Friday, April 16, 2010

Domed Easel Back Robot (Linemar / 1950s / Japan / 6 inches)

I remember the day well. I hadn't been collecting vintage robots and ray guns for too long when I got an email from my friend and fellow collector Justin Pinchot. All it said was, "Hey, what's this?" Attached were a couple photos: The first was a super-close up of some fancy lithography, the second was a partial shot of what looked like a dome of some sort. 

I knew exactly what it was, and my heart began beating a little bit faster. See, a few weeks earlier, I'd mentioned to Justin -- who's also a dealer -- that one of the robots at the top of my want list was the Domed Easel Back. I never thought I'd get one, though, because it's a high-end piece that generally costs oodles of dollars. I definitely don't have oodles of dollars today, and at the time, I didn't even have half an oodle to my name. The Domed Easel Back was clearly out of my league; I don't think I could even afford the fantasy of owning one.

And yet there I was, one bright morning, looking at pictures of what could only be the object of my desire. Coming from Justin, it meant one thing: He had one for me, a fact he soon confirmed when I called him up and pressed for details. Things got a little dizzy after that, details remain fuzzy, I don't think I passed out, but honestly, I wouldn't guarantee anything.

Amazingly, the price was more reasonable than I'd have imagined -- for a reason, which I'll get into later -- and I had no problem paying for the toy. A week or so after that first email, I was the proud owner of a dream piece, one of those robots that I'd drooled over since first seeing it in the Sotheby's Matt Wyse catalogue. 

So why all the love? For one thing, it's such a fantastic looking toy with some of the finest lithography ever reproduced on tin. And that helmet! What kind of robot needs a domed helmet? It's not like they breathe oxygen -- or anything else, for that matter. But it looks great, no doubt about it. 

The Domed Easel Back Robot also has a great action. When the button on its remote is pressed, the toy walks forward with a "step-over" motion. That is, it raises and lowers its feet like a real person. Amazing! Astounding! Astonishing! 

Also, for a small tin toy made during the 1950s, technologically impossible. And yet there it is, walking its way into toy collectors' hearts. Maybe it's magic? 

Nope. The robot performs its feat of physicality thanks to that weird contraption attached to its back. You know, the one that looks like a... wait for it... easel? Yep, it's a wire frame that's designed to keep the robot upright every time it raises one of its feet. Not the most elegant solution: I suspect that the designers came up with the general walking mechanism and only later realized how precarious the toy was. They jerry-rigged a solution by attaching the easel, it all seemed to work, and voila, a strange toy was born.

Strange and popular, I should add. The Easel Back went through four iterations over the next few years. One other was battery powered, while two versions of the toy use a wind up mechanism. Only one of the four has a dome, though, and it's by far the rarest of the bunch -- especially in good condition, and especially with it's dome intact.

Which is, of course, why mine was reasonably priced: The dome is fake. They were made out of very, very thin plastic, not unlike what you'd find holding action figures on to their cards. Consequently, they tore easily and often fell off the robot. Good reproductions are difficult to make (requiring a vacuum forming machine), so someone kind of faked it on mine. It's not terrible, but it's definitely not correct.

Not that I mind. The toy itself is in amazing condition, and the roughly repro'd dome is good enough to give a strong impression of what the toy is supposed to look like. Owning it is absolutely a dream come true. The Domed Easel Back remains today one of my all time favorite robots, and one of the true prizes of my collection. 

1 comment:

  1. He's awesome - even with the "fake" dome (which I would never have known was not correct had you not pointed out.)


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