Saturday, July 31, 2010

W Robot (Noguchi / 1960s / Japan / 7 inches)

A mystery in the toy world: What's the "W" on the W Robot stand for? "Wonderful"? "Wicked"? "Wow"? I have no idea. Like I said, it's a mystery! What's not a mystery is that this little robot is super cool. (See what I did there? It's call reincorporation, and it's a writing technique that's so common it's actually a cliche. But I did it anyway, because that's how I roll.)

I've always liked this funky little 'bot. His unusual, round body, the playful litho, that cool sparking window on his chest -- he's a true original! The W Robot is a fairly common toy, relatively inexpensive, and often an early addition to many people's collections. I think he was my fourth or fifth robot, and I remember being excited to discover a toy I recognized immediately from one of the great books by famous Japanese collector T. Kitahara. (Not that this particular example of the toy appeared in the book, of course.)

The W Robot is part of a category of robots known as "paddle wheels," so called because of their unusual walking mechanism that employs a pair of off-axis wheels connected to paddle-like feet. Unlike his cousins, though, the W robot's mechanics are much more finished looking.

There are a number of variations on this particular robot. One version has more human-like arms, which are in fact taken from a paddle-wheel astronaut toy that uses the exact same body as the W robot, but entirely different lithography. Another version of the W Robot features a small, plastic spinner on its head. A third, extremely rare version -- I've only seen one -- has a different red gel on its chest. And lastly, there's a version of the toy produced by a Greek company that has a different symbol on its chest (and is marked as being made in Greece).

By the way, the background in these shots is yet another experiment. I was trying for something vaguely lush and organic, something weird with a lot of texture. I think I achieved it, but I'm not sure it actually works. It's a little busy, I think. Nice, but maybe not quite right for photographing robots. The opening shot, in particular, lacks sufficient separation between the subject -- the 'bot -- and the background. The lighting's too strong, and there depth of field isn't nearly shallow enough. Oh well, live and learn!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wind Up Gear Robot (Horikawa / 1960s / Japan / 9 inches)

Now this is a colorful robot!

The Wind Up Gear Robot isn't the first gear robot made by Horikawa, and it wouldn't be their last. The company definitely got a lot of mileage out of its gears, but that's great because, let's face it, gears and robots go together like... well... gears and robots.

This is one of Horikawa's famed "Fly Eyes," so called because of the trapezoidal, perforated pieces of tin on their faces. The company made a lot of them, with all sorts of functions, over the course of its multi-decade manufacturing run. There are so many Fly Eyes out there, in fact, that many collectors have sub-collections of nothing but this particular style of robot. And those collections are probably bigger than my entire collection combined!

You can tell that this is one of Horikawa's later robots by the plastic head, arms, legs, and feet. The body is still tin, as is the lithographed panel behind the clear, plexi chest shield. I used to not really love too much plastic on my vintage robots, but over the years I've come to accept that, regardless of what it's made of, a cool robot is a cool robot.

I think it's a lesson we can apply to many parts of our lives, yes? Yes.

I won this robot -- and one other -- at an auction recently. It was a fun experience; I was phone bidding for the first time. For all the auctioneer knew, I was bidding in my boxers. I wasn't, but I like that I could have been!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Electro Art Works On Display!

I'd like to give a shout out to sculptor Andy Hill, who has three of his Andy Bots included in an exhibit called "The Art of the Robot" at the Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka, Kansas.

Photo: Curator Carol Emert for the Mulvane Art Museum. Via Alphadrome.

Andy is a talented artist who creates fascinating toy robots out of found objects. His pieces are always fun and full of personality, and wrought with such skill that you can rarely tell where the individual parts originally came from. I've written about him, and have posted pics of my own Andy Bots, here.

"The Art of the Robot" runs through September 19, and includes works by 17 artists, including Hill, Clayton Bailey, Eric Joyner, Nemo Gould, and David Lipson. For more information, visit the Mulvane Art Museum's web site.

You can find out more about Andy Hill's work by visiting his site, Electro Art Works.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Re-Arranging The Shelves

I've added a few new robots to my collection lately, and frankly, the cases are starting to feel a bit cluttered. Time for some re-arranging!

