Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jet-Zoom Gun (Tigrett / 1950-1951 / U.S. / 6.5 x 9 inches)

There are many reasons to love space guns, not least of which is their ability to save you when you're running, screaming, from an invading horde of methane-sucking Venusians. But since the treaty with Venus, space guns are freed from their more practical applications and can instead be admired for their fantastic, mid-century design elements. They're plucky little retro-futuristic sculptures that embrace a weird combination of whimsical innocence and playful violence.

I can't think of any space gun that embodies this spirit more than the Jet-Zoom Gun, by Tigrett. With its ribs and cut-outs, the toy's defined as much by negative space as positive. It's an impossible design for a weapon and hints at vast, inscrutable, futuristic technology. If you're packing a Jet-Zoom, your car definitely flies and all your household doors automatically slide open.

What's funny, though, is that this marvel from tomorrow is loaded with... a Chinese yo-yo. You know, those rolls of paper that, with a flip of the wrist, launch forward and snap back for literally minutes of non-holds-barred fun. However, in a nice upgrade on the technology, the gun uses a spring-loaded trigger mechanism to fire the paper roll. The Jet-Zoom has an effective range of about three feet, though I'm not sure what, exactly, those effects will be when you use it on an enemy. Maybe he'll giggle to death?

Interestingly, the Jet Zoom was used by artist Richard Powers as a model for the space gun being held by the woman on the cover for the first paperback edition of A. E. Van Vogt's classic science fiction novel, Slan

Dell appeared to release the book in 1951, which means Powers most likely painted the cover sometime around 1950 or early 1951. But the earliest catalog siting of the toy is 1952. So either (a) the ray gun was released prior to the 1952 catalog, (b) some early photos of the gun were floating around for Powers to find, or (c) Powers invented the gun and Tigrett, seeing the Van Vogt cover, rushed to copy it. 

I'm going to go with option (a) as the most likely, which is why I use the date of 1950-1951 in this article's subject heading.

This was one of those toys I never thought I'd own. Not because it's particularly rare or expensive -- it's not at all -- but because every time I tried to get one, something got in my way. The first time, I was simply outbid at the last moment. The next time, I was distracted by something and completely forgot to bid (if you can believe it). The third time I decided to smarten up and I used eSnipe to bid automatically for me. I also put in such a ridiculously high bid that there was no way I'd lose. Unless... I changed my eBay password and forgot to tell eSnipe! So I'd pretty much given up hope -- Fate didn't want me to have this one, and who was I to argue? Except that I finally managed to get my act together enough to place a successful bid. Not only did I win the gun, but I won the box, too. So all's well that ends well.


  1. Lovely story. I'd actually guess that (c) is the right choice. Remember, there really wasn't much in the way of a toy collector market back then. I don't think design drawings would have been floating around anywhere but at Tigrett.

  2. Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    I agree with you, to an extent -- which is why I don't think (b) is the answer. With no collector's market, Powers wouldn't have had access to in-house design schematics. (At least, it's doubtful he would have.)

    However, (c) can't be the answer either, mostly because there's just no way a toy could appear in a 1952 catalog if it were copied from a design that appeared on a book cover in 1951. The 1952 catalogs were often put together near the beginning of the year (if they were Christmas catalogs, which most were) -- not nearly enough time to go through the design (or, in this case, copying) stage, the model/mock up, the photography, etc.

    Ultimately, I think Powers knew a cool looking space gun when he saw it, and decided to have his heroine wield the Jet-Zoom. I only wish Tigrett had released the toy in a cool silver metallic plastic!

  3. Tom Campbell:

    By the way, your product is responsible for about 60% of my collection -- including my first three robots. So I guess I owe you a nod of thanks!


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