Saturday, May 29, 2010

Botstock VII: Vintage Space Toy Convention (Pt. 2)

Every year, vintage space toy and robot collectors gather together for Botstock (click here for Part 1 of the Botstock Posts). This year's event was held at the Toy Robot Museum in Adamstown, PA. Adamstown, for those who don't regularly read this blog, is a haven for antique hunters, with dozens of stores lining the town's main strip. In my last post, I wrote about Botstock itself. This post gives the nitty-gritty, blow-by-blow account of my weekend's antiquing adventures. As always, the less obsessive might want to just skim this one... 

I went down to Adamstown with three friends: Steve Jaspen, Karl Tate, and John Alvarez. We woke up early Saturday morning, raring to go, and decided to try an outdoor antique market called Shupp's Grove first. The place is usually picked clean by late morning, and the dealers often turn in early to beat the later-day heat. We ended up getting there by 8:30 or so, but sadly, didn't see too many interesting pieces. One toy that did stand out was the Electric Drive Marx Mobile riding car. It's a three-foot long, battery-powered, lithographed tin monster that was meant for kids to, well, ride on. Impressive, but also expensive... I passed, but not until I'd taken a few good pictures. (Thanks to Phil Marks, proprietor of Shupp's Grove booth T-17.)

The Marx Mobile! Kids would sit in the cockpit and put their feet up on the pars extending from either side of the toy. The whole thing ran on a lantern battery. Wow!

The cockpit. All those buttons actually did stuff, from turning on lights to making noise.

The last thing you see as this puppy goes tearing down the street... 

We spent a little more time poking through Shupp's before finally calling it quits. We decided to move on to Morphy's Auction House, a usually reliable source for vintage toys. Turns out we weren't disappointed; Morphy's had a number of beautiful pieces, some rare, some fairly common. All were expensive, of course, but some were still within the acceptable, if high, end of the market. The belle of the ball for me was probably a dead-mint Strato Gun and its scarce box. I'll admit, I'd seen it before -- it's been sitting on the same shelf for years, and I'm pretty certain the seller is either going to have to remove the word "FIRM" from the toy's price tag, or else give up entirely and take the darn thing home for good. It's a great piece, but I can't see spending the money he wanted to get.

This Strato Gun has never been fired, according to the seller. The box is ultra rare. The toy's priced accordingly. Sigh. For more info on this gun, check out this previous post.

Other highlights at Morphy's included a rare, boxed Space Patrol watch and original, domed compass; a nice example of the relatively common Robby Tractor; a super clean, grey Cragstan Mr. Robot; and a really rare Nautilus Submarine toy from the Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. As if that wasn't enough, we also stumbled on a shelf full of drop dead gorgeous space banks. Unfortunately, they were part of an upcoming auction and weren't for sale before then. 

The nicest example of a Space Patrol watch and compass set I've ever seen. Dig Buzz Corey on the box top!

This nifty little tractor was also available in blue.

I've only seen a couple boxed examples of this extremely uncommon Nautilus submarine. I love this toy...

Various rocket banks. These are all rarer variations on banks that otherwise pop up quite often. I've never seen so many banks offered at once, or in such nice condition. It should be one heck of an auction.

Speaking of auctions, Morphy's was having one as we entered the building. It was a broad assortment of items, and I found a few interesting space toys. Nothing I desperately needed to own, though, so I didn't bother registering to bid. A friend of mine named Bill -- who goes by the Alphadrome handle Tinman93 -- scored a beautiful Archer Rocket. I wish I'd thought to take some pictures...

While I didn't buy any toys at Morphy's, I did indulge another collection of mine: 1939 World's Fair memorabilia. I'd found a nice, enameled pin on one of the shelves for $23 and couldn't resist picking it up. Little did I know that I'd be establishing a trend that would last through the end of the weekend. (You'll have to wait a few paragraphs for pictures!)

After Morphy's, we headed to something I remember being called the Antique Co-Op. It's a ramshackle little building with two floors and dozens of cases full of all sorts of interesting stuff -- including one that was practically overflowing with World's Fair material. I quickly picked out a number of items I wanted, but I decided not to buy them until I'd done some more toy hunting. I knew that the World's Fair stuff wasn't going anywhere, and I wanted to keep my money in reserve in case something really good popped up. Not only were there a whole mess of other antique stores to explore, but a few dealers were scheduled to show up sometime that day and I wanted to be ready for them.

