Friday, June 19, 2009

Sparkling Mike (S.N.K. / 1956 / Japan / 7.5 inches)

I'd never even heard of Sparkling Mike when I first stumbled upon him during one of my regular, gonzo, all-night eBay search-fests. It was early in my career as a collector and the holes in my knowledge were big enough to fire a rocket though. So I didn't know anything about Sparkling Mike when his auction page popped up in front of me. Except that he hit me like a ton of bricks, and I had to own him.

Sparkling Mike's got that classic robot look, all boxy and silver with smooth lines and just a little bit of rivet-like detailing and clean, stylized lithography. Then there's that facial expression, those soulful eyes that seem to see the world through a haze of wonder. Asimov's robots might have looked like Sparkling Mike. Also the character "Adam Link," who appeared in an earlier story by two brothers writing under the pseudonym Eando Binder. One friend of mine described Sparkling Mike's eyes as looking haunted; a woman I know fell in love with him because he seemed so sweet and innocent. That's the thing about Mike: he's like a blank screen just waiting for us to supply the image. Such a simple toy, but maybe that's why he's so compelling. 

On the surface, Sparkling Mike seems like a pretty simple toy. He uses a key-wind mechanism coupled with an on/off switch to walk while sparks spit from a hole in his chest. 

But look a little deeper and you'll see that he's more sophisticated than you might think. He uses a unique walking mechanism that combines the up/down motions of pins extending from the soles of his feet (similar to pin walkers like the previously discussed Atomic Robot Man) with legs that move forward and back. This gives the toy an appearance of heel-toe movement that's astonishingly life like and a whole lot of fun. Sparkling Mike definitely has my favorite walking mechanism among all the toy robots. 

Sparkling Mike is part of a series of three, similar looking "brother" robots that includes Flashy Jim (which uses a battery-operated remote control to walk, and has light-up eyes) and Robbie the Roving Robot (which features stiff legs and a traditional pin-walking mechanism). Of the three, Mike is the most common, followed closely by Jim. Robbie is definitely the rarest. To be honest, though, Mike is my favorite. 

I actually owned Flashy Jim for a while. I won him at an auction for a fraction of what he's worth. I enjoyed the toy, but after a while I realized that he didn't affect me quite like his Sparkling brother. There were toys I wanted more, so I ended up selling him. While I made money on the sale, I was also able to give the buyer a great deal, so I feel like it worked out really well for everyone. Even Flashy Jim, who's now in a collection where he's properly appreciated. 

(Me? Anthropomorphize these toys? Never! Ahem... moving on.)

Sparkling Mike also has a distant cousin called Robot 5. It shared the basic S.N.K. body and head, but had much more complex lithography, and was available in three colors: grey, pink, and blue. These toys are extremely rare. Extremely, rare. I mean, "Buy this robot or pay your rent for a year" rare. And that's New York rents, buddy. All of which is very unfortunate, since aesthetically, the blue and grey versions are two of my favorite toy robots. Did I mention that, of the three, the blue one is absolutely the rarest, with only three known to exist? 

I find it amazing how I can constantly redesign my own personal vision of hell. A minor circle of hell, to be sure, but still, sometimes I wish I fell in love with Go Bots or something. 

Sparkling Mike is actually responsible for my becoming friendly with a long-time collector and dealer named Jay Brotter. He currently owns an online store called Robot Island ( and has one of the foremost collections of plastic robots. Jay was the person selling Sparkling Mike on eBay way back when, and after I won it, we discovered that we both lived in NYC. Jay suggested I pick it up from his place, and we ended up having a nice, face-to-face chat. Since then, Jay's left NYC for greener pastures (quite literally). However, thanks to various toy-robot related events and activities, I've still sometimes have the opportunity to say hi -- and buy some more toys!

Sparkling Mike: Bringing people together. So they can spend more money.


  1. Plus you know Mike's gotta be tough, because he has a frickin' TARGET painted on his chest.

  2. Yeah, you'd think he'd be a lot rarer because of it!


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