin-operated restaurant called Horn & Hardart was opened in 1902 (and stayed opened until 1962).

Vending machines like this  Nestle chocolate bar machine (left) were situated in busy foot traffic locations such as railway stations, bus stops and dairies and were operated by the “column and drawer” principle. The chocolate bars were stacked one above the other inside the machine. A glass window on the front allowed the customer to see the amount of stock left. A coin inserted in the top of the machine activated the mechanics until the purchaser could open the drawer at the bottom and remove the chocolate bar. Closing the drawer re-locked the system.

English companies such as the Postcard Automatic Supply Company and the Sweetmeat Automatic Delivery Company, developed some of the earliest machines dedicated to the supply of a particular brand. Cadbury and Nestle were well-known names on chocolate dispensers.

Vending machines were chiefly restricted to selling penny gum and candy until 1926 with the invention of a cigarette-vending machine by American, William Rowe.

Sir Allen Lane with his Penguincubator

Shortly after in 1937, inspired by cigarette vending machines the inventor of Penguin Books Sir Allen Lane invented a machine called the Penguincubator a vending machine for his paperbacks in keeping with his pledge to offer classic literature at affordable prices, costing just sixpence, the same price as a packet of cigarettes and was situated at Charing Cross station.

As conflict in Europe drew closer, Penguin Specials such as ‘What Hitler Wants’ achieved record-breaking sales. One of the bestselling titles during the war was ‘Aircraft Recognition’, used by both civilians and the fighting forces to recognize enemy planes. Penguin also started an Armed Forces Book Club, bringing entertainment and comfort to soldiers cut off from friends and family. ‘A Penguin could fit into a soldier’s pocket or his kit bag … It was especially prized in prison camps’ Martin Bell.

Also in 1937 an important vending milestone was the introduction of the soft-drink machine of the Coca-Cola Company. In coordination with Vendo Company of Missouri, Coca-Cola could vend their drinks in a coin operated cooler. Another company called Vendorlator Manufacturing Company of Fresno California made a series of classic vending machines during the 40s and 50s that mostly sold coca-cola and pepsi. Famous Vendorlators included the VMC 27 and the VMC 33. By 1950, around 400,000 automatic Coca-Cola machineswere in use. Vendo and Vendorlator merged in 1956. Bottle vending machines were supplanted by can-dispensing machines by the early 1960s because cans didn’t break and cooled faster.

In the USSR, series production of vending machines was begun in 1956 and by the 1960‘s vending machines were a successful phenomenon worldwide, not just for cigarettes, newspapers, coca cola, snacks and candy but for anything one could fit into a machine.

Today ambient vending machines (non-refrigerated) have moved up into state of the art gadgetry and are common place in Japan and America with peak usage in airports selling high quality merchandise such as iPods, iPhones, digital cameras, Nintendo DSi, USB sticks, chargers, headphones and other electrical goods, although in the UK machines are still mostly only refrigerated for the purpose of vending snacks and beverages due to the antisocial youth culture problem of vandalisation.

Brief History of Vending Machine Art

Vending machine art started with and was made popular by the Fluxus movement. Fluxus, a name taken from a Latin word meaning ‘to flow’, was an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s, sometimes described as intermedia. They were the first to recognize the creative potential within vending machines. Fluxus artists took up the task of re-embedding art within everyday life, picking up where Dada and Russian Constructivist artists left off after World War I.

In 1963 Fluxus artist Robert Watts used a stamp vending machine to vend “Fluxpost” stamps and in 1966,

“I would like to see the sky machine on every corner instead of the Coke machine. We need more skies than Coke.” – Yoko Ono, 1966.

Yoko Ono created ‘Sky Machine’, a vending machine that sold “pieces of sky.”

Other Fluxus artists also used vending machines in their artwork, ‘blurring the line between art and the selling of the art’. The act of buying the art became part of the piece itself, echoing my own intention.

Robert Piser‘s The Daily Palette which involved a series of newspaper vending machines in the San Francisco Bay Area which were filled with weekly silk-screened art editions that sold for 25 cents, or, as Piser put it, “Significant art works at popular prices.” This was significantly different from the Fluxus artists as The Fluxus artists vended work by single artists inside a gallery. For Piser, the vending machine sold work by a variety of artists on street corners, locations that are not typically associated with art. According to Piser: “I was a young art student and was frustrated with the straight / closed gallery scene in the bay area and was just looking for a way to show my work and it was a cool way to do it. I was part of the bay area underground music and art scene of the late 70’s and 80’s. The Ant Farm, Survival Research Laboratories, Flipper, Dead Kennedy’s, Cramps, etc. I taught lithography and silkscreen printing at Berkeley and was part of a group of alternative printers and artists who were involved with the “mail art” movement. (The Mac and email weren’t designed yet). The machines were $55 and I had 8 of them at one time. The cost of the operation wasn’t close to the money I got back at 25 cents a piece, but a quarter seemed like the best price someone would actually let go of at the time, besides, it wasn’t the point really. It was the cheapest gallery in the world. People liked the concept and I showed all kinds of people’s work , (too many), and people mostly stole more than they paid for. The UC Berkeley police actually confiscated some machines as they said they were on university property and I had to bail out the machines and I had a show accordingly at UC Berkeley art museum. Too many stories… I ran it for about 6 years and got tired of it. …”

