Exhibit / July 24, 2019
Object Name: Starscroll
Maker and Year: XII Signs, 1972 – 1996(?)
Object Type: Monthly horoscope and vending machine
Description: (Michael Grasso)
In the 1970s, public belief in astrology and adherence to horoscopes rose to somewhere between a quarter and a third of Americans, but awareness of one’s own sun sign was quite high, at over 75%. Even those who did not believe Western astrology was in any way a predictive science enjoyed it as a pastime, often paying heed to how sun signs fit together in terms of romantic compatibility. This opened an enormous market in the 1970s for astrological books, jewelry, electronic aids, decorative arts, and even cocktail guides. Many of these mass-produced horoscopes resided in the check-out lines of grocery stores, right next to television digests and tabloid weeklies.
One of the most popular of these retail fortune-tellers was Starscroll, which offered a monthly horoscope, sorted by sun sign, that was displayed for sale both individually (in supermarket check-out aisles) and in visually-striking stand-alone vending machines. Rolled tightly into plastic tubes less than a half-inch in diameter, the individual two-sided scrolls provided astrological information for every day in the month, along with (in later versions from the 1980s) lucky number and biorhythm information as well. The price for all this astrological content? A cool 25 cents (at least during Starscrolls’ ’70s and ’80s heyday).
The Starscroll vending machine featured a large dial that physically shifted the correct sign into place for vending. The machine’s visual design—brightly-colored wedges and tasteful Helvetica-family typeface representing each sign, a male-female couple in a romantic embrace photographed in soft-focus atop the machine, a zodiac crown that would light up on some models—fairly screams a design aesthetic now readily associated with the ’70s. Starscroll machines still turn up fairly frequently on auction sites and invariably gather eager buyers who nostalgically remember spinning that huge chunky dial while waiting for their parents to finish up a grocery run. Starscroll machines followed a long line of prophetic arcade amusements, including earlier horoscope-dispensing machines from the 1950s and the ubiquitous midway fortune-telling machine. The Zoltan machine, a zodiac-based amusement that used audio tapes and a phone receiver instead of scrolls, was voiced by Boston-area kids’ show host “Captain” Bob Cottle (and went on to inspire the “Zoltar” machine in the 1988 Tom Hanks vehicle Big).
Starscrolls were made by XII Signs, a Los Angeles-based company that trademarked the Starscroll name in 1972, and included predictions by famous astrologers such as Sydney Omarr (the “Astrologer to the Stars”) and Joy Mitchell Lisker. While Starscrolls were still being manufactured into the mid-1990s, XII Signs moved online early in the internet era, starting a subscription website called “Starmatch” in 1997. The overall disposability of the Starscrolls themselves means that few of the individual sealed tubes exist, but it’s clear from their popularity on auction sites and nostalgia threads online that lots of folks who were kids in the ’70s and ’80s remember the Starscroll brand and vending machine with great fondness.