Saturday, May 29, 2010

Botstock VII: Vintage Space Toy Convention (Pt. 1)

Warning: This is an epically long post. So epically long, I'm making it a two-parter. Feel free to skim or just check out the pictures. Anyone who wants to delve deeper into the Botstock experience, well, okay then. Read on... 

Friday, May 14th. Time for Botstock, the annual vintage robot and space toy convention. I call it a convention, but it's really more of a get together, a gathering of like-minded toy geeks who enjoy nothing more than discussing the merits of pin-walking mechanisms, the scarcity of certain color variations, and whether Robby the Robot could take Lost In Space's B9 in a cage match. (The answer, of course, is yes.) Botstock is a chance to see rare toys, hunt for additions to our collections, and, most importantly, to hang out with friends from around the world who mostly only talk online.

This year's Botstock -- the seventh -- was being held at the Toy Robot Museum in Adamstown, PA. We'd been there three times before (Botstocks one, four, and five). The event moves around; besides the museum we'd also held it at the Robot Hut in Elk, Washington, and the Kane County Toy show outside of Chicago. Good times, for sure, but heading down to the museum felt a lot like returning to a home away from home. It's a comfortable place with lots to see and do, and the museum's curator, Joe Knedlhans, always goes out of his way to make sure everyone has a fun time. (I've written about the museum often enough -- check out entries here, here, and video here.)

The man...

The myth...

The legend! Ladies and gentlemen, owner and curator of the Toy Robot Museum, Joe Knedlhans!

Various robots from the Toy Robot Museum. I've posted about this place so often; check here and here for more pics and video.

Botstock began in 2003 when I decided to take my first trip down to the museum. I mentioned as much on Alphadrome, the online forum for vintage space toy collectors, and a member named Robert mentioned he'd be in the area and could meet me there. Joe Knedlhans than piped up that he could get the director of Unwound, a documentary about vintage tin robots, to come to the museum to sign copies of the film if other collectors wanted to make the trip, too. A bunch of Alphadromers decided to join us, and the next thing you know, we were having the first Alphadrome meet up.

That's when a collector named Darryl -- a.k.a. Robotnut -- posted a picture of a poster with the name Botstock. It stuck, and here we are today.

That first Botstock drew something like 10 people and lasted a single day. Since then, it's stretched to fill the whole weekend and we've had as many as 50 people show up (including wives, girlfriends, kids, and even a couple pets). We've had collectors from across the country and Canada, and even from Germany. It's really a fun opportunity to meet people who I've only previously spoken to online.

Unlike traditional conventions, which have scheduled panels and speakers and specific events, Botstocks are fairly loose -- especially when they're in Adamstown. Joe's museum serves as a meeting place and base of operations; it's a place to hang out and show off whatever toys we've found. Oh yeah, and Joe supplies lots and lots of booze. Free booze, freely flowing. And pinball. And Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots! And also booze, in case I didn't mention it. Ahem. Moving on...

In an effort to broaden the Botstock experience, Joe likes to clear some space in the museum for what we call "Special Exhibits," which are generally supplied by attendees. In the past, we've had some incredibly rare robots, lots of custom toys, an amazing collection of Buck Rogers memorabilia, and, from me, a small arsenal of space guns.

This year, I brought along four Dan Dare toys, plus a Marx Rex Mars Flashlight gun. The Dan Dare pieces were just something for other collectors to check out, and included a Dan Dare Cap Gun, the Dan Dare Cosmic Ray Gun, the Dan Dare Rocket Gun, and the rare Dan Dare Atomic Squirt Gun.

My various Dan Dare guns. 

I brought the Rex Mars gun, however, to accompany a display of original Marx blueprints sent along by a collector named Mike (a.k.a. ToyMemories). He collects not only the blueprints, but also Marx prototypes, molds, test shots (the first items to come out of a mold in the early stages of toy development), sculpts, and whatever other unique pieces of toy history he can get his hands on. Every year, he lends a few of these out to Joe with the idea that other collectors will bring along the final production pieces. Besides the Rex Mars gun, we also had blueprints for a set of Marx Jumpies and a Space Target set, plus original molds for a set of Marx aliens. Truly rare treasures!

Rex Mars gun with partial blueprints.

Marx Jumpies. Push 'em down until the suction cup on the underside of their bodies attaches them to the table. After a few seconds, the spring legs will pull them free, launching them up into the air.

A beautiful Marx Flash Gordon water pistol and box.

Two custom built toys created by an Alphadrome member named Joe Markee.

An extremely rare Johilco Space Station. This British toy was uncovered at a local flea market and carefully restored by Alphadromer Phil Redman. Amazing.

I also brought one other item to Botstock: A Takara die-cast, missile-firing R2-D2 from 1978. Joe's museum has a case full of R2-D2 and C-3PO toys, and I knew he was missing this rare one. Through a small misadventure in collecting (ahem), I'd manage to pick up two of them. Rather than flip the extra on eBay, I decided to instead contribute it to the Toy Robot Museum. Joe's done so much for us collectors over the years -- and he's been such a good friend to me -- that I'm always trying to find ways to give something back to him. He seemed to appreciate the R2, and I felt really good about supporting the museum. 

Every year, we try to give Botstock a theme, or at least a focus. This year, it was the Alphabot, which I previously posted about here. Based on the Alphadrome mascot, it's a custom creation by a collector and mad scientist named John Rigg. He made it out of aluminum and resin, and sold it in both pre-built and kit forms to members of Alphadrome. Eight Botstockers brought their robots to the convention this year and the whole group of toys was displayed in the museum -- a pretty impressive sight considering each one is custom built (with various tweaks to the design and colors) by either its owner or John Rigg himself.

