Thursday, December 31, 2009

Zetaray (Pifco / Early 1960s / U.K. / 4.5 x 7 inches)

Sorry for the delay, everybody. The holidays can be a busy time... and a lazy time. But we're back, and ending 2009 with a bang! Get it? Hm...

The Zetaray, by a British company called Pifco, is definitely one of the gee-whizziest ray guns in my collection. Its sleek, slick lines and sweeping fins make it look more like a space ship than a space gun, and the metallic blue plastic is probably the most beautiful finish you're likely to find on any toy.

Of course, like so many of these ray guns, the looks outweigh the functionality -- this one clicks and has a flashlight in the barrel. But it's still enough to have made the Zetaray a fun toy for kids to play with back in the day.

The gun is clearly modeled on the Radionic Resonator Beam Gun (which I wrote about here), which was made by the British manufacturer Multum. Pifco modified the tail fin and ditched the more complicated, multi-color lens array. They also offered up the Zetaray in a second color, metallic bronze, which is quite striking. Still, I've got to say I like the blue one more. It's definitely less common.

The basic Pifco version of the design was reused a few other times. There's version from Argentina called the Linterna Espacial, which is available in both red and green. And I recently saw an amazing version from Australia called the Supersonic Space Shooter that includes a color-changing mechanism similar to the one found on the Radionic Resonator Beam Gun.

Australia's version of this classic gun. Pic via eBay.

While all these variations might be tough to get, luckily for collectors, the Zetaray isn't that hard to find, and can usually be had for a reasonable price. Which is nice, because it's a great piece that looks stellar in any collection.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

R-35 Robot (Linemar/Masudaya / 1955 / Japan / 7.5 inches)

Back in the day, toy robots had style. Take, for example, the R-35, a personable little fellow with funky, bulging eyes; a dapper cap; and artfully applied lithographed gears and doo-dads. He's a far cry from today's robots, which often seem to substitute hulking menace for clever design, and imposing weaponry for charming personality.

The R-35, which gets his name from a label lithoed onto his back, abandoned some of the boxy, blocky elements that defined his cousins and replaced them with circles and cylinders. There's a great attention to detail, from those eyes -- which have their blue dot painted on the inside of the glass bulb -- to the strange, tubular ears to the piece of lithoed tin that serves as a mouth. It's definitely a robot that stands out from the pack. The blue and silver finish, which on the head has a bit of a hammer tone to it, doesn't hurt either.

The toy is one of the earlier, battery operated tin robots. In action, it ambles forward and backwards using a pin-walking mechanism, while his arms swing and his eyes light up. Fairly run-of-the-mill for toys from this period, but that doesn't make it any less fun. The robot's controlled by one of the nicest battery packs in the hobby. Whimsical graphics offset the industrial design, making this battery box as fun to display as the robot itself.

When I began collecting, the R-35 was fairly easy to find. It'd pop up on eBay all the time, and often, collectors could choose from two or three ending in a given week. The number of toys floating around today are testament to the R-35's original popularity -- and the fact that so many continue to work speaks to the quality of the Japanese construction.

Anyway, despite the plethora of available robots, I held off on buying one. I'm glad I waited, because eventually my friend Donald Conner -- who I've written about here -- turned me on to a mint-in-box example with a buy-it-now of only a bit more than the toy usually got when selling loose. Now, I'm not one to generally collect boxes, so I ended up selling this one for pretty much what I paid in the first place -- making the robot itself nearly free. I loved the box, and it was sort of a shame that I had to sell it, but the technique of selling off boxes has allowed me to afford many of the robots in my collection. It's about defining priorities, I guess.

Lately, R-35s have become a little less common. They still appear on eBay and dealers' web pages, but not with the frequency that I remember from a few years ago. I wouldn't go so far as to call the toy rare, but the drop is definitely noticeable.

Not much else to say about this great little toy. He's worth adding to any collection, I think -- a fun toy that looks great, too. What's not to love?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dan Dare Atomic-Jet Gun (D.C.M.T. / 1950s / U.K. / 4 x 6.5 inches)

Americans had been enjoying the exploits of Buck Rogers for more than 20 years when Frank Hampson created Colonel Dan Dare for for a comic strip in Britain's Eagle Magazine in 1950. Despite the late start, the U.K.'s toy market was quickly flooded with dozens of amazing toys and tie-ins, from space ships to pop-up books to walkie talkies to ray guns. Yes, ray guns. Sweet, sweet ray guns. And one of the best of the lot is the Atomic-Jet Gun.

The Atomic-Jet has a lot of stylistic zing, making it a popular ray gun today. But it's definitely one of the less common Dan Dare toys, probably due in part to the delicate plastic construction. A little rough play and Britain's space cadets would be left with inoperable firearms. Not a good position to be in when the Mekon's hoards attack. (The Mekon, for the uninitiated, was Dan Dare's fiercest enemy.)

That is one thin freakin' ray gun!

As far as I know, the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet has no variations. But then again, I'm constantly being surprised by this hobby, so who can say? Rare in any condition, when it does pop up it often has some cracks, or a broken trigger, or a missing plastic tip. It's almost always missing the black plastic cap on the back of the water tank. In fact, mine is a reproduction that I made out of Super Sculpey. Not half-bad, if I do say so myself! (I did find a company online that makes small, plastic caps that look like they might be a closer match to the original piece. I've ordered a few different sizes, if they work out well I'll update this post.)

Now, while the toy might not have variations, it does have some relatives. The gun is clearly based on an American toy from the 1940's: Hiller's aluminum Atom Ray water pistol.


It's also related to an earlier British gun, also called the Atomic-Jet, which was made out of metal by a company called Crescent (and which was itself based on the Hiller).

All three toys share the same handle, large water tank, and general shape. However, the Crescent version of the Atomic-Jet is a bit more elegant, with a barrel that's been moved up so that it can extend directly from the tank. In one final bit of weirdness, the box for the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet Gun depicts the titular hero holding the Crescent Atomic-Jet Gun. Like I said, weird.

While many collectors favor the original Hiller version of the gun -- and hey, what's not to love? -- the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet is probably the rarest of the three. It just wasn't as durable as the other two toys, whose metal construction helped them survive many an imaginary battle. Personally, I can't say which I like the best. The two metal guns have greater design cohesion, but there's just something compelling about the brightly colored plastic. To me, it screams "mid-century."

Heck, I'll gladly take all three!

This is a gun I've wanted for a loooong time -- it was really a thrill when I finally snagged it. So c'mon, Mekon -- I double Dan Dare you to make your move!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Vintage Space Toy Photo

Many thanks to Attic contributor Karl Tate, who uncovered photographic proof that yes, dressing like a Space Cadet won't always scare off the girls. Especially girls who are cool enough to dress like Space Cadets, too!


It probably helps that the guy dressed to impress, and sports a snazzy Space Scout helmet, by Renwal. The photo is from Life Magazine, and was taken by Robert W. Kelley at what is described as a "Science Fiction Party, Oak Ridge." It's dated 1954, which, incidentally, is as close as we've come to figuring out when the helmet was made. Nice archeology work, Karl!

Here's a photo of mine, which I wrote about -- along with Renwal's wonderful Planet Jet Gun -- here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rocket Jet Space Gun (U.S. Plastics / 1953 / U.S. / 4.5 x 5.5 inches); Space Gun (Plast-Trix / 1950s / U.S. / 4 x 4.5 inches)

It's been a while since I've written about ray guns, so today I'm featuring two. Talk about... wait for it... bang for your buck! (That pun's for you, Andy!)

I really love these little guns. They're simple toys, and do what you expect a squirt gun to do: squirt water. Bu their looks -- now that's something special! The smooth, metallic finish looks nearly liquid in the right light, like the toy was made out of mercury or something. Pretty darn striking.

The Rocket Jet has a few variations. This one's all silver, but the toy's also often found with a bright, orange trigger. The tip, which is concave like the front of an old-school jet engine, is also sometimes orange. There's another version out there with a translucent red trigger. However, I've got to say, the pure silver version's my favorite.

The trigger guard is often missing on the Rocket Jet. It's usually a clean break, and you often can't tell anything was supposed to be there.

The other gun, which, as far as I know, has no special name, is a little less common than the Rocket Jet. Honestly, I don't know a whole lot about it. I'm going to assume there are variations out there, but I couldn't tell you what they look like.

Those swoopy looking marks on the gun -- under the back fin, under the front of the decorative side piece -- are actually part of the plastic. This "marbling" is common in metallic plastic, and many collectors (myself included) look for it specifically.

Regardless of my feelings about the all-silver Rocket Jet, I really love the red trigger and stopper on this gun. The colors pop like fireworks.

Like I said, these are your standard water pistols: fill 'em up and piss off the cat. It's hard to tell in the photos, but the tip of the un-named gun is a white, hexagonal piece of plastic. Many, many water pistols from the 1950s had these types of tips, and they're a surefire way to tell whether a gun is modern or not. In most cases, this tip will be brass colored (or, actually made from brass). Again, a great way to ID an older water pistol.

U.S. Plastics used an incredibly thin material when making the Rocket Jet. If you shine a light through it, you can see the water pistol mechanism.

