RECORD! A Gang of Five Machine Man Japanese Robot Toy Sold at Morphy Auctions for $86,100 (Updated October 6, 2020)

A bright red tin lithographic Machine Man robot toy, circa 1960, the rarest of the Japanese robot toys known as the Gang of Five.

Update, October 6, 2020: Morphy Auctions offered a Machine Man with box in its September 23-24, 2020 Toy, Doll, & Figural Cast Iron auction. It commanded a staggering $159,900, easily setting a new record. That number also beat Sage’s speculation in this 2019 story about how well a Machine Man with box might sell. (Scroll down to see his educated guess.)

What you see: A tin lithographic Machine Man Japanese robot toy, circa 1960. Morphy Auctions sold it in March 2019 for $86,100–a record for this toy and for any “Gang of Five” Japanese robot toy.

The expert: Tommy Sage Jr., head of toys and trains at Morphy Auctions.

What is the “Gang of Five,” and what Japanese mid-century toy robots belong to the Gang of Five? They were all made between the late 1950s and early 1960s, by the same company, Masudaya. They’re kind of all uniform. They’re called “large skirt” robots because it looks like they’re wearing skirts. They’re all the same body type.

Is it the latest of the Gang of Five robots? Probably. It had to be ordered specifically. You could not buy it from a catalog. The other four, you could. It was fairly expensive for the time. It was probably over $10.

Do we have any notion why Masudaya made the Machine Man robot toy? Why would they make something oversize–it’s 15 inches tall–and not even put it in their catalog? Probably because the first four they made did sell well here. Maybe they figured this one would too. It would make logical sense. As for the catalog, maybe it was a test thing, to see how many people would want to get it.

How did the consigner receive the Machine Man robot toy? How old was he? He got it in 1960 on Christmas morning. He was nine. He doesn’t remember getting it with the box, which would be worth $40,000.

How did the consigner display the… restraint needed to keep the toy in this good a condition? He didn’t play with it much. He took good care of it. He put it in a closet. And he was an American guy, too. They had to order it special for him. I don’t know how they did it in 1960, but they did. You had to be in the know.

Was his father a toy retailer or something? How did the adults in the consigner’s life know enough to get this for him? I talked to his dad, but I didn’t ask that question. Maybe he knew somebody who had a toy store 60 years ago.

Is this the only robot toy the consigner got? It was. He’s lucky he got the best one. It’s crazy. He kept it all these years. He’s probably 67 or 68 and decided to sell it now.

Do we have any notion how many Machine Man robot toys Masudaya made, and how many survive? I don’t know that, but as far as what’s out there, there are about one dozen, including two boxed ones. For the other four [in the Gang of Five] there are many, many more than that.

How did this example of the Machine Man robot toy come to you? A friend of mine who also deals in robots knew he was going to sell and talked him into selling at auction. I don’t know the guy personally, but he did.

So, how often does a Machine Man robot toy come up at auction? Every five to seven years? In 16 years, this is the second one we’ve had.

Is the Machine Man robot toy always red, or are there variations? They’re all red. You never see variations. With any Gang of Five robot, they’re all the same.

The lot notes described the toy as a “stunning example” and “Near Mint – Mint.” Could you elaborate? It’s one of the best ones known, and the best ones I’ve ever seen. It’s just about mint.

Does it work? It works. When you turn it on, it moves in a pattern. There’s a metal circle on the bottom with wheels and spins around in a little pattern.

Does it light up or make noise? It just moves.

Do its arms move independently? They do, but they kind of swing. They don’t move up and down.

Is it heavy? It’s not heavy. It’s all tin litho. It’s very well made for what it is. It’s actually quite beautiful. It’s almost like the weight of a baby. Most robots are half this size. Most are six to 12 inches.

A bright red tin lithographic Machine Man robot toy, circa 1960, the rarest of the Japanese robot toys known as the Gang of Five.

What is it like in person? It’s beautiful. It’s very red, very colorful, very vibrant colors. I can imagine being a kid, getting it, would be incredible.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with the winner. I’ve been friendly with them for ten years. They asked my advice. I said, “When are you going to get another one this nice?”