A nice woman at the Co-Op gave me the name of the dealer who owned the World's Fair case and suggested I try coming by on Sunday when he'd be around. She figured he might be willing to cut me a deal on the pieces that interested me -- music to my ears. I promised both her and myself that I'd swing back to pick up at least a small item or two.

Next up: Adam's Antiques, a large, sort of ugly, brick building that's chock full of cases, each one stuffed with everything you can imagine -- including toys. Unfortunately, pickings were slim -- let's face it, pickings are almost always slim when it comes to vintage robots and ray guns -- but we did finally uncover a few good pieces. Chief among these was a super mint Tom Corbett: Space Cadet tin clicker gun and a nearly pristine box. I was tempted by it, I'll admit, but the price was just a bit too high. Not an unfair price, don't get me wrong, but more than I wanted to spend. If I was going to drop that kind of cash, it was going to be for something I like more than that gun.

Sadly, Adam's Antiques is touchy about photographs, so you'll have to close your eyes and use your imaginations. I realize that many of this blog's readers have no idea whatsoever what a Tom Corbett: Space Cadet tin clicker gun looks like, but I trust you'll come up with something suitably insane.

There were a couple other places we wanted to hit after Adam's, but first we decided to phone Joe and see if any dealers had shown up. Nope. So we headed over to a place called the Mad Hatter.

The Mad Hatter is another antique mall, one I've had a lot of luck with in the past. My first time there, I picked up a beautiful, red Space Patrol smoke gun, as well as a stack of vintage, first edition science fiction paperbacks. I managed to get more books on my next trip -- but those would be my last. This time around, the supply of books had dried up. There weren't any space toys, either. However, I did find an amazing shelf of early to mid century Hallowe'en decorations and toys. I love these things... They've got nothing to do with anything I collect, but the colors, the imagery -- it's all just so cool!

Every day is Hallowe'en! (A gold star for anyone who gets that particular reference.)

John did find something that interested him, though, and I uncovered a neat World's Fair postcard set. We decided to come back on Sunday if our money held out. Given our luck so far, none of us thought we'd have trouble in that department.

After the Mad Hatter, we headed back to the Toy Robot Museum for a bit, and then decided to swing by the hotel to see if any dealers had shown up. We must have had a psychic moment or something, because we arrived just as a dealer and long-time collector named Jay Brotter rolled in. Jay owns an online store called Robot Island, and specializes in not only unusual vintage bots, but also modern and reproduction pieces.

Because Steve, Karl, John and I are all such nice guys, we quickly volunteered to help carry all the boxes of toys into his room. And because we were feeling especially generous, we even helped Jay unpack them. Because that's the kind of guys we are. I suppose we could have made the job even easier by calling some of our friends who were still hanging out at the museum but, well... why bother them, right? Right.

Of course, this meant we had first dibs on all of Jay's toys -- what a coincidence!

A big part of Botstock is what's known as room trading. Collectors bring whatever toys they're looking to prune from their collections, dealers show up with their stock of toys, and everyone wanders around seeing what they can get. In the past, we've had three or four dealers plus a number of other people all bring a huge variety of robots and space toys. This year, however, we learned that two dealers had fallen ill and a third just wasn't able to make it out. It looked like Jay was it, aside from a few small pieces that other collectors were putting up for grabs.

Luckily, I finally managed to pick up a robot from Jay. It's a small, wind up, plastic toy that bounces around like a jitterbug on crystal meth. It's not a rare toy, but I've always liked it and finally decided to pick one up. This version, with the red body and blue arms, was made by a company called Cragstan in the mid Sixties. A slightly earlier version, done all in red, was made by the Japanese company Aoki. Mine is actually paired (incorrectly) with the Aoki box. I don't mind -- it's much cooler than Cragstan's version, and I actually paid less than what other dealers seem to be asking for the toy these days. As far as I'm concerned, it's perfect.

My Cragstan/Aoki jiggle robot. Note the wheeling and dealing in the background.

Room trading. The bed is covered by a variety of both old and newer robots.

Some more toys, a mix of older and modern pieces. The orange robot you can sort of see in the top corner is a custom bot made by a collector.

We called it quits for the day after hanging out with Jay. It was time for our annual BBQ, which takes place behind the hotel anyway, so we all decided that it was time for beer and burgers. We also had a raffle that night -- I didn't win anything -- and then stayed up into the night watching old home movies from the Fifties that someone had brought along. Fun stuff. And then it was time to crash out for the night.

We were up early Sunday morning to see if any dealers would show up. There were a couple, but none had vintage toys. So after hanging out for an hour or so, Steve, John, Karl and I headed over to a giant indoor/outdoor antique mall called Renningers.