U.S. Plastics, who mad the Rocket Jet, also produced a number of Space Patrol ray guns. I don't know much about Plas-Trix, but they've got a pretty funky name and the company was based out of Brooklyn, NY, so they've gotta be at least kind of cool, right? Right.

I was actually pretty dismissive of water pistols when I first began collecting. There are so many of the translucent, plastic ones floating around, and it seemed like most were produced in Hong Kong during the latter half of the Twentieth century. Heck, I grew up with the things. They're still produced today! Pshaw!

But then I started to give them a closer look, and I realized I was being a kind of dumb. Many of the greatest plastic ray guns from the 1950s and early Sixties happened to be water pistols, and by ignoring them I was denying myself some amazing additions to my collection. So I hired a thug to knock some sense into me. Too bad I didn't know that his cough syrup addiction made him meaner than your average roustabout, because that beating went on a little longer than I'd have liked. But it must have worked, because before I could say, "Hey, I've still got one tooth left!" I was logged into eBay and bidding on water pistols. I haven't looked back since. (Mostly because I can't really turn my head too far in either direction anymore.)

So let my pain be a lesson for you: Don't get all snooty about your collection, don't limit yourself, and don't hire a thug with a wicked addiction to cough syrup.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Space Toys On TV: French Edition!

My girlfriend, who watches a lot of French television, was nice enough to tell me about a program called Tous a la Brocante! on the channel TV 5 Monde. The program focuses on collecting, and takes viewers to flea markets, collectors' homes, auctions, and various other salient locales.

Of course, not speaking French myself, I've never cared too much about the program. Until, that is, my girlfriend showed me the opening credits. To my astonishment, they feature no fewer than five robots. And not just some modern toys -- Tous a la Brocante! prominently shows off Chief Robot Man, Robert the Robot, Ranger Robot, Door Robot, and Tulip Robot. While the first two have been reproduced, the latter are only available as antiques. None of them are the types of toys the average Joe is likely to know about -- seeing them on TV made my jaw drop.

Anyway, if you'd like to check them out for yourself, visit The opening is only about 30 seconds long -- the robots appear at around the 18 second mark.

Friday, November 27, 2009

X-2 Rocket (Masudaya / 1950s / Japan / 7.5 inches)

Few objects represent mid-century futurism like the cigar shaped rocket.

"General, may I present... the X-2. This is the one that's gonna get us to Mars!"

Oddly enough, I only recently added one to my collection: The X-2. It's common, it's relatively inexpensive, it's hardly the fanciest ship in the space port. But I happen to think it perfectly captures everything I'm looking for in one of these rockets, so on the shelf it went!

Those red slots near the fins would have glowed when the toy sparked.

Like most of the toy rockets produced in the 1950s, the X-2 is a fairly basic toy, with a simple friction mechanism to provide locomotion and a sparking action. But it's hard to resist the iconic design, the whimsical lithography, those kickin' fins. Let's face it, this is how a rocket is supposed to look.

Of course, I only have one, and it's hard to make one of anything stand out on a display shelf. So I decided to jazz it up a bit with a custom made display stand designed to look like a burst of flame. I used Super Sculpey with a tin foil core, paint, and cotton balls. Fairly simple, and a little rough, but all in all I'm happy with it as a first effort. If I'm ever feeling bored, I might have another go at it. I also think I might rig up some sort of launch pad, maybe dress it up with a few really small-scale figures, cars, etc. Or would that be a little too crazy?

3... 2... 1... Blast off!

I know a couple collectors with incredible rocket collections. There are many different examples out there, and some are as difficult to find -- and as expensive -- as the rarest robots. That's why it's taken me so long to add even one to my shelves. Robots remain my first love, and I've been hesitant to divert the necessary funds required to support yet another habit. But one rocket can't hurt, right?


Ah, crap. I'm in trouble, aren't I?

Amazing what some trick lighting can do, right? No Photoshop here, folks!

Monday, November 23, 2009

2010 Ray Gun Calendar!

In a shameless act of self promotion, I'd like to announce that the 2010 edition of the Atomic Armory Ray Gun calendar is available now for the low, low price of $1.6 million $16.99!

This year's edition features 13 classic ray guns and all 12 months -- yes, even April! Printed on glossy, heavy card stock and spiral-bound for your convenience, it's both handy and stylish, perfect for the Space Cadet that knows where he wants to be, but needs to put a big red X on the day that he needs to be there!

And because it's made by Futurious Press -- a wholly owned subsidiary of Futurious Industries -- you know it's the best quality that money and the lives of many lab technicians can buy!

Available this nanosecond from

Remember, 2010 won't last forever so order yours today! And don't forget to tell a friend!

Okay, all joking aside: The calendar is for real and it really is available now. Last year's came out mere moments before 2009, so I'm proud that the 2010 edition is on sale not only in time for Christmas, but also in time for shopping's extreme sporting event, Black Friday.

