Record auction price paid for tin robot at Morphy’s
DENVER, Pa. – It came from outer space, and when it landed in southeastern Pennsylvania last month, Masudaya’s multi-action Target Robot smashed a world auction record for an example of its type when it hit the bull’s-eye at $52,900. The boxy tinplate alien invader – complete with original box and shooting accessories – took top-lot honors in Dan Morphy’s Feb. 26-27 sale, which grossed $1,070,000 (all prices quoted inclusive of 15% buyer’s premium). LiveAuctioneers provided the Internet live bidding during the sale.
“The robot result shows what the market will pay for a classic-era robot whose condition is complete and this close to being brand new,” said Morphy’s chief operating officer, Tom Sage Jr. The Target Robot, which is one of Masudaya’s ‘Gang of Five’ robots made in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was designed for use with a tin shooting pistol and two rubber-tipped darts. “This is the first instance we know of in which the robot still has not only its rare original box but also its shooting accessories still intact in the original sealed bag,” Sage said. The 15-inch robot with a carnival-style target on its chest came from the factory in Japan in a multicolor box that instructs: “Shoot him…He roars, flashes, and goes away…soon comes back to you!”
Morphy Auctions’ owner and CEO, Dan Morphy, noted that the highest recorded auction prices for a boxed Target Robot in the last five years included $16,385 paid at the May 9, 2008 auction of the Robert Lesser collection, and $12,362 at Christie’s South Kensington’s Nov. 17, 2005 sale of the Paul Lips collection. “The Target Robot we just sold has more than tripled the previous auction record, so that just goes to show you the premium collectors are willing to pay for something as seemingly insignificant as a sealed bag of unused accessories. To them, it was very significant,” Morphy said.
The 2,114-lot auction featured a colorful array of antique advertising, toys, dolls, historical and political memorabilia and part II of the Pat and Lowell Wagner steam toy collection. Toy highlights included a circa-1900, 20½-inch Radiguet (French) Rodney steam-powered ship, $6,325; an 1870s George Brown “Broadway & 42nd Street” horse-drawn tin trolley, $6,325; and a Marx prototype Jiminy Cricket hand-painted tin windup toy with a 1939 Walt Disney Production mark, $3,162.
The rush for early marbles repeated an ongoing theme at Morphy’s, as travelers from several states arrived specifically to bid in that section of the sale. “We’re really pleased that marble collectors regard our sales as mini-conventions,” said Dan Morphy, himself a long-time marble enthusiast and supporter of the hobby. An incredible $9,200 was paid for a complete boxed set of 12 Peltier-brand marbles, each bearing the image of an early cartoon character, e.g., Betty Boop, Little Orphan Annie and Koko the Clown. The set had been estimated at $1,400-$2,200. Of the single marbles offered, a 2-inch-diameter onionskin marble with 16 “fine and very distinct” lobes fared best, earning $3,737.
In the antique advertising section, a figural 96-inch by 72-inch painted metal display piece depicting a Barnum & Bailey circus elephant more than doubled its high estimate to settle at $8,625; while a latter-19th-century hand-painted linen poster featuring a cartouche of Buffalo Bill over a buffalo in a field hit the top of its estimate range at $14,375. A coveted Dr. A.C. Daniels veterinary medicine cabinet more than doubled its high estimate at $6,325. Tobacco pocket tins were led by a beautifully pictorial Shogun Mixture container described in Morphy’s catalog as “one of few known.” The 4½-inch tin closed its lid within estimate at $8,625.
The sale also featured a sizable selection of Kentucky rifles, Civil War-era rifles and other early to contemporary collectible firearms. As expected, an 1835-1845 Kentucky flintlock rifle, profusely decorated with silver figural inlays and attributed to notable Pennsylvania gunsmith Charles Baum, dominated the group, fetching $12,075.
Internet bidding played an important role in the sale’s success. A total of 2,152 bidders registered through LiveAuctioneers.com and purchased an average of 32.8% of the merchandise entered in the two sessions. One of the most widely publicized lots was a strikingly beautiful 1875 painted-zinc Indian brave tobacco store figure that had been featured in the 1953 book titled Cigar Store Figures, by Pendergast and Ware. The 6-foot-tall figure on a 17-inch pedestal was claimed by a LiveAuctioneers bidder for $15,795. Within the mechanical banks category, for which Morphy’s is well known, a J. & E. Stevens Speaking Dog bank (blue-dress version) was offered in original, near-mint condition and sold online for $4,387.50.
Other auction highlights included a J. & E. Stevens Bread Winners mechanical bank, which earned $28,750 (estimate $15,000-$20,000), a very rare, early 20th-century Maggie Bessie American cloth doll with hand-painted face, $6,325; a 28-inch-tall Mother Goose papier-mâché windup nodder, $3,737; and a pair of hand-cut green crystal decanters with stoppers, $5,750 (estimate $500-$700).
Dan Morphy Auctions is moving forward into 2010 with a greatly expanded events calendar that features frequent Discovery Auctions, rotating monthly specialty sales of firearms, trains or dolls; and its usual lineup of major cataloged sales. Morphy’s will conduct its big Spring Auction over the weekend of May 13-15, 2010. All Morphy sales feature Internet live bidding through LiveAuctioneers.com.
Click here to visit the fully illustrated catalog from the Feb. 26-27 auction, complete with prices realized.
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Click here to view Dan Morphy Auctions LLC’ complete catalog.
ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE