Machine Man Robot sells for out-of-this-world price at Morphy’s

Masudaya Machine Man robot with original box, 1960, sold by Morphy Auctions for $159,900 on Sept. 24, 2020. Morphy Auctions image

DENVER, Pa. (ACNI) – After languishing in an attic for 60 years, an extremely rare battery-operated “Machine Man” with its original box rolled into the auction spotlight on September 24 at Morphy’s 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 $159,900, inclusive of buyer’s premium.

The boxy, 15-inch-tall robot is one of few known survivors 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 its bizarre graphics, put Morphy’s Machine Man in another league altogether. In comparison, in March 2019, Morphy’s auctioned a high-grade unboxed Machine Man for $86,100. The boxed, near-mint example entered in the September 24-25 sale was the ultimate step up for those seeking an investment-grade robot. Prior to the auction, 51 bidders were watching it on LiveAuctioneers.

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.”

Original box accompanying the Machine Man Robot that was sold by Morphy Auctions for $159,900. Morphy Auctions image

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 curious and highly colorful 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 sold two unboxed ones 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 Machine Man 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 is an American private collector.

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By Catherine Saunders-Watson

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