For those who are curious, Futurious Industries was started by myself and Karl Tate to produce various artistic and commercial products over the next couple years. The calendars are first; we've got some really cool ideas percolating on the back burners. You can rest assured that I'll let you know when they're ready to explode.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ranger Robot (Daiya / 1965 / Japan / 10 inches)

And here it is, the mighty Ranger Robot.

I've already recounted -- in my typically breathless, overwrought fashion -- the story of how I won this toy at the recent Morphy Auction. So there's no need to go into it again. Instead, I'm going to wax rhapsodic on the toy's design, its functionality, and discuss why I completely love this robot.

In action, Ranger walks forward on shuffling legs while a multi-colored light rotates under the dome on its head. Every few steps he pauses, lets out the kind of screeching of noise that guaranteed parental rage, raises and lowers his arms, and blows smoke. Ranger's one of the few 'bots from the Fifties and Sixties to do so; the appropriately named Smoking Spaceman was another, and probably the most famous.

So many of these vintage robots were built on the designs of their predecessors, and you'll often see bits and pieces from one toy show up in others; sometimes they're used in the same manner, sometimes they're repurposed and turned into a different body part or technological wing-ding. Don't get me wrong, most of the time the toy engineers added enough new elements that the final product was something new and full of its own unique charm. But still, as a collector, it's hard not to notice some repetition here and there.

Check out the translucent, neon battery box!

That's not an issue with the Ranger Robot, though. It doesn't look like any of the toys that preceded it, and it never really inspired any of the toys that followed. First, of course, there's the crystal clear outer shell. Plastic became pretty common in the middle- to late Sixties, but for the most part, it was used as a cheap, easy-to-manufacture alternative to tin. In the case of Ranger Robot, though, it's a design decision, pure and simple. Some toy maker got it in his head that it'd be completely cool to make a robot with a see-through body.

Of course, that toy maker was correct. See-through bodies are freakin' awesome.

Many tin robots have gears lithographed on their bodies. However, the Ranger Robot's clear shell allows it to show off the actual gear box that drives the arms and legs; the bellows unit in the back of the head that pushes the smoke out from the robot's mouth; the rotating light that bounces colors around inside the head. Everything's on display.

The engine is on the bottom of the gear box. You can just make out the wires leading up to the light in the toy's head, as well as the smoke mechanism.

The wide, yellow piece inside the head pushes forward on the white, translucent bellows to make the toy blow smoke. The longer yellow peg with the circular tip is the on/off switch.

Since the transparent body doesn't allow for any litho (beyond some simple, internal tin panels colored yellow and red), designers instead took advantage of the material's ability to capture and disort light by sculpting scallops and ridges into the various plastic parts. Who needs ink when photons can create a shifting, ever-changing look?

The legs are connected to the motor by the red, tin struts that run inside the front and back of the leg assembly. This hollow construction allows light to shine through the sides of the legs.

One of the charms of vintage toy robots comes from how much humanity they convey with their expression-filled faces. But Ranger Robot has a minimalist quality to it; it looks kind of like a cheekily designed computer interface for a Sixties science fiction flick. There'd definitely a coldness to the robot that flies in the face of typical toy design. Which, of course, is one of the things I like so much about it.

Both the ears and eyes are made of a softer, rubber-like plastic.

Ranger Robot is definitely an uncommon toy, especially in this condition. The plastic is incredibly fragile, and more often than not, the toy is found with a fine web of cracks running up and down its body. It's so common, in fact, that most collectors accept at least a little bit -- if only until they can manage to find a nicer one (however long that may take). The ears are also susceptible to droop -- it has to do with the way the rubber-like plastic interacts with both the glue and the clear plastic of the head. In fact, I've never seen this toy without at least a little bit of droop to the ears, so don't freak out too much if all the ones you find have the same problem. Finally, in some cases, the clear plastic yellows over time. Obviously, with so many common ailments, I was pretty thrilled to find one in such great shape. Well worth the few extra bucks I paid fror it at auction!

In the end, Ranger Robot is almost as much a sculpture as it is a toy, an artistic expression of the future that happens to have immense play value, too!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Antique Trader Magazine Article On Vintage Robots

Joe Knedlhans brought this article on vintage space toys, printed in this month's Antique Trader Magazine, to the attention of the Alphadrome community. I'm sharing it with all of you. It's written by Justin Moen, and presents an introductory overview of tin robots from the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. A nice, quick read.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Worth WHAT?

Let's talk a little about spending money.

A good rule of thumb when collecting: If you pay what a toy is worth to you, you'll never pay too much.

