Popular Science Monthly,  Vol. 150: No. 6, June 1947

So far, this is the earliest book vending machine I have seen reference to. It holds 150 25-cent books.  Even though I  am familiar with the ubiquitous newspaper vending machine, book vending machines are odd.  There is an uneasy relationship between the permanent knowledge that books symbolize, and the temporal items that vending machines usually dispense.  I suspect this is why they have never been very successful, unlike a cigarette or gum machine, even though they seem to be periodically “reinvented“.  Book vending machines intimate the books contained within are not worth keeping, they are to be consumed and discarded. Books themselves symbolize the opposite– a stable record of knowledge that are meant to be saved,displayed and treasured.

 The article mentions that Hero of Alexandria invented the first mechanical vending machine over 2,000 years ago.  The vessel took in a five-drachma coin and spouted a measured quantity of sacrificial water.  It also mentions a new type of automatic vending, from Gasoteria, not on the market yet, that  “… will be good news for motorists, who know that gas tanks have a habit of running dry late at night or at other times when filling stations are closed”. (p.151)

“novel idea”

I saw this book vending machine in Gatwick Airport in 2008.  The company is called “Novel Idea” and won a 2007 BAA Gatwick sparkle award.  Most of the books were paperbacks selling for 4-8 pounds.  I recall some book artists at University of Iowa Center for the Book doing something similar a number of years ago. Looks like lots of “art-o-mat” machines are dispensing art, and their web site states Clark Whittington invented the first in 1997.