Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Space-Phones (Selcol, 1950s)

A ray gun's all well and good... until you're out of ammo and need to call for back up. That's when a good set of space-phones can save the day!

This British set was made by Selcol and uses the then-cutting-edge "can-and-string" toy technology to create a communicator perfectly suited for conversations between galaxies. If, of course, those two galaxies are approximately three feet away.

The toys do go a bit beyond the typical space walkie talkies of the day by including a little whistle above the communication grill. It's a nice little touch that adds some play value.

I love the box art, which, despite limiting itself to only three colors, delivers a lot of bang. Keen eyed observers will notice that it pulls heavily from the artwork of Britain's greatest space hero, Dan Dare. In fact, for all intents and purposes, that is Colonel Dare on the flip-up display. He's only missing those weird, kinked eye brows -- probably so Eagle Publishing wouldn't sue Selcol out of existence.

While this isn't the rarest set of walkie talkies, it's definitely not common either. I spent a while looking for a pair in nice condition, with a clean box and both easily broken antennas in place. The hunt was worth it, though -- it's a great toy!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Announcing the Contest Winners!

After a week of difficult, soul-rending thought -- and of banging my head against way too many walls -- I've finally picked the winners of the first ever Attic of Astounding Artifacts "Amuse The Doc" contest. (Catchy name, right?) So, without further ado...

The winner for the illustrated category is Chad Thorson. His untitled illustration did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of these great old toys, and pretty much depicts what I was like as a kid (if I were skinny, covered in freckles, and living in the 1950s).

The winner of the written category is Norbert Landsteiner, with his homage to My First Dictionary. I know that his entry is illustrated, but I decided the clever coolness lies in its text, qualifying it for this category. That said, I love the illustration, too.

I want to thank everyone who entered the contest. Your work was fantastic, and it all brought a smile to my face. Here are the rest of the entries. If any readers see something they like, I encourage them to speak up and show these artists and writers some support!

1. "Thunder Robot Doing A Silly Dance," by John Morgan
A lot of work obviously went into this entertaining animated gif. If only the real toy could bust a move like this!

2. "I Row Bot," by Eric Stettmeier
A clever pun anchors this cute depiction of the classic battery operated Jupiter Robot. Nice attention to the toy's details.

3. "Smoking Space Man," by Eric Stettmeier
There's a lot of personality and warmth in this portrait. The huggable robot!
An action-packed science fiction yarn by one of the Attic's guest bloggers. It incorporates a slew of familiar toys -- all of which are from Down Under

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Price Guide Finally Gets It Right!

Want to see me turn red with rage? Whip out any one of the many price guides for toys, flip to the section on vintage space toys, and start reading me some prices. Then stand back as I turn an unhealthy shade of green, grow 300 percent larger, and start smashing everything in sight.

For reasons I've yet to fathom, tin robots and other mid-century science fiction toys are given short shrift in most price guides. They usually occupy only a page or two, with most important pieces missing entirely. And the prices -- don't even get me started! They're never even remotely accurate, either wildly high or laughably low.

But all that changes with the recent publication of Toys & Prices 2010 (Krause Publications, edited by Justin Moen), which finds collector and dealer Justin Pinchot taking over the sections on robots and science fiction toys.

Pinchot, who currently runs the online ray gun resource, has updated the prices to reflect today's market, consulting recent auctions, eBay sales, and his own experiences at toy shows and with private sales. He's also filled all the holes with new entries, photos, and descriptions for previously absent toys. New introductions to the sections round out the extensive overhaul.

The books is available at all your usual online locations. (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.)

