Ray Gun, by some guy named Eugene Metcalf. An old looking tin ray gun on the cover. I flipped through a few pages, noting the brightly colored plastic toys. I closed the book, gave my friends a smile, thanked them for such a cool present. We all went back to our sushi.
Only... I didn't. Not really. I was still wandering between the covers of the book, crawling over each ring, curve, fin, and embossed planet. Those photos, only briefly glanced at, had somehow imprinted themselves upon my brain. Clearly my friends really did know me well, better in fact than I knew myself. Up until that moment, I didn't realize that I was a ray gun collector. But oh was I!
Ray Gun has pages and pages of beautiful space guns, but most of them pale next to one of my all-time favorite toys: Renwal's Planet Jet.
Abstract like only a space gun can possibly be, it's a miniature work of art disguised as a toy. Or maybe it's a toy elevated to the level of art.
Nope, I've got it: It's rock-solid, incontrovertible proof that toys are art.
My favorite part of the Planet Jet is the rocket on its spine, which zips forward with every pull of the trigger. The gun fires water, which is stored in the bulbous barrel. It also makes a clicking noise, because clicking noises are cool. Don't ask me why, but they are.
So what's up with the helmet? C'mon, I hear you asking about it. It's a strange one, right? All those open spaces and ribs and that funky antenna. It's called the Space Scout helmet, and while it wasn't specifically packaged with the Planet Jet, the two share a color scheme that pretty much demands that they be displayed together. Renwal's designers, renowned for their skills, were clearly firing on all cylinders when they came up with these two toys.
Both the Space Scout helmet and the Planet Jet came in a few different color variations. The helmet's are pretty straight forward -- both versions feature a yellow body, but the "ear muff" and antenna colors are reversed. Neither is more common than the other; I owned both at one point, but sold one of them off to a good friend. I kept this one because it more closely matches the Planet Jet's color scheme.
The gun came in three different variations: The yellow is most common, followed by a blue one with a yellow tip and trigger, and a red rocket; and a red one with a blue tip and trigger, and a yellow rocket. I'm honestly not certain which is rarer, the blue or the red. I've seen both on eBay, I've seen a couple of each in people's collections. Suffice it to say, they're both extremely difficult to find.
The Planet Jet was the first high-end gun to enter my collection. I've actually owned two of them: The first was missing the little fins coming off the front part of the barrel. It's a common flaw in the toy, and doesn't really take away from its appearance. Considering how scarce a gun it is, many collectors -- myself included -- don't worry too much about it. Besides, that particular gun was featured in the fantastic book Ray Gun!, which is just the kind of provenance I like.
Until, of course, a mint one comes along. Which, in my case, is exactly what happened. The same ray-gun dealer (who happens to be a good friend of mine) snagged the one photographed for this blog and offered it to me. I jumped at the opportunity. To help pay for it, I sold my first one to yet another good friend (who has since turned into one hell of a ray-gun collector himself).
The Planet Jet also stars in one of the most frustrating experiences I've had as a collector. A blue one appeared on eBay with its very rare -- we're talking only two or three known to exist -- display card. The seller was the retail wing of a very prominent auction house, so even though the photos only showed one side of the gun, I wasn't too worried. The description was very forthright in mentioning two missing fins (see?) and some scrapes and scuffs, so I figured I knew exactly what I'd be getting if I won the toy. I placed a bid and ended up taking it for just under what the gun would be worth by itself. Talk about a major victory!
Then the gun arrived. Seems I should have asked for a couple extra photos; the other side of the Planet Jet looked like a nail had been driven through the plastic! This was no small scratch, and I was amazed that such a reputable auction house would neglect to mention it in the description. Still, I wasn't feeling too bad because I had that rare card, which was worth more than the gun. For the money, I was still way ahead of the game.
Except, of course, the card was a reproduction. A bad one. I won't go into the hows and whys of identifying reproduction packaging, but trust me, a blind man could have picked this out.
Needless to say, I was livid. I called up the auction house, explained the situation to them, and was relieved when they immediately offered a full refund. But to this day, I'm staggered that they made such a mistake in the first place. (It's interesting to note that, a week or two after I returned the toy, it popped up on eBay again. This time, both sides were photographed. The description of the card, however, only included a small amendment: "It's possible that the card is a reproduction." Possible?)
Anyway, ain't none of us immune to making mistakes in this hobby. Mine was not asking for more photos. Live, learn, move on to the next toy. But at the same time, don't forget to enjoy the ones you've already got!