Thursday, December 31, 2009

Zetaray (Pifco / Early 1960s / U.K. / 4.5 x 7 inches)

Sorry for the delay, everybody. The holidays can be a busy time... and a lazy time. But we're back, and ending 2009 with a bang! Get it? Hm...

The Zetaray, by a British company called Pifco, is definitely one of the gee-whizziest ray guns in my collection. Its sleek, slick lines and sweeping fins make it look more like a space ship than a space gun, and the metallic blue plastic is probably the most beautiful finish you're likely to find on any toy.

Of course, like so many of these ray guns, the looks outweigh the functionality -- this one clicks and has a flashlight in the barrel. But it's still enough to have made the Zetaray a fun toy for kids to play with back in the day.

The gun is clearly modeled on the Radionic Resonator Beam Gun (which I wrote about here), which was made by the British manufacturer Multum. Pifco modified the tail fin and ditched the more complicated, multi-color lens array. They also offered up the Zetaray in a second color, metallic bronze, which is quite striking. Still, I've got to say I like the blue one more. It's definitely less common.

The basic Pifco version of the design was reused a few other times. There's version from Argentina called the Linterna Espacial, which is available in both red and green. And I recently saw an amazing version from Australia called the Supersonic Space Shooter that includes a color-changing mechanism similar to the one found on the Radionic Resonator Beam Gun.

Australia's version of this classic gun. Pic via eBay.

While all these variations might be tough to get, luckily for collectors, the Zetaray isn't that hard to find, and can usually be had for a reasonable price. Which is nice, because it's a great piece that looks stellar in any collection.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

R-35 Robot (Linemar/Masudaya / 1955 / Japan / 7.5 inches)

Back in the day, toy robots had style. Take, for example, the R-35, a personable little fellow with funky, bulging eyes; a dapper cap; and artfully applied lithographed gears and doo-dads. He's a far cry from today's robots, which often seem to substitute hulking menace for clever design, and imposing weaponry for charming personality.

The R-35, which gets his name from a label lithoed onto his back, abandoned some of the boxy, blocky elements that defined his cousins and replaced them with circles and cylinders. There's a great attention to detail, from those eyes -- which have their blue dot painted on the inside of the glass bulb -- to the strange, tubular ears to the piece of lithoed tin that serves as a mouth. It's definitely a robot that stands out from the pack. The blue and silver finish, which on the head has a bit of a hammer tone to it, doesn't hurt either.

The toy is one of the earlier, battery operated tin robots. In action, it ambles forward and backwards using a pin-walking mechanism, while his arms swing and his eyes light up. Fairly run-of-the-mill for toys from this period, but that doesn't make it any less fun. The robot's controlled by one of the nicest battery packs in the hobby. Whimsical graphics offset the industrial design, making this battery box as fun to display as the robot itself.

When I began collecting, the R-35 was fairly easy to find. It'd pop up on eBay all the time, and often, collectors could choose from two or three ending in a given week. The number of toys floating around today are testament to the R-35's original popularity -- and the fact that so many continue to work speaks to the quality of the Japanese construction.

Anyway, despite the plethora of available robots, I held off on buying one. I'm glad I waited, because eventually my friend Donald Conner -- who I've written about here -- turned me on to a mint-in-box example with a buy-it-now of only a bit more than the toy usually got when selling loose. Now, I'm not one to generally collect boxes, so I ended up selling this one for pretty much what I paid in the first place -- making the robot itself nearly free. I loved the box, and it was sort of a shame that I had to sell it, but the technique of selling off boxes has allowed me to afford many of the robots in my collection. It's about defining priorities, I guess.

Lately, R-35s have become a little less common. They still appear on eBay and dealers' web pages, but not with the frequency that I remember from a few years ago. I wouldn't go so far as to call the toy rare, but the drop is definitely noticeable.

Not much else to say about this great little toy. He's worth adding to any collection, I think -- a fun toy that looks great, too. What's not to love?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dan Dare Atomic-Jet Gun (D.C.M.T. / 1950s / U.K. / 4 x 6.5 inches)

Americans had been enjoying the exploits of Buck Rogers for more than 20 years when Frank Hampson created Colonel Dan Dare for for a comic strip in Britain's Eagle Magazine in 1950. Despite the late start, the U.K.'s toy market was quickly flooded with dozens of amazing toys and tie-ins, from space ships to pop-up books to walkie talkies to ray guns. Yes, ray guns. Sweet, sweet ray guns. And one of the best of the lot is the Atomic-Jet Gun.

The Atomic-Jet has a lot of stylistic zing, making it a popular ray gun today. But it's definitely one of the less common Dan Dare toys, probably due in part to the delicate plastic construction. A little rough play and Britain's space cadets would be left with inoperable firearms. Not a good position to be in when the Mekon's hoards attack. (The Mekon, for the uninitiated, was Dan Dare's fiercest enemy.)

That is one thin freakin' ray gun!

As far as I know, the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet has no variations. But then again, I'm constantly being surprised by this hobby, so who can say? Rare in any condition, when it does pop up it often has some cracks, or a broken trigger, or a missing plastic tip. It's almost always missing the black plastic cap on the back of the water tank. In fact, mine is a reproduction that I made out of Super Sculpey. Not half-bad, if I do say so myself! (I did find a company online that makes small, plastic caps that look like they might be a closer match to the original piece. I've ordered a few different sizes, if they work out well I'll update this post.)

