TOPOLINO/F.H. GRIFFITHS TRIBUTE
JAPAN circa 1968
Nomura's Radar Robot is battery operated and during operation Topolino walks,arms move back and forth,three colored gears spin in his abdomen,two red gels on chest are illuminated with a monotonous space scene appearing .... all while emiting weird space clicking sounds!
Topolino has many similarities with Tulip Robot (plastic arms,tin plated legs,boxy tin body).
Height- 11 inches / 28 cm
MIOB $ 27.200
(Griffiths auction 9-12-00)
Griffith Collection of Robots and Cast-Iron Toys
The estimable F.H. Griffith estate collection sale at Sotheby's Manhattan showroom on December 9, 2000, was one for the memory books. It was an array of 19th-century cast-iron and mid-20th-century space toys so exceptional, it is likely to remain unchallenged on this planet in our lifetime.
A very pleased Eric Alberta, vice president of collections at Sotheby's and the specialist conducting the sale, hailed it as "the most successful toy auction ever held in New York." He said, "Collectors wait years for the opportunity that was presented by the sale of the Griffith collection."
Session Two: Robots and Space Toys
After two decades of specializing in 19th-century cast-iron banks and toys, Griff confounded his cronies by joining pioneers Al Davidson, Wes Pettingill, and Robert Lesser and switched his collecting allegiance. His new passion: 1950's and '60's space toy windups and battery-ops fashioned by obscure Japanese firms with tongue-twisting names from surplus scrap metal, including beer and soda cans left by American GIs.
Robot specialist Mark Bergin of Peterborough, New Hampshire, who consulted on and cataloged Griff's holdings (as well as Sotheby's seminal Matt Wyse collection in 1996), pointed out that "Griff was a fanatic on boxes and also variations. In the field of robots, the top one hundred are pretty well documented, so it was just amazing to see he had every single variation. He even had rare box variations, like an R-35 robot box that's shorter, fatter, and wider than the regular box."
Griff trusted his instincts, and it paid off handsomely, as evidenced by the arsenal of over 175 sci-fi toys in the afternoon session. In the packed salesroom and on a bank of ten phones, the sale attracted a truly international crowd, including hard-core devotees from England, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Japan. Bergin attributes this global mania for robots and space toys to the fact that "they're still futuristic. They represent something yet to happenantiques of the future as well as collectibles of the past."
Sotheby's most heavily hyped robot, a potential record breaker and possibly unique Mego Man, estimated at $50,000/75,000, was bought in at $37,500, inhibited, no doubt, by crazing and edge wear throughout. Plus, there was no box.
Clomping and whirring to steal the spotlight, a Yonezawa battery-operated Jupiter Robot with near-mint box orbited to $45,600, a record for this form, with a Swiss collector prevailing. Meanwhile, the auction record for a robot still stands at $74,000, set on December 19, 1997, for Machine Man at Sotheby's in New York City.
Other individual records for their forms included a Radar Robot a.k.a. Topolino at $27,200 (est. $18,000/22,000), won by the same Swiss bidder, and a boxed Television Robot by Kanto at $24,900 (est. $18,000/22,000), doled out by a Japanese collector/dealer. Mark Bergin heralded the Television Robot as one of the most imaginative entries, with see-through colored gears and two red gels on its chest that light up to reveal outer space vistas.
Diamond Planet Robot by Yonezawa, one of the largest key-wound robots, with an exceedingly rare box, inserts, tissue, and oversized key intact, went to an American collector at $35,250. Even though it had two left hands, a boxed silver Mechanized Robot (Robby Robot) by Nomura vindicated its rarity at $11,400 (est. $12,000/14,000). Only a handful are known, although convincing reproductions have recently hit the market.
While many robots are strikingly similar in appearance and action, the circa 1960 Alps Missile Robot at $7800 (est. $7500/9500) is a refreshing departure. The toy has flashing red eyes and a projecting torso with more firepower as a door in the chest slides open to launch five tiny two-stage missiles.
Less widely publicized space vehicles with robot or astronaut drivers deservedly prompted outer-galactic prices. Possibly a real sleeper, at $3300, the boxed Kanto Space Patrol featured swept fins and intricate detail styling reminiscent of Buck Rogers. Clearly a crowd favorite, a stunning boxed Ichiko and Yonezawa friction-powered Space Patrol car with siren careened to $39,850 (est. $9000/12,000), a record for what is the only known complete all-original example.
As one who grew up with the earlier Marx Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Tom Corbett rocket ships, my favorite was the Space Cruiser X-300. The X-300's brilliant color scheme, artistry, and primitive style showed up beautifully on this oversized cigar-shaped specimen, hotly pursued to $9600 (est. $5000/7000).
Animals in space by Yoshiya were ably represented by a silver variant of a boxed Space Elephant at $5700 (est. $2000/2600), a Space Whale at $720 (est. $800/1000), and the most captivating, a boxed Magic Space Dog a.k.a. Girl Space Dog with mystery non-stop action in which the mouth opens, eyes roll, and ears flap while a flying saucer orbits her head at $10,200 (est. $5000/7000).
For a mere $86,125, you could have bought the complete set of the elusive skirted Masudaya Gang of Five at this sale. Again, Machine Man led the pack at $38,125 (est. $40,000/60,000), trailed by a boxed Target Robot at $15,600, a boxed Radicon Robot at $15,600 (est. $15,000/ 20,000), a Giant Sonic a.k.a Train Robot at $6600 (est. $8000/10,000), and a boxed Non-Stop Robot a.k.a. Lavender Robot at $10,200 (est. $7000/9000).
Believed to be the first mass-produced robot of its kind, a boxy little orange android, Lilliput by K.T. of Japan, circa 1940, lurched to $7800.
With a veritable squadron of space invaders orbiting from all directions, it's understandable the crowd would suffer from space lag, and a number of less pricey, yet perfectly acceptable entries were passed, including a Nomura Three Stage Rocket, an Asahi robot in a Mercedes, and a Frankonia Space Tricycle.
The Griffith space toy collection may truly be Sotheby's final frontier for live toy auctions. Having heard reports from several reliable sources that Sotheby's would only conduct toy sales on its Web site in the future, we checked with Lauren Gioia at Sotheby's press office. Gioia could not confirm this, though she did say, "I'm sure Sotheby's would consider a live auction venue should a single-owner toy estate of some magnitude come up."
And some gossip!......
Although it is not widely known, Covert Hegarty traded toys with the late legendary, quirky collector of Japanese toy robots F.H. "Griff" Griffith. In fact, some of Griffith's renowned robots , came to him originally from the Hegartys, who scooped up some of their own toy Americana from Griff in return. Toy collectors may not yet be as formal about provenance as art collectors are, but the dedicated toy lover now makes it his business to try and find out "who had what and when," and keep the history up to date.
regards to Dick Friz for his contribution.