I enjoy figuring out new ways to display my toys. It's a chance to interact with the collection, to pull down all the robots and really get a feel for them after what's often been quite a long time. When I've finished, the collection feels brand new; I get overly comfortable seeing the toys in the same place day in and day out, and sometimes they end up becoming background noise. By shaking things up, I really find myself focusing on these toys in a brand new way.

I didn't get too fancy in how I approached the new set up. In the past, I've grouped things by look or color or action. This time, I just went with aesthetics. If a clump of toys looks good together, they stay together. (Full disclosure: Some of my shelves remain untouched; they looked good before and I still think they look good now.)

What about you guys? How often do you re-arrange your collections? Is it a fun process? A painful one? What sort of criteria do you use when deciding how to arrange your stuff? Leave any thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mr. Zerox (Horikawa / 1965 / Japan / 9 inches)

Mr. Zerox is a robot with a lot of personality. Just look at those shades! Look at that jaunty cap! Stylin!

Popular culture in the Fifties and Sixties was obsessed with atomic energy, and toy manufactures capitalized on this by sticking variations of the word "atom" in the names of everything they produced. Heck, in the world of robots alone I can think of four examples off the top of my head: Mr. Atomic, Atomic Robot Man, Mr. Atom, and Atom Robot.

Making less of an impact on people's imaginations? Photocopy technology. And yet, and yet, Horikawa decided to embrace this mad science by naming a robot after the Mac Daddy of all photocopy companies, Xerox. Of course, they changed things up by using a Z instead of an X. Perhaps to avoid lawsuits? Or maybe the Japanese company spelled the name phonetically. Who knows? Horikawa's departure from the world of atoms and all things atomic was bold, and darn it, I salute their gumption and individuality!

Note the separate, contoured eye piece. You can just make out the circles underneath it where Horikawa would have put the round eyes found on similar robots.

Mr. Zerox has a fun, if straightforward, action. Flip the switch on this battery powered robot and it walks forward while the green window on its chest lights up. After a few steps, the front door flips forward, and two guns pop out and flash while making a rat-tat-tat sound.

The center bulb between the two guns is what actually lights up. 

Horikawa was one of the longest running toy companies, producing robots for more than four decades. Horikawa made so many robots, in fact, that many collectors have sub-collections of the toys within their robot collection. This is one of the earlier pieces, marked as such by its all-tin construction and small stature. I definitely wouldn't call it a rare toy, but it's not too common either -- especially in decent condition.

A nice burst of colorful litho accompanies the chest guns. The "SH" symbol stands for Horikawa.

The grill on top of the hat helps the rat-tat-tat sound come through loud and (annoyingly) clear.

I was late in coming to this robot. In fact, I was late in coming to Horikawa robots altogether. I'm not exactly sure why, I think I just wasn't familiar with them. But as I delved deeper into the hobby, and as I became exposed to more and more robots, I discovered the Horikawa's undeniable charms. Creative actions, iconic designs -- all the elements of a great toy robot.

By the way, in case you didn't notice, I've decided to abandon my old photo background. The shelf of toys was getting played out, so I'll be messing around with some new ideas in the coming posts. Keepin' it fresh!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mechanical Moon Robot (Yonezawa / Early 1960s / Japan / 9 inches)

Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot was quickly adopted by toy makers, and subsequently released in a dizzying array of copyright-dodging redesigns. The Mechanical Moon Robot is one of my all time favorites.

Mechanical Moon Robot is better known to many collectors as Ribbon Robby, thanks to the three twists of metal inside his dome. Wind the key, throw the switch on his chest, and then watch as he walks forward while sparks light up his two head gels, and the metal ribbons change color as they rotate. It's a simple, subdued effect -- especially compared to the bells and whistles of his battery powered cousins -- but that's what what I love. The robot's kind of primitive, charmingly whimsical, and altogether fun.

The ribbons come in a couple color variations; the most common of them replaces the red -- I think -- with green. Something like that. None of these is more common than any other, and I can't imagine most collectors care too much about which they own. That said, I'm glad I've got the ribbons in red, yellow, and blue. Classic colors in the vintage toy world!