Now, while the toy might not have variations, it does have some relatives. The gun is clearly based on an American toy from the 1940's: Hiller's aluminum Atom Ray water pistol.


It's also related to an earlier British gun, also called the Atomic-Jet, which was made out of metal by a company called Crescent (and which was itself based on the Hiller).

All three toys share the same handle, large water tank, and general shape. However, the Crescent version of the Atomic-Jet is a bit more elegant, with a barrel that's been moved up so that it can extend directly from the tank. In one final bit of weirdness, the box for the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet Gun depicts the titular hero holding the Crescent Atomic-Jet Gun. Like I said, weird.

While many collectors favor the original Hiller version of the gun -- and hey, what's not to love? -- the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet is probably the rarest of the three. It just wasn't as durable as the other two toys, whose metal construction helped them survive many an imaginary battle. Personally, I can't say which I like the best. The two metal guns have greater design cohesion, but there's just something compelling about the brightly colored plastic. To me, it screams "mid-century."

Heck, I'll gladly take all three!

This is a gun I've wanted for a loooong time -- it was really a thrill when I finally snagged it. So c'mon, Mekon -- I double Dan Dare you to make your move!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Vintage Space Toy Photo

Many thanks to Attic contributor Karl Tate, who uncovered photographic proof that yes, dressing like a Space Cadet won't always scare off the girls. Especially girls who are cool enough to dress like Space Cadets, too!


It probably helps that the guy dressed to impress, and sports a snazzy Space Scout helmet, by Renwal. The photo is from Life Magazine, and was taken by Robert W. Kelley at what is described as a "Science Fiction Party, Oak Ridge." It's dated 1954, which, incidentally, is as close as we've come to figuring out when the helmet was made. Nice archeology work, Karl!

Here's a photo of mine, which I wrote about -- along with Renwal's wonderful Planet Jet Gun -- here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rocket Jet Space Gun (U.S. Plastics / 1953 / U.S. / 4.5 x 5.5 inches); Space Gun (Plast-Trix / 1950s / U.S. / 4 x 4.5 inches)

It's been a while since I've written about ray guns, so today I'm featuring two. Talk about... wait for it... bang for your buck! (That pun's for you, Andy!)

I really love these little guns. They're simple toys, and do what you expect a squirt gun to do: squirt water. Bu their looks -- now that's something special! The smooth, metallic finish looks nearly liquid in the right light, like the toy was made out of mercury or something. Pretty darn striking.

The Rocket Jet has a few variations. This one's all silver, but the toy's also often found with a bright, orange trigger. The tip, which is concave like the front of an old-school jet engine, is also sometimes orange. There's another version out there with a translucent red trigger. However, I've got to say, the pure silver version's my favorite.

The trigger guard is often missing on the Rocket Jet. It's usually a clean break, and you often can't tell anything was supposed to be there.

The other gun, which, as far as I know, has no special name, is a little less common than the Rocket Jet. Honestly, I don't know a whole lot about it. I'm going to assume there are variations out there, but I couldn't tell you what they look like.

Those swoopy looking marks on the gun -- under the back fin, under the front of the decorative side piece -- are actually part of the plastic. This "marbling" is common in metallic plastic, and many collectors (myself included) look for it specifically.

Regardless of my feelings about the all-silver Rocket Jet, I really love the red trigger and stopper on this gun. The colors pop like fireworks.

Like I said, these are your standard water pistols: fill 'em up and piss off the cat. It's hard to tell in the photos, but the tip of the un-named gun is a white, hexagonal piece of plastic. Many, many water pistols from the 1950s had these types of tips, and they're a surefire way to tell whether a gun is modern or not. In most cases, this tip will be brass colored (or, actually made from brass). Again, a great way to ID an older water pistol.

U.S. Plastics used an incredibly thin material when making the Rocket Jet. If you shine a light through it, you can see the water pistol mechanism.

U.S. Plastics, who mad the Rocket Jet, also produced a number of Space Patrol ray guns. I don't know much about Plas-Trix, but they've got a pretty funky name and the company was based out of Brooklyn, NY, so they've gotta be at least kind of cool, right? Right.

I was actually pretty dismissive of water pistols when I first began collecting. There are so many of the translucent, plastic ones floating around, and it seemed like most were produced in Hong Kong during the latter half of the Twentieth century. Heck, I grew up with the things. They're still produced today! Pshaw!

But then I started to give them a closer look, and I realized I was being a kind of dumb. Many of the greatest plastic ray guns from the 1950s and early Sixties happened to be water pistols, and by ignoring them I was denying myself some amazing additions to my collection. So I hired a thug to knock some sense into me. Too bad I didn't know that his cough syrup addiction made him meaner than your average roustabout, because that beating went on a little longer than I'd have liked. But it must have worked, because before I could say, "Hey, I've still got one tooth left!" I was logged into eBay and bidding on water pistols. I haven't looked back since. (Mostly because I can't really turn my head too far in either direction anymore.)

So let my pain be a lesson for you: Don't get all snooty about your collection, don't limit yourself, and don't hire a thug with a wicked addiction to cough syrup.