Now, of course, this isn't entirely true. You could pay more than a toy generally sells for and then say to yourself, "Dang it, I could have had the toy and some extra cash in my wallet." Or perhaps you could have bought two toys for your money.

But that's missing the spirit of the saying. The basic idea is that these toys have no intrinsic value beyond what you might get if you brought them to a recycling center. Instead, their value is based on our own desire for them. If you love a toy and see it offered for $600, you have to ask yourself, "What's more important? The toy, or the $600?"

And let's say you choose the toy, and then discover you could have bought it for $500. Did you screw up? I say "no," because that toy was worth $600 to you at that moment, and the value of $600 in your mind hasn't changed. So while it's always nice to buy a toy for less, in the end, if that toy is actually delivering $600 worth of good vibes, that's all that matters.

I'll admit it, I paid a little too much for the Ranger Robot I just won. I didn't realize it at the time -- I thought the market value was a bit higher -- but I'm okay with it. I was perfectly happy with the price once the hammer dropped, I was perfectly happy with the price when I counted out the money to pay for it, I was perfectly happy with the price when I was showing off the toy to my friends. When weighing the money versus the toy, the toy won out -- that didn't change when I discovered that it has, sometimes, sold for about 15% less.

(And let's face it, I was paying for the condition. This is one of the nicest examples of the Ranger Robot I've seen in years. As one prominent dealer pointed out, finding them loose in this kind of condition is next to impossible. "It's a toy of extremes," he said. "They're either mint in box or loose and crap." So yes, I'm quite happy!)

All that said, it pays to balance the concept against sound fiscal judgement and good research. If you're prepared to pay $600 for a toy, check to make sure it's not more often up for grabs for $300. Some gaps are too wide for even love to cross.

Also, I don't recommend ever spending more than you can reasonably afford. While it's one thing to charge a purchase and pay it off a month or two later, no collectible is really worth going into deep debt over. That kind of financial burden creates a lot of stress, and you'll soon think of nothing else whenever you look at your toys. Deep debt can suck the fun right out of the thing you went into debt for in the first place, which is wonderful for irony, but not so great for your peace of mind.

Just a few thoughts on buying old toys (or anything, I guess, that doesn't have a firmly established market value).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Morphy Auction: After the Mayhem

Saturday, 6 p.m.
I was tired and, truth be told, more than half-mad. Eight hours of an auctioneer's constant patter was taking its toll. His voice was as mercilessly loud -- and as completely inescapable -- as a serial killer's chain saw. But I wasn't going anywhere, not now. Not after everything I'd sacrificed to get this far -- the deals I'd let slide, the toys I'd let go, the smaller battles I'd forfeited in order to win the war. No, I was in too deep, stuck in the mire of my own stubbornness.

And then, after nearly 500 lots, my waiting ended.

"Lot 1275. Let's start the bidding at-" I didn't wait to hear the number, I just shot my hand into the air. The piece of paper with my bidder number on it was crumpled in my fist.

A nod from the auctioneer, and a call for a higher bid. Someone else's hand went up. Then an online bidder bumped the price even more. I raised my hand; the guy online followed right on my heals. I bid again, and smiled as my online competition dropped out. Unfortunately, he was quickly replaced by someone sitting a few rows behind me.

To hell with this, I thought. I raised my bidder sheet and this time I kept it up. The other guy bid, my sheet stayed high. His move. He upped the price; my hand never wavered. Back and forth, the price climbing, my arm a steel beam, never bowing, never faltering. I had tunnel vision, the world around me shimmered and disappeared, all I could see was the toy. The bids kept climbing, and I began to wonder just how far I could go before oblivion dragged me down into her sweet, sweet embrace...

Friday, 8 a.m.
The road was clear as my friends and I left Manhattan in our rented Ford S.U.V. and headed south to Adamstown, PA, for the Morphy Auctions sale of the Marc Solondz toy collection. The mood in the car was light, our excitement levels high. Two full days of vintage toys, 1500 lots in all, ranging from tin robots, space toys, and ray guns to Japanese vinyl and die-cast character pieces. The collection was full of rare variations, uncommon boxes, and unusual finds. It was unheralded, and represented more than 30 years of toy buying by a man with a keen eye for quality.

Besides attending the auction, we planned on hanging out at the Toy Robot Museum, seeing some friends, and generally geeking out over our favorite subject: Vintage space toys and robots.

In the navigator's seat was Karl Tate, a contributor to the Attic. Steve Jaspen, who appeared in the Attic's first Top-Shelf Titans interview, chilled in the back. Discussion centered on the amount of toys flooding the scene in the last month, as well as the downward trend in pricing. We talked about the toys in the auction that interested us most, calculating the odds that we'd actually take something home while also figuring out what we'd do if we came up short. Auctions are tricky business, and it pays to have a Plan B.