Of course, all price guides need to be consumed with a grain or two of salt; even Pinchot admits that his prices are a few months out of date, and the current economy has played havoc with the collectibles market. I always recommend following eBay and live auctions for the most accurate picture of the hobby. That said, Toys & Prices 2010 is still a great new resource -- it's a fun read, and a perfect place to start for those ballpark figures. Hats off to Krause Publications for finally giving these toys the respect they deserve!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Space Toys Online:

Image via Toy Ray Guns

When I first began collecting ray guns, I had one resource to guide me towards my purchases: the book Ray Gun, by Gene Metcalf. It served as my inspiration and my shopping list, and I scoured the internet and antique stores looking for the toys that appeared in its pages. "Boy oh boy," I'd think to myself, "there sure are a lot of guns out there."

But I had no idea.

Metcalf was bound by page numbers -- physical real estate -- when putting together his wonderful book. The internet has no such limitations, and with his web site, Toy Ray Guns (, Metcalf was able to really show off his passion.

Suddenly, I had a much bigger shopping list...

Toy Ray Guns divides its toys up by decade and nationality, and then lists them alphabetically. Each entry includes a small photo, and most have at least a brief description. There are also sections for box art, as well as ancillary items like holsters and helmets. Metcalf included a number of articles and essays about ray guns and collecting, as well as a fun virtual tour through a space toy exhibition that was staged in California.

A few years ago, the site was taken over by a collector/dealer (and good friend of mine) named Justin Pinchot. An expert on vintage space toys in his own right, he added a for-sale section that includes not only ray guns, but also robots and space ships.

Is the site perfect? Not quite. It wears its age a little roughly -- Toy Ray Guns was constructed long enough ago that there's no search function, and the layout is limited by whatever version of HTML was in use at the time. Ray gun knowledge was also in its infancy; dates are sometimes incorrect (if they're known at all), and names are often limited to "Space Gun." I'm not sure how much has been updated since its original construction. Lastly, the pictures are pretty small -- it's sometimes difficult to make out the details on the toys.

That said, Toy Ray Guns is still one of the best general resources for space guns, online or off. I constantly consult it whenever I encounter not only unknown toys, but also ones in my collection for which I need more information. It's also a lot of fun, with many nooks and crannies to poke through and lots of delightful history to uncover. And even today, years after my own collection has grown to a size that most people would probably call excessive, I still experience those a ha! moments whenever I visit.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Contest Is Over!

My many thanks to everyone who entered the contest. There were some truly imaginative, fun submissions, and I look forward to posting them all for the rest of you to admire.

What I'm not looking forward to is picking a winner. It's hard!

But that's no excuse. I need to man up and do my duty. So it's off to my Pondering Room, where I'll ponder until I can't ponder no more. And when the pondering's done, I'll announce the winner. Expect to know by Friday.

So hold tight, you scamps.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Space Patrol Cosmic Smoke Gun Advertisement on You Tube

In the early 1950s, Space Patrol was science-fiction television. At its peak, it aired every single day and drew millions of viewers -- both kids and adults. It also launched a zillion tie in products, more than enough to satisfy any space cadet.

One of the best was the Space Patrol Cosmic Smoke Gun, which I wrote about here. It's a bona fide classic; Leslie Singer, author of Zap!, the first book about ray guns, has publicly declared it his favorite gun. I know it's definitely high on my personal list, too.

Well guess what? While watching some old Space Patrol episodes on You Tube recently, I stumbled on an ad for this very gun! Yep, there it was, in stunning black and white, available for nothing more than a box top from some Rice Chex and "twenty-five cents in coin." Hot damn, that's the kind of deal you just can't pass up.

To see the ad, fast forward to the 2:37 mark.

By the way, this is the second part of a three part serial. Since Space Patrol is awesome, I suggest going back and watching the first episode.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vintage Space Toy Greeting Cards

I used to live around the corner from a wonderful store in New York City called Alphaville. They specialize in vintage toys, posters, and books, but also carry World's Fair memorabilia, old sunglasses, pins and buttons, modern tin robots, and all manner of wonderful items from the latter half of the century. Yes, living around the corner from them was dangerous.

Recently, the store's proprietors -- Steve and Gary -- designed and released a great line of greeting cards under the Space Age brand that feature a variety of vintage space toys.

