Vending machines have come a long way since the first one was invented in ancient Egypt, when a mathematician invented a device that dispensed holy water in return for a bronze coin.

This year, the world’s first vending machine restaurant opened in Singapore, where customers can choose hot or cold meals, including traditional favourites like nasi briyani, to be dispensed from the “Chef in Box” technology.

But food and drink isn’t the only use for a vending machine these days – there’s a whole host of these mechanical shops stocking all sorts of strange wares around the world. Here are a few of our favourites.

1. The gift machine, Dubai

Gift giving is one of the holiday season’s greatest joys, but we’ve all got that friend or family member who is impossible to buy for. Thankfully, S*uce Gifts in Dubai’s Village Mall has the answer: the gift vending machine dispenses everything from scented candles to perfume and lingerie – all at the touch of a button. And you don’t need to worry about wrapping it either, because your chosen present will come in a beautiful, shiny gold gift bag.

2. The Art-o-mat, USA

The Art-o-mat is actually a reconfigured cigarette machine, but instead of dispensing cigarettes, it dispenses piece of art. The concept is the brainchild of North Carolina-based artist Clark Whittington, and there are now over a hundred Art-o-mats dotted throughout America. Each one is filled with miniature masterpieces created by local artists, who can apply to have their work stocked by the machine.

BOSTON - JANUARY 6: The Art-o-mat is a repurposed vintage cigarette vending machine that now distributes pieces of original artwork. The new Whole Foods Market opens on January 9th. (Photo by Sean Proctor for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

3. Hello Kitty vending machines, Asia

It might seem like Hello Kitty is taking over the world – or at least parts of Asia – as branded vending machines can now be found throughout the continent, from Taiwan to Malaysia. They’re stocked with anything from Hello Kitty shampoo to Hello Kitty socks, toys and books and purses. You’ll never have to go without your Hello Kitty kitsch again…

4. Dole banana vending machines, Japan

It’s wonderfully easy to get your five-a-day in Japan, thanks to Dole’s banana vending machines. These machines have been around since 2010, when the banana brand installed its first one in a Tokyo subway station. Your snack is guaranteed to be in a state of optimum freshness too, because the machine keeps cool at a temperature of 13ºC (55ºF) – the ideal temperature for bananas, apparently.

Dole Food Co. bananas are displayed for sale in a vending machine in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday, March 16, 2014. Japan's economy expanded less than estimated in the fourth quarter and the current-account deficit widened to a record in January, highlighting risks to Abenomics as a sales-tax increase looms. Photographer: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

5. The vintage Coca-Cola dispenser, Mississippi, USA

There may be no more nostalgic vending machine than a Coca-Cola dispenser. The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum in Mississippi has one of the original vintage Coca-Cola vending machines, which dispenses the old style glass bottles of the country’s favourite drink for just five cents.

6. The Sprinkles Cupcake ATM, USA

Thanks to one woman’s pregnancy cravings, it’s now significantly easier for Americans to get their sugar hit at any hour. The Sprinkles bakery ATM – found at six different Sprinkles stores across the country – offers up freshly-baked cupcakes in a variety of flavours, from red velvet to peanut butter chocolate, 24 hours a day.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 25: Lucie Mason, age 9 (C), and her babysitter, Laura Flanagan, receive their order of cupcakes from a "Cupcake ATM" created by Sprinkles bakery on March 25, 2014 in New York City. The Cupcake ATM opened today, and while there were certain technical difficulties for the first day, lines of people waited to try out the new machine. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

7. A book vending machine, Singapore

While technological advances can be seen as a threat to our beloved paperbacks, this isn’t the case in Singapore. Enter the book vending machine at the National Museum of Singapore, where technology is actually making it easier for bookworms to get their fix the traditional way. You can get anything from children’s titles to graphic novels or poetry collections.

8. Live crab vending machine, China and Japan

Crab is such a popular dish in China and Japan that the invention of vending machines that sell live crabs was inevitable, right? These machines first appeared in China and Japan in 2010, and have proven to be a hit since. For around $3.50 you can buy a live crab, along with the essential accompaniments – vinegar and some ginger tea – and get ready to chow down.

HANGZHOU, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) People look at a vending machine dispensing hairy crabs in the street on September 12, 2013 in Hangzhou, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

9. The Bait Bank, USA

Admittedly this particular machine is designed with a small audience in mind, but for those last-minute fishing excursions when you remembered everything but the bait, it might just save the day. Located throughout America, they’re stocked with all types of fish fodder, including minnows, mealworms and maggots. Delicious.

10. Beer vending machine, Japan

Beer vending machines first appeared in Japan, and now they can be found in almost every town and city, with most Japanese beer brands having their own branded dispensers. In the early 2000s concerns relating to underage drinking led to many of them being fitted with electronic driving license scanners, and it appears the concerns were valid, as sales from some vending machines dropped by 50%.

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Top image © 1125089601/Shutterstock 

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