Me, I was tied up over two toys: the Moon Robot (a.k.a. Ribbon Robby), and a rare little number called Ranger Robot. Both are tough finds, but beyond that, they couldn't be more different. The Moon Robot is inspired by Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot, and features three, spiraling metal ribbons under its dome that spin as the toys walks. It's an understated 'bot, but its subtle design gives it a lot of impact. I've wanted one for a long time, and I was pretty certain I could afford it.

Moon Robot. Note the pink tinted dome and the revolving ribbons of lithoed tin.

The Ranger Robot, on the other hand, is all flash and sizzle. Its mechanized guts are sheathed in a clear plastic body, and it features an array of lights, noise-makers, and even a smoke-blower -- all of which remain visible. The toy isn't based on any previous design, and it never inspired any imitators. It's a unique, stand-out addition to any collection -- but one that would probably cost me a few bucks more.

Ranger Robot. One of the few toys that let you see the inner mechanism.

Frankly, I had no idea which I wanted more, and I was driving myself nuts turning the question over in my mind. My plan, formulated as I drove down the New Jersey Turnpike towards PA, was to check them out up close, hold them, give them a good once over, and hope I'd feel some sort of emotional tug in one direction or the other.

Friday, 11 a.m.
Pulling into Adamstown, we decided to head directly over to Morphy's. The auction house is located just off route 222, inside a nondescript brown building. I wasn't sure what sort of action we'd find, and couldn't decide if the parking lot was half full or half empty. Today's auction featured the die-cast and vinyl toys, and I wondered what kind of crowd it'd attract. There wasn't anything I wanted, of course, but curiosity and a deep love for pretty much all toys compelled my friends and I to check it out. Besides, it's always a good idea to scope out the auction house beforehand -- find out how the auctioneers operate, investigate the place's layout, that sort of thing.

Once inside, I headed right over to the cases of robots. They'd been cleaned up and re-arranged since I first saw them months earlier during a preview weekend, and the effect was impressive.

A minty example of the Space Commando. The helmet is usually cracked, if not missing altogether.

One of my all time favorite space tanks. The litho's just amazing, with a lot of great details.

An uncommon, original Tetsujin 28 toy. Love that box.

I quickly found the Moon and Ranger Robots -- conveniently located only a few toys away from each other -- and asked an employee to take them out so I could inspect them closer. See, that's one of the nice things about auctions: They're like museums, but you're allowed to handle all the merchandise. It's an incredible opportunity to fondle examine some really rare toys, stuff you'd never likely see at any other time.

Sadly, my plan failed: giving them a close look only made me want each robot more. I put them back on their shelves with a sigh, figuring that maybe I'd just go for whichever came up first. That'd be the Moon Robot, leaving the Ranger Robot as my Plan B. But somehow, that didn't feel right. I shook my head and went looking for my friends.

I soon ran into a long-time, high-end collector named Perry Mahoney. He also runs a store called, appropriately enough, Perry's Toy Exchange. He was there with his friend, Glen, and the two were picking over the shelves of toys like crime scene investigators looking for clues to a murder. I asked him if anything interested him. "I don't know," he replied. "I think I have everything already!" Apparently, he was hoping to stumble on some rare variations. If nothing else, he figured he'd pick up some toys for resale later on. A good plan.

A small group of robots and astronauts.

Mr. Atomic, with the Moon Robot right behind him. Two fantastic toys!

Tremendous Mike. A rare toy that was also available in grey.

Karl, Steve, and I spent a couple hours checking out the rest of the cases before deciding we'd had our fill -- time for the Toy Robot Museum. Located about five minutes north of Morphy's, it's run by a good friend of ours named Joe Knedlhans. Besides being possibly the only museum of its kind, with more than 2000 robots on display, it's also the unofficial club house for robot collectors whenever they're in town. (I've written about it here and here, and have posted a video profile here.)

Joe was his usual, jovial self, and soon after arriving I found myself wandering around the museum with a beer in my hand and stars in my eyes. It wasn't long before some other collectors showed up: Phil, who owns one of the nicest Buck Rogers collections I've ever seen; Mark, a guy who not only owns some amazing toys but also builds his own; and Charlie, who's built an impressive collection that focuses on vintage space toys and robots by a company called Horikawa.

Soon after that, we were joined by the man I think of as the original toy robot collector: David Kirk. David, who's also a successful artist and the author of the Miss Spider and Nova series of children's books, began actively collecting robots when he was just a kid back in the Sixties. He got most of his toys upon their release, and even appeared on a local TV program about collectors. In the Nineties (I think) he sold off many of his toys, but over the last decade he's managed to rebuild an incredibly impressive collection. He's also a hell of a nice guy.