Three different cards. Original images via Alphaville.

Each card features a high-resolution photo on the front, along with a salient quotation. For instance, the card with Yoshiya's Sparky Robot includes the line, "Hu-mans, listen to me. Due to an error in calculation, there are still a few of you left," from the 1953 cinema classic (ahem) Robot Monster. The Space Ship X5 (Masudaya, 1950s) card quotes Wernher von Braun: "Don't tell me that man doesn't belong out there. Man belongs wherever he wants to go -- and he'll do plenty well when he gets there." And the card with the Buck Rogers XZ-38 Disintegrator Pistol (Daisy, 1936) includes words from the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson: "For I dipped into the future, far as the human eye could see, saw the vision of the world and all the wonder that would be."

All the toys come from Steve's personal collection. I stopped by the shop one day and the Space Ship X5 was sitting by the counter; I begged a little and Steve let me take a closer look at it. (Okay, he's a really nice guy and didn't actually make me beg -- but I would have!)

The cards, along with cool science-fiction themed magnets (featuring rockets, bases, and busty space girls!), are all available at the Alphaville web site ( or, more directly, You can also find them at the brick-and-mortar shop, which is located at 226 West Houston Street, New York, NY, 10014. If you're in the city, I suggest stopping by -- tell 'em Doc sent you... though they don't know me as Doc, so they'll probably look at you a little weirdly. The store is set up like a gallery and browsing is a thrill. And if you happen to find something to take home with you... all the better!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Video Game Featuring Vintage Toy Robots

A toy robot collector named Norbert Landsteiner created Lost In Maze, a web-based variation on Pac-Man that replaces the titular hero with Robby the Robot. The ghosts from the original game now resemble a rare toy called Cone Head Robot, though Landsteiner took a few liberties with their colors (it was only available in blue). Beyond that, the game is pretty much the way you remember it -- a terrific way to kill time!

Screen grab via Lost In Maze.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Piston Action Robot, a.k.a. "Pug Robby" (Nomura / 1957 / Japan / 8.5 inches)

Piston Action Robot. This relative to Robby the Robot gets his name thanks to the pistons in his head. But among collectors, the toy's small stature and stumpy legs have earned him another nick-name: Pug Robby.

This is one of those robots that I dreamed about owning when I first began collecting. It's a fun take on a common design theme, with strange proportions and an bold, metallic paint scheme. The toy's got so much going on: The pistons in his head light up and pop up and down -- using compressed air, believe it or not -- while the toy walks forward. Those pistons also happen to make a wonderful clacking noise; it's not enough to drive mom crazy, but the toy definitely announces itself to whoever's in the room.

The arms on the Piston Action Robot can swing side to side. But not very much.

The body design clearly pulls from Nomura's flagship Robby-based toy, the Mechanized Robot (discussed here). The basic shape, the neck stamping, the mechanism inside the dome -- Nomura recycled it all, and still managed to create a toy with its own unique identity.

Part of the robot's charm comes from its walking mechanism, which uses a system similar to the one found on Yoshiya's Jupiter Robot (discussed here). The feet and legs are molded together, and move back and forth. Inside the feet, though, are wheeled "skates," which are positioned on a pivot. As the legs swing forward and back the skate stays flat on the ground. This all combines to create an illusion of heel-toe walking but without destabilizing the robot and sending him toppling to the ground. Ingenious!

You can see the ratchet mechanism on the back wheel that helps propel the robot forwards.

The Pug Robby was available in three basic configurations: gold body/blue legs/red chest panel; silver body/red legs/chrome chest panel; and silver body/red legs/red chest panel. Each of these toys was powered by two C-cell batteries. While the latter is slightly rarer than the first two, generally speaking, they're all fairly common.

However, a rare version of the toy, powered by D-cells, featured rotating antennas. This variation came in two colors: gold body/black legs; and metallic robin's-egg blue body/dark red legs. Both of these are extremely rare, and generally sell for three or four times what a regular Pug Robby gets.