Alphabots on display! Also, note the Buck Rogers U-235 Atomic Disintegrator pistol just hanging out on the bottom shelf. Because you just. Never. Know.

As an added bonus, John sent along the foam-core mock up of the Alphabot, along with the first motorized prototype, for inclusion in our annual raffle. I'll admit it, I had my heart set on winning the mock up, but nope, no luck. It went to a collector with a great collection named Perry. In fact, he managed to win both the mock up and the prototype! So while I'll admit I was bummed about not winning them myself, it was great to see the pair stay together. Enjoy them, Perry!

John Rigg's foam-core mock up of the Alphabot. Sigh.

Botstock's official accommodation is the Black Horse Inn. That's where we have our room trading and the Saturday evening BBQ, which takes place at a pavilion out back. We also hold our raffle there, and on Sunday, dealers set up shop under the pavilion. It's a nice enough hotel, and thought he decor can most kindly be described as "Mid-Seventies Roadside," the rooms are clean and the rates are low. Guests also receive free breakfast, and that means more money for toys. Nice!

Room trading! Alphadromers pick over a dealer's wares.

Score! I picked up this small, wind up robot. It's from the mid Sixties and was made originally by a company called Aoki, and then later sold in the States through the company Cragstan. This is the Cragstan version -- red body, blue arms -- though it's paired (incorrectly) with the Aoki box. Frankly, I like this version of the box better than the rather boring Cragstan version, so it's fine with me. It cost less than those offered by other dealers, so I can't complain about the price either! (This has to be the longest photo caption ever.)

The raffle table. So much stuff, including both of John Rigg's Alphabot prototypes; a custom creation by Joe Markee; a custom Botstock hoodie; and various toys, comics, and even Christmas ornaments.

More raffle prizes: In the front, one of Andy Hill's Andybots. (For more on Anybots -- and Andy Hill's custom robot company, Electro Art Works, check out this post here.) Joe Markee's robot is right behind it. Fantastic work!

Free, embroidered T-shirts for all the attendees compliments of an Alphadromer named Leon. 

Another raffle item: Lithographed tin panels intended for use on a modern toy robot made by the company Metal House. Definitely a one-of-a-kind prize! Nope, I didn't win this one, either... 

When we're not at the museum or the hotel, most of us spend our time roaming up and down Adamstown's main strip, which is lined with antique shops and malls. There's also Morphy's Auction House, which has a well-stocked consignment wing, and Schupp's Grove, an outdoor antique market that, in the past, provided some amazing finds. You'd think that having 30 or more collectors hitting all the same places would inspire some hefty competition, but the truth is, we're all shopping at different price points and for slightly different toys -- there's often enough to go around. 

Yes, a majority of our time is spent picking through the antique shops. And no, we don't often find anything good. Prizes are out there, though, and we did stumble across some amazing toys -- as well as a lot of junk. For the complete blow-by-blow, check out Part II, coming shortly!

The weekend usually ends with a group dinner at either an Italian restaurant or a steak joint. It's a last chance to show off whatever we've found, commiserate over toys we didn't get, and generally eek every last bit of geekiness out of the time we've got left. About half way through my appetizer, I tend to get bummed out that the weekend is coming to an end. But at the same time, I also know that I'll return home reinvigorated and ready to jump back into the hobby.

I also begin counting down the days until the next Botstock... wherever it might be.

364... 363... 362...


  1. Wow! Space toy heaven!

    I love the robot with the TV in his chest (?), the Jumpies, and holy smokes! An Electro X (former Electrolux) creation!

    The Johilco Space Station is drool-worthy.

    I don't know what an Andybot is, but I love that too!

    Wonderful photos, looking forward to part 2!

  2. There are a number of robots with TVs in their chest featured in that photo. The one on the far right is the Video Robot, by Horikawa. In the center is another Horikawa Robot, the Radar Scout. On the left is the Television Spaceman, by Alps. I wrote about that last one here.

    The Andybots are the creation of an artist named Andy Hill. His web site is Electro Art Works, which is located at I previously wrote about some of his robots here.

  3. Ahhh. Wonderful. Will check out your other articles. =)

  4. This article is turning me multi-shades of green with envy.... I love this all. Thanks for all the information and the pics! I've only seen a photo of the British space station toy once before, what a find!

    I wonder if my Electrolux would mind me drilling a few holes and attaching some domes and antennea to upgrade it into the space tank?!

  5. I've only seen two or three other photos of the Johilco, as well -- in the book Blast Off, and on Alphadrome (the online space toy forum). If you know of others, I'd love to hear about it. It's a rare, rare toy. To find one in an outdoor flea market in the middle of PA still boggles my mind. It's made of chip board, cardboard, and I think a bit of wood and wire -- it looks like something you'd build in your garage for a Boy Scout project or something. I'm sure the antique dealer that originally dug it up thought exactly that!

    It couldn't have been found by a better person, though. Phil is a master restorer -- you should see what he can do with wrecked box, and even corroded tin litho -- and he was able to transform a lost cause into a found treasure.

    Re: space tanks, that's between you and your Electrolux. Not sure it's a conversation I want to be privy too...

  6. wow !
    what an adventure looks like you guys had a lot of fun, the museum, the antique stores, Morphy's auction store, what a wonderful way to spend the weekend, thanks for the pictures and keep posting more.


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