Monday, July 27, 2009

Adventures Into The Land of Robots! Toy Robot Museum & Morphy Auction House

Art lovers have the Louvre. Dinosaur buffs have the American Museum of Natural History. And space toy collectors have the Toy Robot Museum. Guess where I was on Saturday? 

The Toy Robot Museum in all its glory!

I'd planned this trip months ago, and was joined by two other local collectors -- Steve Jaspen (who was interviewed for the Attic's first "Top-Shelf Titan" article, here) and Karl Tate (who wrote the article on Apollo-inspired space toys, here). Chatter about it on Alphadrome brought other collectors from the area out of the woodwork, and soon the Geek-O-Meter levels were rising fast as about eight of us descended on the museum. It was going to be a good day.

Located in Adamstown, PA, the Toy Robot Museum features well over 2500 pieces, from the very old to the very new. Cases line the aisles, stuffed with every color, shape, style, and model of toy robots. The overflow, which includes posters and related ephemera, climb the walls and cling from the ceiling. Robot-themed video games and pinball machines beep, chime, and clatter, competing with the click-click-thwok-buzzzz of a vintage Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game. 

A case full of classics: two variations of Electric Robot and Son (Marx, 1955), and (bottom) the great Robert the Robot (Ideal, 1954) 

Joe's museum has every version of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. He's even set one up so kids (of all ages) can play with it.

Overseeing it all is the museum's curator, a boisterously cheerful collector named Joe Knedlhans. Catch him in the right mood -- and by that I mean "awake" -- and he'll gladly spend an hour talking about his favorite toys. Joe is an endless font of knowledge, whether he's answering questions about a vintage Robert the Robot or a brand new Wall-E movie tie-in toy. 

The man, the myth, the legend: Joe Knedlhans!

Joe's favorites: Robert the Robot. Seen here are all three variations. Over time, Ideal simplified the toy's design. 

The rare Robert the Robot flashlight.

The equally rare Robert the Robot record. This example has never been played.

Ideal also produced a Robert the Robot tractor. An uncommon, beautiful toy.

Between the toys and their owner, it's absolutely impossible to visit the museum and not have a great time. I love seeing all the robots I'd never necessarily collect, but still think are cool. And in many instances, visiting Joe's has prompted a new appreciation for certain toys. I can think of four robots in my collection that I only own because I had a chance to see them at the museum. Of course, the downside is that every visit to the museum ends up costing me way more than the $2.00 admission price! 

For more on Joe and his Toy Robot Museum, you can watch a video piece I produced, here.

There were other reasons to be in Adamstown on Saturday; besides hitting the museum, we decided to visit Morphy Auctions, which is located just down the road to the south. They were holding their preview for a huge -- huge! -- auction of over 700 vintage space toys, and it was a unique opportunity to check out some of the rarest toys, many with their original boxes. (The auction also includes thousands -- yes, thousands -- of new and vintage Japanese vinyl and die cast character toys.)

Morphy's didn't disappoint, and we were suitably flabbergasted by the cases of toys stretching out in front of us. Robots, rockets, flying saucers, space tanks, futuristic cars -- they were all jumbled together, often without much rhyme or reason, fighting for space and our attention. A riot of shapes and color, I found myself picking over the same shelves again and again, discovering new toys each time. Fun, yes. Exciting, surely. But seriously overwhelming. 

Amazingly, Morphy's wasn't displaying all the toys -- they were still cataloguing everything, and don't expect to wrap up for another few weeks! 

The auction is scheduled for some time in November. As it continues to come together, I'll post more information. Also, look for news -- and a behind-the-scenes article -- about yet another massive auction, this time from Smith House Toys, in the near future. I tell ya, it's a great time to be a vintage space toy collector!

After seeing all those toys at Joe's and Morphy's, I was itching to bring home something for myself. Luckily, the road running through Adamstown is littered with antique stores and I've had some luck in the past, snagging a couple beautiful -- and rare -- space guns for amazing prices. I crossed my fingers, and my friends and I began our hunt.

