Friday, March 5, 2010

Space Explorer Gun (Palmer Plastic / Early 1950s / U.S. / 4 x 6 inches)

I first discovered the Space Explorer Gun while flipping through the pages of Gene Metcalf's excellent book, Ray Gun. And even though it isn't the fanciest ray gun ever produced, I wanted it from the moment I saw it.

In this case, it's all about the entire package -- the tight, sweet display of ray gun, dart, and wonderfully primitive space art. Of course, the flimsy cardboard backing rarely survived the decades and the dart was probably the first thing to get lost, so I never held out much hope of actually owning a complete set. Which is why I was so shocked to find one on eBay early on in my collecting. I bid pretty hard, but apparently no one else was interested because I snagged it for next to nothing. Saint Jude might be the patron saint of lost causes, but he ain't got nothin' on eBay.

The Space Explorer Gun is pretty simple, but there's something quaint about the funky little lightning bolt and shooting star designs. I also love the two-tone look, which I never knew about until I had the gun in my hands. Photo books are fun, but they never tell the whole story, which is why I always recommend that collectors try to see other people's toys whenever possible. (Try to get an invitation first, though. The Attic of Astounding Artifacts does not condone peeping in through other collectors' windows.)

As far as I know, this particular dart is unique to the Space Explorer Gun; other darts had explosive tips of various types, but none were designed quite like this one. I like that the display card proclaims: "Explosive Dart... SAFE AND HARMLESS." Because nothing inspires feelings of safety like the word "explosive." But these kinds of mixed messages appeared all the time on the packaging for old space guns, and frankly, I think the naivete was part of their charm.

A cap would be placed in the small opening. The spring-loaded suction cup acted as a firing pin.

When this toy arrived in the mail, I was surprised to discover a second dart. The toy was never sold that way, so I tucked it away, figuring I'd sell it to someone who had the gun. Then, one day, my friend Don won the gun and display card -- but no dart. After chatting a bit, I decided to trade it to him -- for goods to be determined. He didn't have anything I wanted at the time, but he really needed to have the dart so I figured I'd just send it to him and worry about it later.

About six months after that, he did me a solid by hooking me up with a gun that by all rights belonged to him. He'd won it on eBay, I was the underbidder -- neither of us knew the other was bidding -- and after listening to me wax rhapsodic about the gun, he decided that it belonged in my collection. He wouldn't take no for an answer, and sold it to me for what he paid. (Which was only a dollar more than my high bid.)

Well! It was such a nice gesture on his part that I also absolved him of any lingering obligations relating to that Space Explorer dart -- it really was the least I could do, seeing as he didn't have to let me have the gun. In the end, we all win.

Once again, it's all about Toy Karma, guys and gals. Collecting can be cutthroat -- but it doesn't have to be. If we help each other out, we'll all end up with pretty sweet collections.


  1. I bet that's the first and last time "harmless" and "explosive" were used in marketing a toy!

  2. You'd think, right? But it wasn't! Twisted marketing executives used the combination all the freakin' time. Or some variation on it, anyway.

    It was often in conjunction with mushroom cloud graphics, demonstrating people's weird relationship with emergent atomic technology.

    The Fifties: A very strange time to be a kid. But a cool one, too!

  3. I bought one of these guns still in original package.Mine is red and yellow.It has some wear and the gun trigger is broken off.I still thought it was really cool looking.I paid $12.00 for it.I have no ideal of the value.I was wondering if I got a pretty good deal.I just love the style and the cool graphics on the package.Let me know what you think.Thanks, Mel

  4. Hi, Mel. If by "original package" you mean the packaging in my photos, then yeah, for $12 you definitely got a great deal! Loose guns are actually quite common -- about six of them were on eBay not too long ago, all from one seller. The cardboard packaging, on the other hand, is super rare, and finding it in decent condition is a real challenge.

    The guns themselves aren't worth too much -- trigger or no trigger -- so you shouldn't have too much trouble swapping your broken one for a mint one if you ever feel like doing so.

    Regardless, at $12 I think you did very well.

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