Auction excitement at Morphy’s sale as boxed Machine Man sets new world auction record

08 October 2020
After languishing in an attic for 60 years, an extremely rare battery-operated “Machine Man” with its original box sells for $160,000.

After languishing in an attic for 60 years, an extremely rare battery-operated “Machine Man” with its original box rolled into the auction spotlight at Morphy’s auction and knocked down a world-record auction price for a toy robot. Estimated at $60,000-$90,000, it swiftly made lift-off and swept past expectations to land at $160,000.

The boxy, 15-inch-tall robot is one of few surviving examples of its type from Masudaya’s revered postwar robot quintet known collectively as the “Gang of Five.” Its bright red body features lithographed rivets and convoluted gears on its chest plate, and its eyes and ears illuminate through coloured plastic. When activated, it has a bump-and-go action.

The robot itself is the most sought-after of all space toys, but the addition of its original box with bizarre graphics put Morphy’s Machine Man in another league altogether. By comparison, in March 2019 Morphy’s auctioned a high-grade unboxed Machine Man for $86,100. The boxed, near-mint example offered in the September sale was the ultimate step up for those seeking an exceptional investment-grade robot. Prior to the auction, many dozens of bidders were watching the robot’s absentee bidding progress online.

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Unlike the other members of Masudaya’s Gang of Five — Lavender Robot, Giant Sonic Robot, Radicon Robot and Target Robot — Machine Man was not available for standard retail purchase. Tommy Sage Jr, Head of Morphy’s Toy, Train and Sports Memorabilia Divisions, commented: “All of the Gang of Five robots are rare, but Machine Man is, by far, the rarest of them all. It was made for one year only, in 1960, and had to be specially ordered from an importer. The other four could be ordered from a catalog, but not Machine Man.”

Because of the extra steps required to order Machine Man, it was produced in much smaller numbers than the other four Gang members. As a result, probably fewer than a dozen exist today. Of those, Sage estimates that only two or three retain their original boxes. The box cover displays a vibrant but curious graphic of the robot on a foreign planet, with two smiling human observers watching him — one of them waving and the other enjoying a cup of coffee.

“We’ve only handled two unboxed Machine Man robots in the past 20 years. One of them sold in 2012 for $45,600 and the other sold in 2019 for $86,100. This boxed example was a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity,” Sage said.