As great as it was to see all those guys, I've got to admit that the high point came when the door swung open and in walked Pat Karris. Pat's a long time collector who, over the years, build up the biggest collection of Robby the Robot and Forbidden Planet related toys in the world. You name it, he owned it. When I first met him, he lived in NYC and worked just around the corner from my office. We'd get together a few times a week for coffee and conversation, and over time, he ended up teaching me nearly everything I know about collecting robots. Along with Steve Jaspen, he's one of the people who I can honestly call a mentor. Unfortunately, he moved out of town and I hadn't seen him in a couple years. Needless to say, there were a lot of slaps on the back when he strolled into the museum.

Friday, 10:30 p.m.
After dinner at a local Italian restaurant and a couple more hours at the museum for geekery and beer, we all decided to call it a night. Saturday's auction was slated to begin at 10 a.m., but doors opened at eight. Of course, I wanted to get there as early as possible. Because I'm a madman.

I was sharing a room with Karl and Steve at our favorite local crash pad, the Black Horse Lodge. Nothing fancy, but the prices are low, the rooms are clean, and the staff's always friendly. We knew there'd be only two beds in the room, so I brought along an air mattress for myself. I was pretty tired after the early morning drive and the long day of toys, and was unconscious soon after hitting the inflated vinyl...

Boom! Awake! Eyes snapped open, brain alert, sleep banished. I glanced over at the window expecting to see a little light sneaking around the edges of the heavy drapes. No such luck, which meant, I figured, that it was about five in the morning -- two hours before my alarm was set to go off. No big deal, I thought, and I grabbed my iPhone so I could read the morning's news. That's when I noticed the clock... 2:45 in the morning! Hours until the auction, and wide awake. Great.

Saturday, 3:15 a.m.
Paper: read. Twenty games of Solitaire: played. Emails to friends on the West Coast: sent. Short blog entry: posted. I started to feel a little drowsy, so I killed my phone, pulled up the covers, and settled back in for a few more hours of sleep. Er... Not so much.

I was stricken with "Christmas Morning Syndrome." I was so eager for the auction to begin, so wired from thinking about all those toys, that sleep was utterly impossible. I'd close my eyes and my mind would keep on racing. I'd slip off for a few minutes, but the robots tromping through my brain would wake me right back up.

I did have one interesting dream during a brief foray into unconsciousness. In it, I discovered that one of the robots I wanted to buy -- I don't know which one -- had a busted leg. I was so happy, because it meant my choice between the Moon Robot and Ranger Robot was clear. In fact, I felt a twinge of sadness when I woke up and realized that, damnit, both toys were as close to mint as I've ever seen. It's definitely the first time I felt upset over a toy being too nice. Man, I'm a freak.

Anyway, after tossing and turning for a few more hours, the sun finally started coming up. beating the alarm, I jumped in the shower and got dressed before waking up my compatriots. A quick breakfast, check out of the lodge, and then it was off to the toys.

Saturday, 9 a.m.
Once again, I had no idea what to expect as I drove out to Morphy's. A seething crowd of madmen, each one wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth? Me, I was a twitchy mess, and I didn't figure I'd be much better off than anyone else. Times like these try men's spirits, and most of us are found wanting. So I was kind of nervous as I got out of the car and approached the double glass doors. Deep breath, Doc. And... here we go.

Morphy's looked more or less like it had the day before, only the shelves were mostly devoid of the vinyl and die-cast toys. A bunch of people were milling around the robot cases, including my friends. I also ran into a collector and dealer named Larry Waldeman, who runs an online store called Cybertoyz. Larry's a great guy, always fun to talk to, and a real expert on robots and space toys. He was dragging some poor, young Morphy's staffer from case to case as he went through the collection, one piece after another. I decided to stick close by, checking out whichever toys he looked at, asking questions, learning something new the whole time.

Morphy's also had a snack bar set up, with cookies, donuts, and even hotdogs. I grabbed a bavarian cream donut and counted that as breakfast.

Atomic Robot Man. This is a rare version that's stamped with the words "Souvenir of the New York Science Fiction Conference" on its back. Only three or four are known to exist. I wrote about mine here.

The Atomic Water Pistol, a rare die-cast toy out of England.

A fantastic example of the Buck Rogers XZ-38 Disintegrator. That's the extremely rare box behind it.

Saturday, 10 a.m.
Time to start! We all made our way over to the auction area, a large portion of the building set out with row after row of chairs. The auctioneer was positioned on a raised platform at the front of the room, flanked on either side by two large TVs that would display the toy and lot number currently up for grabs. A couple people sat by him at computer terminals, monitoring the real-time, online bidding. At the back of the room was a bank of phones staffed by Morphy employees -- they would handle the phone bidding.

