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!


  1. Wow, I half expect him to start break-dancing! And he's got some great action features too--nice!

  2. The contoured eyepiece makes me think of the safety goggles men wore when doing atomic testing and such.

  3. @Jay:
    Yeah, he's got that old-school b-boy look. Maybe the cap should be backwards, though.

    Or the safety goggles worn during... photocopying! Seriously, that light is really bright!

  4. Doc I hope you do not abandon the collection in the background entirely, I always loved this about your photos. I do see your point of keeping it fresh so I can't wait to see what you come up with. I always loved the way you shoot pictures of toys, it's just plain awesomeness!

  5. @chunky_B
    I'm still on the fence. I liked that background, but it presented a couple problems. The biggest: the busy background sometimes conflicts with the photo's subject, especially if I don't light it carefully. This sometimes becomes frustrating, especially since there's not always a lot of room in my toy room to set up lights properly. The simple brick wall this time out was okay, but a little boring, I think. So we'll see...

  6. I've long considered the possibility that Horikawa may not have intended to connect this robot's monker to Xerox the corporate entity at all, but to name it much in the way other Japanese sci-fi/TV/manga characters were at that time - vaguely translated into English yet sounded suitably futuristic or "spacey." Could Horikawa have intended to fabricate the name as something like "Mr. Zero-X" and muck up the translation? Would love to see the box art for clues. Did Xerox, the corporation, have that much world presence and household name recognition at that point in time, that Horikawa would consider the name an added selling point? Interesting things to consider.

    Your site is one of my regular stops, and I love poring over your gorgeously lush photos of all the robots I'll never be able to afford to add to my collection!

  7. @The Evil Twin
    First, full disclosure: I was kind of joking with that whole bit about photocopying technology, playing off the name Mr. Zerox. It was just too easy to pass up; I'm nothing if not easy. (Er, wait...)

    Truth is, I have no idea if Xerox Corporation had that much recognition, but a little bit of research reveals that my dumb play on words might have some merit. According to Wikipedia (I know, never the best source of information, but certainly the most convenient this morning) the Xerox company "came to prominence in 1959 with the introduction of the Xerox 914, the first plain paper photocopier using the process of Electro-photography (later changed to xerography)... By the end of 1961, Xerox had almost $60 million in revenue. By 1965, revenues leaped to over $500 million."

    Imagine, if you will, the wonder of being able to stick a piece of paper into a machine and then having a reproduction of that paper pop out the other end with no fuss or muss. Seems boring now, but in 1959... Incredible stuff! Given the sales figures cited in the entry, by '65 it was certainly a part of every office.

    Wikipedia goes on to add that "in 1963, Xerox introduced the Xerox 813, the first desktop plain-paper copier, bringing [inventor Chester Carlson's] vision of a copier that could fit on anyone's office desk into a reality." Again, for the time, pervasive, cutting edge technology.

    So I think it's plausible that Horikawa might have keyed into this tech when trying to find a name for their latest robot.

    That said, I think your suggestion carries a lot of weight. I never really considered that they might have meant to call it Zero-X or something and then screwed up the translation. It happens all the time with these old toys, so I don't see why it wouldn't happen this time around. And let's face it, naming a robot after a photocopying company, no matter how famous or profitable or cutting edge, is sort of weird. Okay, very weird.

    I know people with original boxes, and I know people who might have the Japanese version of the boxes. I'll see what I can dig up. If I find anything, I'll definitely post a follow up.

    Thanks for pushing the discussion forward!

    Oh, and thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoy the blog.

  8. Oh my god! MY ROBOT!!! THAT'S HIM!!!!! I am going to see if my guy still works after all this time. I don't know if I have the right batteries. Is he valuable? (Not that I would want to part with him, I'm just curious)

  9. Hi, Lisa. For various reasons, I don't like to discuss prices on the blog. If you'd like to know more about what he might be worth, or any other questions, feel free to email me using the EMAIL BUTTON at the top right of the page.

    You can also do searches on eBay for ended auctions. Careful, though -- some people list these robots at really high prices. They never sell, and it's important to remember that those prices use pie-in-the-sky numbers.


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