Published: September 25, 2020
DENVER, PENN. — If it feels like déjà vu, it is because Antiques and The Arts Weekly ran a similar headline in March, 2019 when Morphy Auctions set an auction record for any unboxed robot with the $86,100 sale of a tin litho Machine Man. We reprise the story now as the firm has done it again — but this time without any qualifiers — as a Machine Man with original box sold for $159,900 in the firm’s September 23-24 Toys, Dolls & Figural Cast Iron sale, an auction record for any toy robot.
Morphy generated significant press after the 2019 sale, which kicked off a sequence of events that brought the fresh attic discovery out of Scranton, Penn., to the market.
“I thought someone was calling and pranking me,” said Morphy’s head of toy and train division, Tommy Sage Jr. “[The consignor] said he just found one in his mom’s attic and he’d bring it in Friday. He walks in at noon on Friday with the robot in the original box. I couldn’t believe it. I said I’ll guarantee we get $100,000 for it.”
Sage was quoted in the media after the 2019 sale saying had that example included its original box, it would have added $40,000 to the price.
“I thought it would bring around $120,000,” Sage said. “When it brought $160,000, I was extremely happy.”
The consignor found the toy in his mom’s attic when cleaning out her estate. He does not remember receiving the toy, nor did he ever play with it, but he said he must have received it for Christmas.
Sage said, “It was in better condition than the one last year, it had only one small box rub on the head, other than that it was a 9.8. It had a box — there are only two other boxes known.”
Machine Man is the elusive fifth robot from Japanese company Masudaya’s Gang of Five, a series of skirted tin litho battery-operated robots released in the 1950s and 1960s. For an unknown reason, Machine Man was the only example not sold in stores, available for purchase only through a mail order catalog — Sage said he believes it was through Sears. That obstacle created a dearth of quantity and subsequent rarity on the market. As a result, only approximately a dozen Machine Mans were known, though this previously unknown example adds to the pool.
The robot sold to an American private collector.
Sage said interest looks good for these ultra-rare toy robots, noting he had five bidders in over the $50,000 mark. “They seem to be going up. The last boxed example that I know of sold for $120,000. I had this locked away in my office for months as I called people and privately showed it.”
A full review of Morphy’s toy sale will appear in a future issue.
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