I only saw about 20 collectors on hand; I leaned over to ask Steve what he thought of the turnout. He wasn't impressed, and told me that the famous Sotheby's sale of F.H. Griffith's collection in 2000 was packed to the rafters. We all looked around at the few collectors and wondered how the turnout would impact prices.

Morphy's says that it runs through about 100 lots every hour, and with hundreds of toys to go before anything I found interesting appeared on the block, I decided to wander around the auction house to look at the other items being offered in later sales. Morphy's doesn't just deal in toys, they also have advertising memorabilia, antique weaponry, vintage vending machines -- an eclectic mix of items. Marbles caught my attention, actually, with all their weird designs and rich colors. I was also digging the old die-cast cars, including a cool, small-scale "people mover" toy from the 1939 World's Fair. They even had a case full of old, wooden Fisher Price pull toys -- fascinating.

During one of the auction's particularly slow moments -- I think they were going through the last of the Japanese character toys -- Larry Waldeman actually lead a bunch of us outside to his car, where he had a number of excellent toys for sale. A couple people bought pieces from him, despite the auction going on just inside. Because that's the kind of maniacs we are...

Eventually, the selection of toys heated up and we all began paying more attention to the auction. That's when I noticed how low the prices were. "Bargain" doesn't even begin to describe things. "Steal" comes close. As Pat said, "If you ever wanted to begin collecting these toys, this is the time and place to do it!" In fact, I saw a number of people bidding on lot after lot. Some were dealers -- like Perry and Larry -- and some were people I'd never seen before. One guy, who looked to be in his early Sixties, had a running list of what he'd won; it'd grown into multiple columns by the time I noticed it. Another collector, a younger looking guy from Europe, was cleaning up on some of the higher-end pieces. In the back of the room, a well-known dealer was bidding on behalf of some customers, and he took home a lot of toys. A few pieces went to online bidders, and some went to the people calling in by phone.

The Change Prince. The dinosaur head opens up, revealing the boy's head. Definitely a big ticket item (though, I'll be honest, it never really did much for me).

The rare Chime Trooper is a pretty whimsical looking toy. It's got a great action -- yep, it chimes when it rolls forward.

The Hiller Atomic Ray Gun. Note the resemblance to the red British gun, above. The Hiller came first. The box pictured in this photo actually belongs to the British gun -- no idea how this mistake was made, but I hope whoever purchased the guns isn't too upset.

The Mighty 8 is high on many collectors' lists. Too bad it's so damn rare, especially with the box. The color wheel is pretty amazing when it's running.

Unfortunately, I couldn't take advantage of the low prices -- the toys I wanted were near the end of the auction, and I didn't want to risk coming up short. So I gritted my teeth and watched as people picked up some of my favorite robots without putting a dent in their wallets.

This was definitely more restraint than I think I've ever shown in my life. I summoned up reserves of willpower I never imagined I had. We're talking zen focus, laser-beam eyes, the single-minded determination of the meanest guard dog you've ever had the displeasure of meeting. Slowly, ever so slowly, the lots creeped past.

Including, by the way, the Moon Robot, which, somewhere along the line, I decided not to bid on. I'm not really sure how it happened, but the Ranger took over my brain and wouldn't leave. That was the toy for me, no doubt about it. Ranger Robot was mine, it just didn't know it yet.

And so I wanted. And waited. And waited. Hours and hours of sitting there, listening to the auctioneers incessant patter while the occasional gasp of frustration escaped my lips whenever a toy sold for a bargain basement price. And then, finally... "Lot number 1275. Let's start the bidding at-"

Saturday, 6:02 p.m.
I'd been bidding on the Ranger Robot like a maniac. Just as I started to wonder if my money would last as long as my willpower, I noticed the auctioneer looking around the room. He was repeating my most recent bid, waiting to see if anyone would step up and beat it. My heart began beating faster as the auctioneer held out for another 30 seconds -- I swear, it felt like an hour. Just waiting as the auctioneer implored someone else to outbid me and drive the price up further.

No one did.

"Sold!" he proclaimed. "To the guy who's been waiting all day for that piece."

I fell back in my seat, a grin plastered across my face. It took me a moment to notice that the room was applauding. Applauding! In a day without any crazy, price-driven drama, my little moment in the sun stood out. I'll admit that it felt good, a perfect ending to what had been a loooooong day.

My Ranger robot. A great example that works like a dream. More details in future posts.

All in all, it turned out to be a fantastic weekend. Good friends, good toys, and good times. If that's not what you're supposed to get out of a hobby, well, I'm not sure why else to even bother!

Happy collecting!