Robots for sale in Philly today!

May 6, 2008 11:03:58 AM PDT
Have you spent years searching for a mint Space Scout, or is next year's Botstock already marked on your calendar?

If that question doesn't compute, then you're probably not among the untold number of 'bot buffs expected to take part in an auction of more than 200 toy robots from what enthusiasts regard as one of the world's best collections.

Among the highlights is the 13-inch high Jupiter Robot, made in Japan around 1955 and featuring a clear, light-up dome head - and a starting bid of $30,000.

Another rarity, with a minimum bid of $25,000, is the 1963 Machine Man, of which there are only 15 known examples in the world. A Machine Man auctioned at Sotheby's in 1997 sold for $74,000.

"There's a lot in there that's extremely rare because I got into it early," said Robert Lesser, of New York, the collection's owner. "Now even I can't find them anymore."

The shuffling Lilliput Robot from 1939, believed to be the first mass-produced toy robot, has a starting bid of $5,000; other robots in the auction start with minimum bids of less than $1,000.

"The demand for these is excellent. It has always been good," said Craig Thompson, owner of Smith House Toy and Auction Co. in Telford, which is handling the online and phone auction that runs through May 9.

It took Lesser 30 years to amass his collection of rare robots and space toys, which was exhibited in the past decade at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

"I started collecting them because I just liked the way they looked. The brilliant lithographed tin, and even their boxes, are works of art," said Lesser, who has since turned his attention to collecting pulp art.

A big fan of the early sci-fi classic "Forbidden Planet" and its star Robby the Robot, Lesser's collection up for auction includes about a dozen toy-sized versions of the 7-foot-2 movie icon in different colors and sizes.

"The thing about robots is in a way, they'll never be antique toys," Lesser said. "They're always modern looking; they're locked into the future."

They're also connected to the past for collectors who want to own the toys they loved as children, said Joe Knedlhans, a retired New York City police officer who has collected more than 3,000 mostly plastic robots since his late wife bought the first for him 24 years ago.

"It was true up until a couple of years ago that robots were the only toy not based on actual things - cars, babies - but only in the imagination," said Knedlhans, owner and operator of The Toy Robot Museum in Adamstown.

This year, more than three dozen collectors traveled from as far as Germany to attend the fifth annual "Botstock" convention at the museum.

Lesser decided to sell his collection in part because the excitement of the hunt was over: After decades of searching, he had acquired all of the robots he sought.

collection stored and rarely seen in a museum.

"Somebody buying a robot at a premium is going to care for them, preserve them better than I ever could," he said. "I'm doing all these little guys a service. They'll be in good hands."

On the Net:

Auction catalog: