Robert Lesser Robot and Space Toy Auction

In the world of 20th century antique toy collecting, robots are among the crown jewels. And in the world of robots, toy collector and author Robert Lesser is considered royalty.

This spring, Lesser’s 30-year collection of the greatest and most desired robots and space toys – which have spent most of the last seven years in museum exhibitions in New York and Chicago – will be sold by Smith House Toy & Auction Company. The phone and online auction will open for bidding April 24 and end May 9. A live preview, by appointment only, will be held in mid-April.

Topping the list of more than 200 pieces will be the toy field’s finest robots, many with their extraordinary original boxes. Among them are the series of large, battery-operated mechanical men made by Masudaya in the 1950s. It was Lesser who coined the description “Gang of Five” for the Sonic Robot, Radicon Robot, Non-Stop “Lavender” Robot, Target Robot, and the scarcest of the group, Machine Man. The Machine Man in this auction was the first example of the toy to emerge in North America.

Another headliner in the collection is the extremely rare red version of the Diamond Planet Robot with box, which was once owned by the renowned Japanese toy collector Teruhisa Kitahara. Other top-shelf pieces are the seldom seen Jupiter Robot with box; a silver version of Mr. Atomic with box, and the “Topolino” Radar Robot with box. Each of these could be the centerpiece of an advanced toy collection.

The depth of the Lesser collection continues through many more layers and collecting levels.

On sale will be an example of what is commonly believed to be the first mass-produced robot toy, the primitive-looking Lilliput robot, created in Japan in the 1940s. This particular toy is unique in that it comes not only with its original box, but also its key and key tag. The unusual Conehead robot has packaging aimed at the Japanese market; most of these Japanese toys are found with English lettering meant for export.

Leading the fleet of space toys in the Lesser collection are the robot-piloted Flying Space Saucer, a beautifully lithographed toy, and the Space Patrol Super Cycle with box and rider and the only known original helmet for the figure. The Super Cycle is among several pieces in the Lesser collection that appeared in the early space toy book, “Robot,” by Pierre Boogaerts. The other vehicles include the Volkswagen Space Patrol Car with box, Moon Patrol Vehicle, and Nomura’s Robby Space Patrol, a vehicle modeled after the one in a 1956 film now considered a science-fiction classic.

Among the Robby toys going on sale are the very limited edition silver Robby, the most desirable example of the famous robot and one of the scarcest robots overall. The Moon Robot, another unusual version of Robby, with its rare box, will also be sold.

Other robots with distinct personalities, and their original boxes, in the auction will include Winky Robot, Musical Drummer Robot, Tremendous Mike, gold and blue versions of Lantern Robot, Thunder Robot, Missile Robot, and two versions of the early Atomic Robot Man.

Other favorites in robot circles, with graphic, hard-to-find boxes, are Flashy Jim, Interplanetary Explorer, Space Fire Department Robot, Buzzer Robot, Door Robot and Mighty Robot. The closely related class of space men – the robot-like toys with human faces — include the transforming Change Man, the green Daiya Space Conqueror, Astroman, Chime Trooper, Space Scout, Astro Scout and Space Explorer, most with their original boxes.

From the planet of non-robot robotic toys come the Batman robot with box by Nomura; the Frankenstein robot with box by Marx, and the Whistling Spooking Kooky Tree with box. The animal robots in the auction include the Space Elephant, always a challenging quarry, with its rare box.

Lesser also added a few treasured sci-fi lunchboxes to his shelves; going on the block will be Lost in Space, Star Trek and Jetsons pails in extraordinary condition.

The Lesser collection was displayed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in November 2000 through February 2001, and was viewed by thousands of visitors each day. They then moved to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, where they were exhibited from November 2001 to January 2002, and again from June 2005 until September 2007, when they were shipped to Smith House Toy & Auction Company.

Every piece comes with that extraordinary provenance: all are museum-quality toys once owned by one of the most prominent collectors in the world.

The Robert Lesser Robot and Space Toy auction will open for bidding on April 24 and close on May 9. Catalogs will be mailed in mid-April; to order a copy, send a check or money order for $35 U.S./$45 foreign to Smith House Toy & Auction Company, P.O. Box 129, Telford, Pa., 18969. A live preview of the Lesser collection will be held April 18 through 20 at the Inn At Towamencin Best Western in Kulpsville, Pa. Previews are by appointment only. To reserve a time, call 215-721-1389 or e-mail [email protected]net.

Smith House Toy & Auction Company has been dealing in fine toys and nostalgia since 1986. Craig Thompson expanded the bidding to the Internet in 2004, but has retained the personal service for which Smith House has always been known. Smith House is looking for consignments for future auctions, whether it is one quality item or an entire collection. For information, contact Thompson at 215-721-1389, or e-mail [email protected]