The Machine Man robot toy sold for $86,100. Did that surprise you? No, it didn’t surprise me at all. Personally, I thought it would bring $80,000. If it had had its box, it would have sold for $125,000. The box is incredibly important.

How long will this record stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat it? A few other really rare robots from the 1950s and 1960s I’ve never had at all might push the $100,000 barrier.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? We get a lot of stuff, but we don’t get a lot of things that are quite so special. If you approach $100,000, that’s a lot for a toy. The person who bought it is very, very happy, I can tell you that.

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Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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YES! A Tremendous Mike Japanese Robot Toy Sold for $11,000

A Tremendous Mike robot toy, with original box.

Update: Bertoia Auctions sold the Tremendous Mike robot toy with box for $11,000.

What you see: A Tremendous Mike robot toy, with original box. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.

Why was this robot toy called Tremendous Mike? Lots of Japanese toys used goofy names. There was Magnificent Mike, a few different Mikes, a few American names. Arguably, it was made for the American market–that’s why the language on the box is in English.

Do we know how many Tremendous Mike robot toys were made, and how many survive? We can’t even take a guess at how many were made. How many are around–that’s easier to take a stab at. I know of at least a dozen in circulation, and that doesn’t include those that are tied up in collections. It’s important to note that what makes the difference between being worth $2,000 or $3,000 versus being worth $10,000, what makes it swing, is its condition, if it has its box, and if the original antenna is still on the top of its head. This guy is fresh, in stellar condition. That’s why it’s so valuable. It might even be old store stock.

And the fact that the original box survives too–does that point to it possibly being old store stock? Exactly. What’s helpful on this box compared to other toy boxes are the graphics. Its a pretty, colorful box. The artwork is not just a sticker on the front of the box. It’s on the sides, too.

How rare is it to see a Tremendous Mike robot toy with its original box? In the last decade, I’ve only seen a few box examples. In general, a robot with its box is harder to come by than a loose example. I know of one Tremendous Mike with box offered through an auction. There was one on eBay a few years ago as well. Those are the only two aside from this one. That said, there’s a little more than a handful of these robot toys without their boxes that have surfaced in the last few years.

What’s the condition of the box? Does its condition matter, given how rare it is for a box to survive at all? In the high-dollar collectors’ market, every scratch matters. The condition of all the pieces and parts are relevant. This box is in really impressive condition. It has a little tear on a flap. The robot is in better shape than the box. The toy doesn’t look like it’s had much play.

How did the Tremendous Mike robot toy and its box survive in such good condition? I often joke that maybe a really bad child had it, because it wasn’t played with often. It’s possible that the robot had several homes throughout its life. It’s hard to believe it would survive years of children playing with it. Maybe the child had a lot of toys and didn’t play with this one much. Often when you see a toy this crisp, and the box is complete, not folded or crushed, that’s an assumption that can be made.

Tremendous Mike is a wind-up toy. What does he do when you turn his key? The wind-up mechanism is pretty cool. Tremendous Mike had action–he was not a simple forward-and-back moving toy. The red glass window in his chest sparkles as he rolls. The satellite dish on his head spins and changes direction after he rolls for a certain distance.

The Tremendous Mike robot toy came in two body colors–red-orange, and grey. Are they equally desirable, or do collectors like one color more than the other? They have the same red accents on both. Red pops a lot more strongly off the grey. It’s a better visual than the red-orange.

How many times has Bertoia handled a Tremendous Mike robot toy? This is the first time in a decade.

What’s the auction record for a Tremendous Mike robot toy with box? It belongs to a red-orange version of the toy sold by Morphy’s in May 2015 that commanded $13,200. (Scroll down to see it.)

Could this Tremendous Mike robot toy with box beat the auction record, do you think? It certainly could. It certainly deserves it. The underbidder [at the Morphy’s 2015 auction] would be satisfied to acquire this example. It’ll take two to make the numbers.

Why will this Tremendous Mike robot toy stick in your memory? Other than my appreciation of the fine name of Mike, it’s very seldom, given the quantity and volumes of toys we handle on a regular basis, that we have to look at one for a long time and research it. If it stumps us, it stands out, because it’s a challenge. I appreciate the challenge. I like to be stumped.

How to bid: The Tremendous Mike with original box is lot 0050 in Bertoia‘s Signature Sale on April 27 and 28, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.