APPARATUS FOR DISPENSING FLAT ITEMS
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED
This application claims the benefit of U.S. provisional patent application Ser. No. 60/326,300 filed Oct. 1, 2001.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to a vending apparatus for dispensing flat items such as stickers and temporary tattoos.
Sticker vending machines are used for dispensing items such as stickers and temporary tattoos to consumers. The stickers are usually applied on the pages of sticker albums or to the surfaces of books and other objects for display. The temporary tattoos are usually applied to the user's skin to simulate a conventional tattoo. Herein, the term "sticker" is used to denote a sticker, a temporary tattoo and any similar flat item to be vended.
Prior art sticker vending machines present many problems related to reliable operation and servicing. Typically, each sticker is retained in a flat cardboard folder which folders are assembled in packs of thirty stacked and held together by an elastic band. Ten packs of stickers in folders are then placed in a box for delivery to a vending machine service person. Conventional vending machines for stickers are constructed such that the service person removes the elastic band from a pack and inserts the thirty sticker folders into a metal tower in the machine. The machines typically have from one to four or six towers fixed in place with the two and four tower machines being the most common. The towers are either carried on the vending machine door for machines serviced from the front, or are mounted inside the machine body in machines that are serviced from the rear. In either case, the sticker folders are retained in vertical stacks with each folder extending in a generally horizontal plane. In a typical sticker folder vending machine, a gravity biased metal plate is placed on top of the stack of sticker folders in the tower. In order to service a prior art sticker vending machine, the service person must first remove the old stickers from the towers, put the old stickers in small stacks place elastic bands around the small stacks and place the stacks in boxes to transport them. Then the service person can perform the above-described tower filling procedure. This is a time consuming task.
The conventional sticker folder vending machine has a front wall or door on which is mounted a three-sided frame open at the top for receiving a display card or sheet holding displays depicting the stickers to be dispensed. The frame also retains a clear cover, typically plastic, in front of the display sheet. When the stickers in the towers are changed, the service person must remove the cover and the sheet by sliding them upwardly and out the open top of the frame. Then the old displays are removed from the sheet and new displays are taped in place. Now the cover and the display sheet are inserted back into the frame.
The prior art sticker vending machine has a coin slide positioned adjacent the bottom of the tower. While most vending machines require the insertion of at least one coin for operation, in some instances the coin slides are adapted to be operated with special tokens or freely without coins. Prior art vending machines having a collection pan for the coins present a problem since a person servicing the machine is required to remove the pan and empty the collected coins into a canvas collection bag. The operation
of holding a collection bag open while tilting the collection pan to pour the coins into the bag is difficult to perform, especially while standing in a crowded area, and often results in spills and wasted time.
5 As is evident from the discussion above, the normal service routine for a prior art sticker vending machine is time consuming and has many related problems. It can take the average service person from twenty to thirty minutes to change the stickers and displays in and collect the coins from
10 one sticker vending machine.
Other problems associated with prior art sticker vending machines are related to mechanisms for receiving the coins and dispensing the stickers. When the vending machine customer inserts coins into the coin slide, and then pushes
15 the slide into the machine, a dispensing mechanism on the inner end of the slide engages the bottom sticker folder in the stack. The dispensing mechanism in a typical sticker machine includes a stripper or pusher that engages the rear edge of the bottom folder and pushes that folder through an
20 opening in the front wall of the tower to dispense that folder. Thus, as the customer pulls the slide out of the machine, the bottom folder is dispensed, and the metal plate on top of the stack urges the remaining folders downward replacing the just dispensed folder.
25 In type of problem, one or more stickers will become jammed in the dispensing mechanism. In another type of problem, a bent or damaged coin will hang up the coin slide. In either case, the service person must remove the associated tower from the machine to make a repair. In a front loading
30 machine, the door must be lowered to approximately 20° below horizontal to access the screws holding the tower in place. Unless the stickers are first removed from the tower, they will tumble out when the door is lowered. Removing the stickers in a busy area and finding a place to stack them
35 so that they will not fall over is time consuming.
One cause of the sticker jamming problems associated with the prior art sticker vending machines is related to the mechanisms for dispensing one sticker at a time and the anti-theft measures incorporated therein. A piece of spring
40 steel is located adjacent a vertically narrow dispensing slot to limit the number of stickers dispensed usually to one at a time. Some "customers" use a sharp instrument to pick stickers out through the dispensing slot without using coins. The steel piece also functions as a security gate to prevent
45 stickers from being picked out through the slot. A hinged security gate with a return spring can be provided in place of the steel piece. In some instances the sticker being dispensed drags a second sticker along and they become wedged in the security gate and/or the dispensing slot. In
50 other instances, the "customer" uses a screwdriver to pry open the security gate thereby damaging it and causing a jamming problem. These jamming problems require the time-consuming service procedure outlined above.
55 SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention concerns an apparatus for dispensing flat items such as stickers and temporary tattoos. The apparatus includes a housing having a front wall with an
60 upper door opening, at least one intermediate dispensing slot and a lower pan opening formed therein. A collection pan is releasably retained in the pan opening and extends inside the housing with a pan bag removably retained therein for receiving coins. A door is positioned in the door opening and
65 is pivotally attached to the front wall for movement between open and closed positions. At least one coin slide mechanism is mounted on the door and is operable to transfer at least one