Yonezawa made some interesting decisions when designing the Ribbon Robby. First, there's that bright pink dome. Many examples of the toy appear to have clear domes; in reality, the color faded over time, and when looked at from the proper angle, you can usually pick up a slight tint. Interesting detail: Two screws lock the dome into place, one in the back and one on its right side. Why only the right side? I've got no idea.

Next, Yonezawa chose to paint the toy a strange, blueish-greenish-blackish color that changes ever so slightly depending on the quality and color temperature of the light. It's really quite lovely, especially when combined with the toy's light hammer-tone finish. Yonezawa apparently used slightly different batches of paint when doing the various runs of this toy. The color doesn't change, but one batch cures oddly over time, leading to a covering of fine lines known as "spidering." It doesn't really detract from the toy -- in fact, it adds a little character to what would have otherwise been a simple paint scheme -- and rarely effects the price. It's just the way some of the toys are. The other batches are more like mine, and have a slightly different paint composition that for whatever reason remains shiny and relatively smooth. There's a bit of spidering, but nothing like what you find on some of the Ribbons. Frankly, I think they both look nice, and I suppose it'd be valid for a hardcore collector to own one of each. I'm not that hardcore a collector, though, so I'll remain satisfied with my one, mint robot.

Finally, Yonezawa made the interesting decision to use a hard, blue rubber to form the toy's hands and "ears." It looks great, but time isn't always too nice to these rubber parts. Cracking and splitting is common, and even under the best of circumstances, the rubber hardens. Reproductions are available, though they never feel or look quite right.

The Ribbon Robby is definitely an uncommon toy, and downright rare in this condition, and I've wanted one since first entering the hobby. Soon after I'd joined Alphadrome, the online forum for robot and space toy collectors, Steve Jaspen invited me to his house to see his collection. He didn't know me from a hole in the wall, but we lived near each other and Steve's always been the type of guy to reach out to new collectors. I was just thrilled to have a chance to see some robots I'd only read about up until that point.

Steve's collection was -- and still is -- pretty darn amazing, with some toys that are so rare, even if you had a fortune in your wallet you still probably wouldn't be able to get your hands on them. But the piece that really jumped out at me was a strange looking Robby, a fairly simple robot with odd little ribbons behind a pink dome.

"Oh, you like that one?" asked Steve.

I sputtered some sort of affirmative. Maybe I drooled.

"You should see it in action," he replied. He wound it up, placed it on a table, and within seconds I was hooked. I knew that one day I'd get to own one.

Well, that day took longer than I thought it would, I'll admit. I almost snagged a Ribbon Robby at the Morphy auction last November, but instead I decided to bid on a rare Cragstan Ranger Robot. I didn't regret my decision -- the Ranger Robot was so clean that I knew I'd never find another as nice. But still, there was a little Robby-shaped hole in my heart that I really wanted to fill...

Finally, a few days ago, I made contact with a long-time dealer/collector named Jay Brotter at Robot Island. (I've known Jay for a few years.) It turns out he had this 'bot for sale, and at a price I couldn't possibly pass up. I immediately decided to buy it, and two days later -- a record for the Post Office, I'm sure -- it was sitting on my shelf. Given the condition, I'd say it was definitely worth the wait.

It's always nice when a toy that had taken up residence on my Want List finally ends up in my collection. There's a feeling of satisfaction that I don't always get when I pick up robots that I only just learn about. Of all the robots on my Want List, this one was sitting right up at the top. It makes getting it that much sweeter.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Get Well Soon, Morbius!

I want to give a shout out to a great robot collector by the name of Mike -- known on the Interweb as "Morbius" -- who hasn't been feeling too well lately. He's stuck in a hospital and could probably use some cheering up. So in an effort to make him grin, and in lieu of anything better, I present this riddle:

What's red and smells like a blue robot?

If you give up, Mike, you can check the comments section for the answer!

And let me give his daughter, "Altaira," a virtual pat on the back. She's been relaying messages back and forth between her pop and the rest of the toy robot community, and we all really appreciate it. Altaira's a robot collector herself, and with her dad's help, she's built quite a shelf of toys. She's got a great eye and and an honest enthusiasm for robots, and once she's got some disposable income of her own, she's probably going to rule this hobby!

So feel better Mike, and keep up the good work Altaira. I expect to see you both at Botstock next year!