A Compendium

The Golden Age

From the late 1940’s to the end of the 60´s , brightly colored tin-litho toys from Japan, made by the likes of companies such as Metal House, Masudaya, Yonezawa, Yoshiya, Nomura and Daiya ruled the tin-litho space toy market.

The first Japanese robot to appear was the boxy, yellow Robot Lilliput which came out in the late 40’s. Soon to follow would be Atomic Robot Man (whose box showed a giant robot marching through a devastated city with a mushroom cloud rising in the background — an irony probably not lost on the Japanese.)

Some say the true Golden Age for space toys was in the decade of the fifties, when science fiction came of age and movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1952) (see addendum) and the launch of Sputnik (1957) had young and old alike looking to the heavens. And there is something to be said for that. The designs for robots and space toys in the fifties relied on the imagination of science fiction and were't influenced by the real space vehicle designs to come later in the 60’s.

Times, they were a changin’

In the end, it was success and apathy that would kill the space toy. The Japanese standard of living was rising and with it, the once plentiful source of cheap labor that had spurred on the manufacture and export of toys, began to dry up. Others that followed just didn't have the same flair.

And today

Interest in vintage robots and space toys (especially among the Baby Boomers) is at an all-time high. If you want to get an original, mint-in-box space toy from the fifties today, plan on breaking out the checkbook and taking a second on the house, because it can run you into the thousands of dollars, depending on the condition and rarity of the toy. In January of 2010, a Masudaya Target Robot from the original “Gang of Five” series sold for $52,900 at auction.

I’m certainly not in that league (not many people are ), but I have managed to purchase some original vintage toys, along with a fair amount of reproductions, both Japanese and Chinese. Along with assorted other space toys, some manufactured in South Korea, France, Russia, Hungary and Tawain and more modern “robots” that look like nothing from the Golden Age of Space Toys (or any other era, come to think of it), I’ve been reliving my childhood a little. Figured I’d better do while I can still remember it.

Check out the new Rick's Robot Store