Some robots at a dealer's table.

There were a few toys, but once again, nothing too spectacular. We still spent more than an hour picking through people's cases -- even when there's nothing I want, I have fun seeing what's out there.

After Renningers, we decided to head back over to the Mad Hatter so John could pick up something he'd found. While there, I ended up snagging a package of mini-postcards from the '39 World's Fair. (Again, hold tight for pics!)

We hit a couple other random antique stores after that -- we mostly came up empty, though I did pick up a small Westinghouse Robot pin. The Westinghouse Robot was part of the Westinghouse display at the World's Fair. It was a giant, supposedly intelligent robot; in reality, it was controlled by an operator behind the scenes. I like the pin because it nicely bridges my World's Fair and Robot collections. Or something like that.

Finally, right before going to dinner, I returned to the Antique Co-Op to see if I could score some of those World's Fair items I'd looked at on Saturday. The dealer who owned the WF case -- Al -- was there, and he proved to be a real nice guy who was happy to swing a deal on prices. I had planned on buying maybe two pieces, but ended up walking away with five. I still ended up spending less than I'd originally budgeted.

The packet of 16 mini postcards that I bought at the Mad Hatter. These were also sold in a sort of pinkish-orange box; neither is more rare. I happen to be partial to blue.

Clockwise from top right: Westinghouse Robot pin, World's Fair pin from Morphy's, and round World's Fair pinback from the Antique Co-Op. Underneath them all is a World's Fair mirror that I also picked up at the Co-Op.

The enduring symbol of the 1939 World's Fair, the Trylon and Perisphere. I picked this thermometer at the Co-Op. Apparently it was nearly 70 degrees when I took this photo.

A fantastic movie viewer set, complete with three rolls of film. The viewer itself is made from bakelite. Check out the awesome deco box art!

The viewer and two boxes of film. The third strip is stored in the viewer itself.

And that was that. After the Co-Op we went out for a nice Italian dinner with the remaining Botstockers, and then it was time to head back home. Fewer toys than I'd have hoped to find, but I'm really happy with the few things I did manage to take home.

And the hunt continues... 


  1. Space toys, rocket banks, vintage Halloween AND 1939 Worlds Fair goodies.

    I think you just made the most perfect blog post ever. =D

    Wow is about all I can say. I want that car at the top. The fins are to die for!

    And the one rocket bank with the sort of atomic rings around the planet (earth?): I've seen a number of those on eBay, but I don't recall seeing them with the rings. All in beautiful condition.

    I'd collect Halloween stuff first and foremost, except it all sells for premium prices year 'round. Grrr. So I don't even try.

    And then the Worlds Fair stuff. :::Drool:::

    OK, let me feature your blog on mine, get some nice folks over here to help appreciate your unique collection and all these great photos!

  2. Yeah, I love the Hallowe'en stuff. The colors are so vibrant, and the designs look like they're pulled from a 1940s cartoon or something. The Hallowe'en episode of Tom and Jerry, maybe. But as you say -- expensive. And I already collect too many expensive things...

    If you like the World's Fair stuff, I'll be featuring a really cool piece soon. Along with some justification as to why a blog that's ostensibly dedicated to mid-century science fiction toys would be featuring World's Fair items from 1939. (And no, it's not just because of the fair's "World of Tomorrow" theme... There's a surprising connection to science fiction!)

    Anyhoo, feel free to send as many people as you'd like. The more the merrier! The Attic is like Doctor Who's Tardis -- much bigger on the inside. It is, however, BYOB.

  3. The Strato Gun is beautiful !
    never seen it !

    who was the maker ? and when it was made ?
    it is made of plastic or metal ?

    thanks for the pictures.

  4. You know, I'm not sure if I'm lazy or just really tired, but I keep forgetting to include links to past articles... But for more on the Strato Gun, check out this previous post.

    Here's a quick answer to your questions, though:
    It was produced by the appropriately named Futuristic Products Co. in 1953. It's made of chromed, die cast metal, and it fires caps.

    Glad you enjoyed all the pics!

  5. Holy Hannah! =O I have the rocket bank only it's the common type w/o the rings... Geesh! I want that one, and the other two rocket banks... and the Strato gun... and I want to DRIVE that car!!!! I want to drive it to work just to see everyone's faces as they're left eating my cosmic dust... Woohooo!

    Sorry... this kind of vintage tin lithographed / space toy goodness always gets me a little excited.


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