Thursday, June 18, 2009

Space Toy Books and Web Sites

"Doc, Doc! I want to learn more about vintage toy robots! What resources are available to me? Besides your wonderful blog, of course." Robot collectors are a lucky bunch, with access to many, many different books and web sites detailing vintage space toys. I'm not going to list them all -- that's what Google's for -- but here are some of my favorite sources of information.

The best online discussion forum for all things space-toy related. Dozens of active members -- out of the hundreds of lurkers -- create a sort of hive-mind that has, over the years, amassed so much information that it would take months to sift through it all. Dates, manufacturers, variations -- you name it, there's someone talking about it. It's also a great place to meet other collectors; the people on Alphadrome are a friendly lot and new members are always welcome -- especially if they post a picture or two of their collections!

Alphadrome also spawned what has to be the only vintage space toy convention in the world: Botstock. Six years old and with not end in sight, this weekend-long Spring get together has moves around a lot, and has convenved at the Toy Robot Museum, the might Robot Hut, and the Kane County Toy Show outside of Chicago. It's always a lot of fun, and often an opportunity to see -- and oftentimes buy -- all sorts of great toys. I'll post more extensively about Botstock somewhere down the road. 

Future Toys, by Antoni Emchowicz (New Cavendish Books, 2000) 
One of the best books for photos of old robots, space vehicles, and toy astronauts. The variety is nearly overwhelming, the images are clear, and the editorial details, like the information on company logos, is vital to any collector. Most of the data accompanying the photos is spot-on accurate, though some of the date information is incorrect (though it was all anyone knew when the book came out). It's worth noting that Emchowicz is a long-time collector and dealer, and some wonderful toys can be found at his web site, Zoomer Toys ( 

Toy Ray Gun (
One of the deepest fonts of ray gun information in the world. Dozens of guns are pictured, along with descriptions, names, manufacturers, dates, and countries of origin. There are also sections for boxes, and associated toys like space helmets and holsters. If the site has any flaws at all, it's the small photos that accompany each entry, and the somewhat dated information (again, the site's creator, Gene Metcalf, was working with the best knowledge of the day, so he can hardly be blamed). The site is currently owned by a good friend of mine named Justin Pinchot, who is himself responsible for my owning many of the toys in my collection. 

Ray Gun, by Eugene Metcalf and Frank Maresca (Fotofolio Books, 1999) 
Besides starting, Metcalf also released the second book on toy ray guns. This excellent resource features large, clear photographs of some amazing space-age artillery. Rare toys, common toys, steel, tin, plastic -- a wide variety of toy ray guns are represented. Each photo is accompanied by minimal text, including name, manufacturer, dimensions, date, and country of origin. Metcalf's opening essay is a must-read. 

This is the book that got me started collecting vintage ray guns, back before I even owned any vintage robots. Eventually, these toys will make an appearance in this blog, though for now I'm happy to focus on the robots. 

Zap!, by Leslie Singer (Chronicle Books, 1991) 
The very first book on toy ray guns, Zap! literally broke new ground in the hobby. Before anyone knew much about anything, Leslie Singer was exploring toy shows, attending auctions, and going to swap meets in an effort to amass a collection of these fantastic toys. This was in the days before eBay and internet chat forums; when nothing was known about these toys, Leslie was putting it all together. The book is full of incredible pictures, and if the information is a little dated, it nonetheless provides a snapshot of what people knew about these toys in the early Nineties.

Blast Off, by S. Mark Young, Steve Duin, and Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Books, 2001) 
An excellent overview of the whole range of space toys, from pieces based on characters like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, to premiums attached to TV such TV shows as Space Patrol and Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, to foreign toys, to tin robots. Very little is left behind, and Young's accompanying text is full of interesting factoids and amusing anecdotes. Flipping through Blast Off helps give these toys some context. Robots didn't exist in a vacuum; the kids who owned them in the middle of the century were playing with a variety of toys, each of which helped to create a vision of the future that, sadly, transformed into fiction long ago.

Robot and Space Toys Collection, by Takashi and Kinya Morita (World Mook 242) 
It's hard to beat this Japanese "mook" -- the weird union of a book and a magazine -- if you're looking for photos. Covering all manner of space toys, and with different angle and close ups of details, there's enough eye-candy between these covers to put your brain into shock. There's also extensive editorial content... which is, unfortunately, written in Japanese. I have no idea what any of it says... 

Robots, Tin Toy Dreams, by T. Kitahara (Chronicle Books, 1985)
For many collectors, this is the book that kick-started their addictions. Kitahara was collecting these robots before anyone else thought to even bother, and built up the kind of collection that few people can even dream of. Lots of holes in the information, of course -- so very little was known at the time -- but nonetheless a worthwhile resource for the historical value alone.

Important Robots and Antique Toys From the Estate of F.H. Griffith (Sotheby's Auction Catalog, December 9, 2000)
Wonderful photos from the former collection of master collector F.H. Griffith. Loads of boxes, too. The descriptions of the toys give a good idea of what they all do, though the dates are a bit off. 

The Tin Toy Robot Collection of Matt Wyse (Sotheby's Auction Catalog, November 7, 1996)
Another great catalog featuring toys owned by an early collector. Lots of group shots, which is great for figuring out the relative sizes of each toy. 

The Robert Lesser Robot and Space Toy Collection (Smith House Toy & Auction Company Catalog, #72, May 9, 2008)
Another fantastic collection by a legend in the hobby. This catalog features large photos of many toys, including some extremely rare one. The descriptions are listed in the back, and are a bit perfunctory, but they still get the job done. More photos are available at the Smith House web site:

The Alan Rosen Robot and Space Toy Collection - Part 1 (Smith House Toy & Auction Company Catalog, #74, May 15, 2009)
This catalog features mostly space toys, and covers everything from the most common to the absolute rarest. Almost all the toys are boxed, and in some cases, these photos represent the only ones known to exist. This is an absolute must-own if you're into space toys such as rockets, tanks, saucers, and tractors. 

And now, my least favorite book on space toys. I'd argue that there's no reason to own it, unless you need a way to prop up a wobbly table.

Vintage Toys, by Jim Bunte, Heinz Mueller, and Dave Hallman (Paperback Kraus)
Factual errors abound in this book. It also quotes prices that, frankly, make no sense at all half the time. Unfortunately, it seems that many sellers on eBay use this as the basis of their descriptions... Beware. 


  1. A fine selection of books! I have almost all of those myself.

    Another one I'd recommend is "Toy Robots from Japan: Techno Fantasies" by Alan Bunkum.

  2. I like that book, too. I was trying to limit my list... the idea was that it'd be a short post. Whoops, so much for that idea.

    I actually own one of the robots that was photographed for the Bunkum book. Bought it from the author. I'll post something about it eventually.


Doc Atomic wants to hear from you!