I think what I love most about the Strato Gun is that it really looks like the prop from some great, old science fiction adventure flick. It's fancifully futuristic, but at the same time, it kind of looks like it means business. If your business is blasting BEMs from Betelgeuse.
The Strato Gun is made from chrome-plated, die-cast metal, and it has a pleasing, solid heft -- even in an adult's hand. The toy fires rolls of caps, a simple enough ammunition used by not only junior spacemen, but also junior cowboys, junior pirates, junior cops, and junior soldiers. If you were armed and underage in the Fifties and Sixties, you were probably packing a cap gun.
The body and barrel of the gun flip upwards, revealing the cap mechanism just above the handle.
The toy was originally available in both chrome and matte finishes. (There's also a plastic Dan Dare water pistol made in the U.K. that borrows heavily from the Strato Gun's design.) The chrome version comes up most often, which I think is pretty good since I like it more than its (literally) duller brother.
This ray gun and I go back quite a ways. See, when I first started collecting, Strato Guns appeared on eBay with some regularity -- maybe once every month or two -- and prices were fairly consistent. Consequently, I never bothered bidding on the gun, instead holding my money for whatever rare pieces might pop up. My attitude was, "I can get one whenever I want, so for now I'll go after all the tough stuff."
One day, I was visiting the collector and dealer Justin Pinchot in sunny California. He presented me with a table full of guns for sale, including a dead mint Strato Gun. After giving it some thought, I decided on two guns: the extremely rare and utterly beautiful Renwal Planet Jet (which remains one of my all-time favorites), and a fairly common -- though extremely cool looking -- Ideal 3-Color Futurama Gun. To be fair, I didn't know whether the Futurama gun was common or not; I was new to the game and hadn't yet gained any real perspective.
Regardless, I passed on the Strato Gun because, hey, I could get one any time I wanted. Unless, of course, the supply dried up. Which it did. And unless the price climbed to about six times what I could have bought it for. Which it did.
Fast forward about four or five years. I was down in Adamstown, PA, with my friend, Karl Tate, and my girlfriend, shooting a profile of the Toy Robot Museum and its curator, Joe Knedlhans. We had taken a break for the day and decided to hit Morphy's auction house -- they also have cases full of toys being sold on consignment and you never know what you're going to find.
I still didn't own a Strato Gun because I refused to pay more than I was originally prepared to spend all those years ago. Yep, I can be stubborn like that.
I was wandering around, checking out the toys, when from a few cases over my girlfriend lets out a little yell. I rush to see what she's found and discover, sitting on a shelf and gleaming in the overhead light, a shiny Strato Gun. My pulse raced a bit as I stooped down to check out the price tag; it went into overdrive when I saw that the gun cost pretty much what I remembered it costing a few years earlier. It wasn't quite as clean as the one Justin offered me, but it was close enough. About five minutes later, I walked out the door with my newly purchased prize.
There was definitely a feeling of closure when I finally stuck the toy on my shelf; I had my Strato Gun, and a hole in my collection had finally been filled. It also stands as a powerful reminder: Every time I get bummed out about missing an auction or letting a toy slip through my fingers, all I have to do it glance at the Strato Gun and I remember that everything comes up again, and nothing's more important to a collector than patience.
Sing it, Axl! "Just a little patience/Oooh yeah/Just a little patience..."