Auction excitement at Morphy’s Sept. 23-24 toy sale as boxed Machine Man sets new world auction record at $160,000
Cast-iron mechanical banks, set of rare war-themed gum cards, 1898 Parker Bros. ‘Game of Merry Christmas’ sailed past high estimates
DENVER, Pa. – After languishing in an attic for 60 years, an extremely rare battery-operated “Machine Man” with its original box rolled into the auction spotlight at Morphy’s September 23-24 auction and knocked down a world-record auction price for a toy robot. Estimated at $60,000-$90,000, it swiftly made lift-off and swept past expectations to land at $160,000.
The boxy, 15-inch-tall robot is one of few surviving examples of its type from Masudaya’s revered postwar robot quintet known collectively as the “Gang of Five.” Its bright red body features lithographed rivets and convoluted gears on its chest plate, and its eyes and ears illuminate through colored plastic. When activated, it has a bump-and-go action.
The robot itself is the most sought-after of all space toys, but the addition of its original box with bizarre graphics put Morphy’s Machine Man in another league altogether. By comparison, in March 2019 Morphy’s auctioned a high-grade unboxed Machine Man for $86,100. The boxed, near-mint example offered in the September sale was the ultimate step up for those seeking an exceptional investment-grade robot. Prior to the auction, many dozens of bidders were watching the robot’s absentee bidding progress online.
Unlike the other members of Masudaya’s Gang of Five — Lavender Robot, Giant Sonic Robot, Radicon Robot and Target Robot — Machine Man was not available for standard retail purchase. Tommy Sage Jr, Head of Morphy’s Toy, Train and Sports Memorabilia Divisions, commented: “All of the Gang of Five robots are rare, but Machine Man is, by far, the rarest of them all. It was made for one year only, in 1960, and had to be specially ordered from an importer. The other four could be ordered from a catalog, but not Machine Man.”
Because of the extra steps required to order Machine Man, it was produced in much smaller numbers than the other four Gang members. As a result, probably fewer than a dozen exist today. Of those, Sage estimates that only two or three retain their original boxes. The box cover displays a vibrant but curious graphic of the robot on a foreign planet, with two smiling human observers watching him — one of them waving and the other enjoying a cup of coffee.
“We’ve only handled two unboxed Machine Man robots in the past 20 years. One of them sold in 2012 for $45,600 and the other sold in 2019 for $86,100. This boxed example was a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity,” Sage said.
The consignor of the toy is not a robot collector. According to Sage, he received a phone call out of the blue from a man who had discovered the Machine Man in his mother’s attic while clearing out her estate. “He didn’t remember the toy at all but thinks it was probably purchased as a Christmas gift,” Sage said. The new owner of the robot is an American private collector.
Cast-iron mechanical banks continued their impressive run in the auction marketplace, with new collectors noted amongst the bidders who pursued them. A circa-1912 J. & E. Stevens “Boy Scout Camp” presented in excellent/NM condition with its original flag. It sold for $25,900 against an estimate of $6,000-$10,000. Also selling for $25,900, a circa-1890 “Atlas” cast-iron mechanical bank of unknown manufacture was formerly part of the legendary C.F. Hegarty collection. Its beautiful condition and prestigious provenance undoubtedly helped the bank to secure a winning bid that went three times over the high estimate.
There are very few known examples of Gum Inc.’s “Horrors of War” boxed card set titled “Complete First Series of Pictures and True Stories of Modern Warfare.” The set auctioned by Morphy’s contains 24 celluloid packs of untouched cards, 240 cards total. Entered with a $10,000-$20,000 estimate, it rose to $28,300.
Other auction highlights included a cast-iron Hubley Fokker “Friendship” pontoon seaplane, which landed above estimate for $6,800; and a scarce 1898 Parker Brothers “The Game of Merry Christmas” in VG condition, which finished at $5,300, more than four times the high estimate.
To discuss a consignment of toys, banks, dolls or any other type of antique or vintage collectible to a future Morphy’s sale, call toll-free 877-968-8880 or email [email protected]. Visit Morphy’s online at www.morphyauctions.com.