I feel kind of lucky to own my toy. I'd originally bought a silver Pug, and when it arrived, it was definitely not in the condition described by the seller. Not only was it missing two tabs, but it also had a replaced remote control wire. The piece of cardboard inside the remote control was nowhere to be found, either. The auction clearly said "no returns," and the seller refused to even return my emails. With nothing else to do, I put the toy on my shelf and chalked it up to a learning experience.

Then, about a year later, a beautiful gold version of the robot and its box appeared on eBay with a ridiculously low buy-it-now. The only problem: Its dome was a mess. After giving it some thought, though, I decided to buy the toy anyway. Why? Because I knew I could swap the messed up dome for the clean one on my silver Pug, and then list the messed up toy on eBay. Which I did. But unlike the original seller, I carefully pointed out all the flaws -- including the screwy dome. (Not that there was any way to miss it!) When the auction ended, I'd gotten back about two thirds of what I originally paid for the silver one.

Then, after some careful consideration, I decided to sell the box that came with my gold Pug. It's a rare, desirable box, and it sold for almost as much as I paid for the toy and the box together! In the end, I think my gold Pug Robby cost me about a quarter of what the toy normally gets.

The moral of the story? If you slip up when collecting, don't freak out. Yeah, mistakes can be costly. But with some patience and a little careful planning, most mistakes can also be corrected.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Because I'm a merciful blogger -- and because I'm an idiot and didn't consider the holiday -- I've decided to push back the contest deadline.

The new deadline is September 21. That's two more weeks, more than enough time for even the most slacker-y amongst you to create something fantastic, wonderful, and -- dare I say it? -- astounding

So again, the contest rules are here: Win Stuff!

Now, have at it!

Contest Reminder: Deadline is Monday, Sept. 7, 2009

Just a reminder to everyone thinking of entering the Attic's first contest: The deadline is today! 11:59 p.m. EST, to be exact.

And in case you're scratching your head and wondering, "Um, what contest," I suggest you check out this post here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Electric Robot (Marx / 1955 / U.S. / 14 inches)

During the 1950s, Japan nearly cornered the market on toy robots. However, the United States did produce a few doozies, including the wonderful Electric Robot.

There's something really magical about this old plastic toy, something that conjures up strong feelings of nostalgia even though I was born decades after it was sold. Maybe it's the simple, plastic construction -- in some ways, Electric Robot's much more primitive than his cousins from the Far East. It just feels like it dropped out of the past, you know?

The toy features a variety of actions, all of which are controlled individually by different knobs and buttons on its back. Not only does the toy roll forward and backward, and have light-up eyes, but it also can deliver Morse code (and there's a handy cheat sheet printed on the back of his head). Electric Robot's arms move up and down by turning the two knobs near his shoulders, and a switch at the back of his base determines whether he moves to the right or to the left. It's all so manual, so interactive -- it's hard not to have fun with the toy.

A knob on the back of the head controls the lights in his eyes; the two knobs on the shoulders move the arms; the button in the center of the robot's back activates the Morse code; the horizontal switch in the middle determines whether he moves left or right; the vertical switch underneath the waist turns the toy on and off. Take that, XBox!

The Morse code key.

There's also a small drawer in its chest which originally held small, plastic tools.

Electric Robot was also sold as Electric Robot and Son. This other version came with a small, plastic, robot child that could hang from the Electric Robot's claw. I never really liked the Son component -- it looks a little too much like a robot monkey wearing a loin cloth. I much prefer the Electric Robot on his own, running solo without a care or responsibility in the world.

The toy also comes in black and red -- more common than the silver version -- and there are two versions of the son as well (corresponding to the color of the main robot). It's not a tough toy to find -- Electric Robot pops up on eBay fairly often -- which means that everyone can have an opportunity to add this great toy to their shelves.