Sadly, though, our antiquing went nowhere. We'd found some nice toys, but the prices weren't great and none of us felt compelled to buy anything. It looked like I'd be driving home without a addition to my collection after all. (Cue chorus of Awwwwwww. Thank you for that heartfelt show of sympathy...)

My fellow collectors and all went back to the Toy Robot Museum to hang out before dinner, and I decided to poke through Joe's gift shop. It's a small section towards the front of the shop, filled with all sorts of robot- and science-fiction related toys, games, videos, mugs, books, knick knacks, and whatever else you can think of. Joe's also got one special case built into his front counter, and that's where he stores some of the better toys: Vintage stuff as well as higher-end modern pieces. 

And that's where I saw them: A pair of rare Strato Scout Space Phones! Score!

I collect vintage space walkie-talkies (they'll eventually appear in the Attic, I promise) and even though I already own the Strato Scout model, Joe's was a variation I'd never seen before. The price was right -- and, frankly, I like supporting my friends -- so I grabbed them up quick. 

And then I did the smartest thing I've done in a while: I asked Joe if he had anything else lurking in his storage room. See, the last time I visited the museum, I happened to mention that I was looking for an original, first-generation Robert the Robot, and if it wasn't too much trouble, I hoped Joe could keep an eye out for me. Before I'd even finished the sentence, Joe had jumped up and dashed out of the room. He was back a moment later with a beautiful example of the toy, which I bought on the spot.

So I decided to try again. And, like last time, Joe dashed out of the room only to return with another great robot: Mr. Zerox (Horikawa, early 1970s). It's a later version robot, appearing towards the end of the great space toy era, but still one that I wanted pretty badly. I'll write more extensively about it in the future, but for now, here's a shot of the robot and the Strato Scout Space Phones:

The day ended with dinner -- all the visiting collectors plus Joe -- and then one more trip back to the museum (because it's hard to get enough). And then it was time to drive home. 

I'd call it a perfect day all around, and it reminded me that, as much as I love the toys, most of the hobby's fun comes from hanging out with all my friends.


Okay, you got me. I'm in it for the toys... But the friends are great, too!


  1. That place looks AWESOME! I will have to make a pilgrimage there. Thanks for taking such great photos. It really sounds like you had fun!

  2. Yeah, it's a really fun time. More robots than you can shake a stick at (whatever that means). Morphy's preview will be on hand through the actual auction, which is probably in early November, so if you get out there, I recommend checking it out.

    And Joe's is open most of the year -- you can check his website for more info. (The site that I'll be adding to the blog post... the site I stupidly left out... duh.)

  3. I think my head exploded, reformed and then exploded again. I totally see the appeal of these great artifacts - the designs and colors are truly remarkable. Thanks for all the pictures. I am gonna bookmark this post just to enjoy whenever I am feeling down.

  4. Glad you enjoyed it! You know, I own a bunch of these toys (obviously) but there's still something really wonderful about seeing so many of them in one place. Whether they're at the Toy Robot Museum or the auction house, they have so much impact.

  5. what a beautiful place !
    just perfect !

  6. My niece has found a Mr Zerox robot in her loft complete with box. Seems to be working and in reasonable condition. It's the same colors and lokks like the one in above image. any suggestions as to best way to sell it?

  7. @ JulesR:
    For a toy like Mr. Zerox, your best best is probably eBay. The robot isn't super rare or terribly valuable, but it's a popular toy among many different levels of collector. EBay will probably draw the largest potential customer base -- market forces will do the rest.

    When listing it, be sure to take multiple photos from all different angles -- including a shot of the inside of the battery box. Take lots of photos of its box, too, noting any areas of damage or wear.

    If you have any other questions, feel free to email me via the email link at the top of my blog.

  8. I nearly cryed. Too bad they dont have machine man well It is around 42000$.


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