Blumenautomat Gallery

The Blumenautomat Gallery was curated by Georg Glueckman and Suwan Laimanee and operated from 1987 to 1992 in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Glueckman and Laimanee repurposed a retired flower vending machine and used it to vend small sculptures: Glueckman and Laimanee had operated more traditional art galleries before, but discovered that this left them with no time to create their own art. With the Blumenautomat Gallery, they had “the only European gallery open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Hayvend Laboratories

Operating out of London, Hayvend Laboratories has been selling “affordable, desirable and collectible” artworks since 1995, which makes it one of the longest running art vending projects we know of. Currently run by John Hayward and Bee Kreskin. John Hayward is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a vending pioneer. John’t grandfather recognized a need. People still needed hay for their horses at night, or on holidays, when the hay sellers were closed. He set up a hay vending method that used an “honesty box” so people could get hay whenever they needed it. The current John Hayward has found a way for people to get art when the galleries are closed: by selling it from shiny yellow vending machines: Hayvend machines can be found in many areas throughout London and in the UK. According to their website: ”All the artworks are affordable, as well as desirable and collectable, making the Hayvend experience last long after the coins drop and the draw opens. John believes that art can be ubiquitous, for everyone to enjoy.”


Art*o*Mat ® was started by Clark Whittington in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA in 1997. It’s arguably the most polished, professional. longest running and most successful art vending machine in the US. It’s birthplace is significant, since Winston-Salem is also the birthplace of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. It’s really a city that was built on tobacco smoke… and lung cancer. Bans on selling cigarettes to minors have made many cigarette machines in the USA obsolete. Fortunately, Clark has found a new use for these old machines.

Art*o*Mat ® rehabilitates cigarette vending machines, and the machines are works of art unto themselves. They completely redecorate and refurbish the old machines, making them fresh and new while still honoring the historical context of the period the machine was created in. Check out their gallery! Currently they have 82 machines around the US other countries. Better still, they give artists a generous 50% cut of the sale.

What is an Art-o-mat? Art-o-mat machines are retired cigarette vending machines that have been converted to vend art. There are over 90 active machines in various locations throughout the country.

What do you get from an Art-o-mat? The experience of pulling the knob alone is quite a thrill, but you also walk away with an original work of art. What an easy way to become an art collector.

Want to be an Artomat artist? There are around 400 contributing artists from 10 different countries currently involved in the Art*o*mat project. We are always searching for fresh work. http:www.artomat.org/

Distroboto Distroboto

Distroboto Distroboto, started in 2001, by Louis Rastelli in Montreal. Distroboto also uses cigarette vending machines. In fact, Rastelli got the idea in 1999 when, on a trip to North Carolina, he encountered an Art*o*Mat ®. Remarkably, Distroboto vends for $2 and gives the artist a $1.75 cut! Unfortunately, (for those of us living outside of Montreal) Distroboto is run by Archive Montreal:
“Archive Montreal is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 by local writers, artists and publishers. Its mandate is assisting in the promotion, distribution and preservation of local independent culture.Archive Montreal appears to be totally focused on Montreal. You can only get Distroboto from vending machines in Montreal.”

Gumball Poetry

Gumball Poetry was published by Laura Moulton and Ben Parzybok from 1998 to 2006 in Portland, Oregon. Like Callithump!, they used 2″ capsule toy vending machines to sell poetry and other contents. Smartly, their main focus was poetry, printed in black & white on plain paper. This would lower costs and reduce production time over the elaborate way we do it! They even included an actual gumball in the capsule, so even if you didn’t like the poem, you still got your money’s worth. Gumball Poetry had a good run of it, with 19 machines throughout 8 states in the Pacific Northwest. Happily for them, but unfortunate for the rest of us, Laura and Ben have moved on to other creative endeavors (like having children and writing books).

Gumball Poetry was published by Laura Moulton and Ben Parzybok from 1998 to 2006 in Portland, Oregon. Like Callithump!, they used 2″ capsule toy vending machines to sell poetry and other contents. Smartly, their main focus was poetry, printed in black & white on plain paper. This would lower costs and reduce production time over the elaborate way we do it! They even included an actual gumball in the capsule, so even if you didn’t like the poem, you still got your money’s worth. Gumball Poetry had a good run of it, with 19 machines throughout 8 states in the Pacific Northwest. Happily for them, but unfortunate for the rest of us, Laura and Ben have moved on to other creative endeavors (like having children and writing books).


In 2001 the 4th Earl of Iveagh, Aurthur Edward Rory Guiness, heir to the Guinness fortune, formed a business alliance with writer and broadcaster Alexander Waugh, grandson of novelist Evelyn Waugh, to put literature dispensing machines alongside the chocolate on a variety of UK station platforms. One was successfully installed at South Kensington tube station.

Travelman was created as the result of a conversation with master short story writer William Trevor. ‘The thing about short stories, Waugh and Trevor agreed, is that although they are written to stand alone, in practice they very seldom do. The reader must approach them through the medium of a collection or anthology, where there is a danger of what Trevor calls ‘cancellation’ – one story nullifying the effect of the next.’

And so the idea of the Travelman Short Story was born – a library of individual, unabridged short stories, printed on a single broadsheet which concertinas neatly in pocket size. The concept in some ways looks back to the hugely successful two-penny short stories that Rudyard Kipling used to sell on the Indian railways in the early 1900’s. The Travelman logo is a distinctive pre-war illustration by George Marrow of a man in a tailcoat carrying a stack of books.

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