Monday, July 13, 2009

Hook Robot (Waco / 1950s / Japan / 7.5 inches)

Back from a few days off; these summer weekends, man, they really knock you for a loop. To make up for it, though, I've got a doozy of a toy: The legendary Hook Robot.

The Hook gets its name from its oddly shaped antenna; officially, the toy's called "Robot," a boring appellation that never stood much chance of surviving. The toy is the second smallest skirted robot, and definitely one of the simplest. It's powered by friction -- roll it along the ground to rev it up, then let it go. It moves forward while its head turns side to side. It's a nice little action; combined with its expressive face, it gives the robot a semblance of sentience. 

The Hook Robot's back litho panel.

The Hook is definitely one of the most eye-catching of all the robots. That detailed face; the intricate litho; the primitive, boxy design; the bright colors -- they all make for a classic toy that stands out on a shelf. Unfortunately, it also makes for a desirable toy. Combined with the it's scarcity -- believe me, this is one rare robot -- and you've got the kind of explosive situation that'll blow your wallet to smithereens. 

Consequently, this isn't a toy I ever thought I'd own. 

But as so often happens in the world of collecting, I got lucky. One appeared on eBay just after I'd sold a bunch of robots, including an uncommon, dead-mint Rocket Man (Alps, 1960s). I had a war chest, but generally speaking, not the kind of war chest that could help me score a Hook. So what happened?

It's pretty clear from the photos that my Hook isn't in mint condition. It's got scratches, some scuffing to the litho, play wear -- the kind of "damage" that results from age. It's common enough on these old toys and, depending on the toy's scarcity, is generally forgivable. By me, anyway. However, they're just the sort of condition issues that prevent high-end collectors from paying top-dollar for a toy. 

In many cases, a toy robot will lose the most monetary value in those first, tentative steps away from mint condition. A buyer willing to pay, say, $4000 for a mint toy will often pay much less than that for the same toy if it has just a bit of wear to it. While most people would assume that small condition issues would result in only a small drop in price, the reality is that a buyer could easily save up that additional chunk of cash and just get a mint robot. No, in order to entice that buyer, the seller might have to drop his $4000 toy down to $3000... and possibly even less. At that point, the savings might be great enough for the buyer to purchase the robot. 

And that, friends, is exactly what happened with my Hook. I know a number of collectors -- well heeled collectors -- who don't have one. They've got everything else, it sometimes seems, but they don't have a Hook. And they passed on this particular example because of its condition. They know that when a mint one comes up, they'll be able to afford it. They'd rather wait -- a smart approach to collecting, I might add, if you can afford to play that way. 

Ultimately, this clears the road for collectors like myself, collectors who are willing to balance the issue of condition with those of price, scarcity, and desirability. In this case, I decided that the toy looked fine enough to me, and that I'd never have another chance at owning one. Not without selling off my extra organs or taking up a new trade -- like gun running. So I placed a bid. Lo and behold, I won the auction. Not only that, a number of collectors estimated that I'd have to pay at least $50 more than the hammer price. So yeah, score one for me!

(I should point out that a year or so later, another Hook made an appearance on eBay that sold for a bit less than mine. Of course, it was missing its head, so I'm not sure it was really much of a deal...)

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