Robots and space guns unstoppable at Morphy’s $1.5 million sale

01 September 2022
Boxed Machine Man Robot found in attic, one of few known examples, commanded $84,000
Robots and space guns unstoppable at Morphy’s $1.5 million sale Images

It was playday but it was also payday for those hoping to acquire rare robots and space guns at Morphy’s August 9-10 Toys & Collectibles Auction. The sale took in $1.5 million, with big-ticket items that included a boxed Machine Man Robot, a whimsical Electroman Robot, and an Italian robot-man gumball machine that prompted ferocious bidding before landing at six times its high estimate.

“The toy market is very strong, and we saw that at this sale, especially with the robots, space guns, model kits and playsets,” said Tommy Sage, Head of Morphy’s toy division. “Overseas bidders were competitive, as they always are, but in the end, it was American bidders who ended up with the top pieces. The ‘win, place and show’ robots are all staying in the USA.”  

To no one’s surprise, a boxed example of perhaps the most coveted of all robots, a Machine Man from Masudaya’s “Gang of Five” ambled away with the sale’s blue ribbon. The big 15½-inch tin space toy – bright red with blue, yellow and black accents and a gearbox visual on its chest – was made in Japan around 1960. It is one of very few known, and of those, even fewer retain their colorful original boxes.

“This particular robot was consigned by its original owner, who found it in their attic,” Sage said. “It sat in a dry location, undisturbed, for over sixty years, waiting to be discovered. We sold it near the top of its estimate range, for $84,000.”

Another fresh-to-the-market find, an extremely rare SY (Japan) battery-operated Electroman Robot came to Morphy’s directly from a European collection. An amusing character profusely lithographed with gears, wheels and pulleys, the always-smiling Electroman operates on two D-cell batteries and has wheels on both sides that drive its bump-and-go action. It sold for $78,000 against an estimate of $50,000-$100,000.

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Another desirable robot that finished in the top ten was a rare, boxed, circa-1960s plastic Pinocchio Atomico. Designed by Dan Voivod and produced by Vietata (Italy), it has jointed limbs and a long, protruding nose, hence its “Pinocchio” name. Its other distinguishing features are a bubble helmet with a vertical antenna, and eyes that illuminate when the button on the robot’s chest is pressed. It sold for $19,200 against an estimate of $2,000-$4,000. 

Immediately following Pinocchio was another “Gang of Five” member, an imposing 1957 Radicon Robot with its original box. Complete with its remote-control battery box, the 19-inch (inclusive of vertical antenna) space toy represented an unusual buying opportunity, as it is very difficult to find a Radicon in excellent, complete condition. Against a $6,000-$9,000 estimate, it rose to $15,600.

There was intense interest in a scarce 1950s Italian gumball vending machine in the form of a 54-inch-tall full-figure robot. In excellent to near-mint condition, it displayed a large supply of encapsulated prizes through the glass window on its chest. With a coin mechanism in perfect working order and equipped with the original key for its lock, the gumball robot could not be improved upon. It was in tip-top shape and ready to join its new owner, whomever that might be. Following a nonstop volley of bids, the robot novelty sold for an astonishing $48,000 against an estimate of $4,000-$8,000. The result prompted Tommy Sage to remark: “Machines like this one are almost impossible to find, and we knew there were would be many bidders chasing it – both robot collectors and vending machine collectors – but we were still very pleasantly surprised by the selling price.” 

Space guns have always enjoyed their own niche following, and Morphy’s was pleased to include a number of exotic productions within the space toys category of the sale. A very rare Madel crank-style plastic “Desintgrador” (Disintegrator) space rifle retained its colorful, original Spanish-language box with an image of a city identified as “Mekonta,” the capital city of the “Treens” (green-skinned Venusian humanoids) in the British Dan Dare sci-fi comic series. The gun sold for $9,600, nearly four times its high estimate. Capturing an even higher price, a Marx Flash Gordon Signal Pistol in its scarce, colorful box with a 1935 King Features Syndicate copyright achieved $10,200 against an estimate of $1,200-$1,500.
Morphy’s is synonymous with high-end cast-iron mechanical banks, having sold many important collections, including the $7.7 million Stephen and Marilyn Steckbeck collection (Oct. 27, 2007). Several noteworthy banks stepped into the spotlight on day one of Morphy’s August event, including a circa-1881 H.L. Judd Co., “Seek Him Frisk,” which came to auction from a 30+ year collection. It presented in excellent working order and was described in the auction catalog as being “one of the finest original examples known.” It settled within estimate for $52,800. Another sought-after bank, a Kyser & Rex Roller Skating Rink, boasted a distinguished line of provenance that included the legendary Edwin F Mosler collection. It sold above estimate for $33,600.