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Ultra-rare one-owner Machine Man robot commands $86,100 at Morphy's $1.9M Toy & Doll Auction
Masudaya ‘Machine Man’ tin-litho battery-operated robot from Gang of Five series. Near mint, one of the finest examples known, consigned by original owner. Sold for $86,100. Courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

DENVER, PA.- An imposing lithographed-tin visitor from both the future and times past, a Masudaya Machine Man robot claimed the top position in Morphy Auctions' March 13-14 toy auction, selling for $86,100. Big, boxy and 15 inches tall, the late 1950s/early 1960s Japanese production is one of few known examples of its type from the fabled "Gang of Five" robot series.

"We were not surprised that the Machine Man exceeded its high estimate," said Morphy's president Dan Morphy. "It's in near-mint to mint condition, which is rare in itself for a 60-year-old robot, but on top of that, it has only had one owner. The person who consigned it to our auction received the toy brand new as a Christmas present when he was nine years old. It's very unusual to come across a vintage toy as rare as this one that has remained with its original owner for its entire existence." The robot had been entered in Morphy's sale with expectations of selling for $50,000-$80,000.

The battery-operated Machine Man robot was designed with a bump-and-go action, and when activated, its ears, eyes and mouth light up. "To many robot fans, a Machine Man in any condition would be the crown jewel of their collection, and to have the opportunity to buy one this nice is almost unheard of. Now it has become part of one of the very few collections worldwide that contains a complete Gang of Five," Morphy said.

The 1,588-lot auction, which grossed $1.9 million, featured 77 exceptional cast-iron mechanical banks, a lineup that brought strong prices across the board. A near-mint all-original Merry-Go-Round bank made by Kyser & Rex of Philadelphia came with provenance from the late Donal Markey – a distinction that would be the bank collector’s equivalent of three Michelin stars. Described as “an absolutely outstanding example,” the bank sold within estimate for $55,350.

Several antique mechanicals made by J. & E. Stevens finished among the top 10 banks. A mint-condition thin-base variation of the Milking Cow bank, formerly in the Covert Hegarty collection, landed at $49,200, as did a Magician bank in near-mint-plus condition. A Stevens Chief Big Moon bank with a Native-American theme flew past its $6,000-$9,000 estimate to reach $25,830, a result attributable in no small way to its flawless condition. Two other banks that ranked high with bidders were a Stevens Owl Turns Head in the white color variation, $22,140; and an all-original Shepard Hardware Uncle Sam bank, $19,860. Finishing tops amongst the tin banks was a seldom-seen German-made production known as The Empire Cinema. Depicting a movie theater, its movable screen was designed to display one of four different scenes each time a coin is deposited. Auction price: $15,990.

In the collecting hobby, there are only four known examples of Littco’s Halloween Girl, a figural cast-iron doorstop depicting a trick-or-treater with a smiling jack-o’-lantern. The one offered by Morphy’s on March 13 was part of a single-owner collection entered in the auction. It sold to the trade for $15,375.

Antique American toys were led by a rare circa-1882 Jerome B. Secor ‘Brudder Bones’ clockwork bones player. In all-original condition, this classic toy with crossover interest to Black Americana collectors had once been part of the legendary Perelman Toy Museum in Philadelphia, and later, the Bob Brady collection. It achieved $28,290.

Batman, a comic character who has been unstoppable in the collectible-toy marketplace, continued to flex his muscles, this time behind the wheel of a lithographed-tin, friction-powered Batman Tank. Manufactured by Yonezawa (Japan) in the 1960s, when the Batman TV show was captivating audiences, the tank is regarded as one of the rarest of all toys associated with the Caped Crusader. It sold for a remarkable $14,760 against a pre-sale estimate of $2,000-$4,000.

The auction attracted numerous above-estimate prices, including $28,800 – more than triple the high expectation – for a group lot containing more than 200 sets of toy solders and vehicles. In the train category, a Voltamp No. 2200 engine with correct B&O tender went twice the high estimate to reach $9,600.

“This turned out to be one of the best toy auctions we’ve had in years. There was strength in virtually every category,” Dan Morphy said. “Collectors always respond to items that are fresh to the market, and when the truly exceptional pieces emerge from collections after years of being out of sight, it has a positive effect on the hobby overall. A rising tide lifts all boats, and that certainly applies to collecting.”

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