Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know: Vintage Japanese Tin Robots

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This tin plate, circa 1960s Robotank-Z space robot is fully functional with flashing lights and retracting machine guns. In mint condition with original box, the robot is marked "Made by T.N. Made in Japan." It sold for $478 in a March 1, 2011 sale by Mullock's Specialist Sporting Auctioneers. Photo courtesy Artfact.com.

1. Toys were being made in Japan before World War II broke out, but it was after the war ended that Japan seized the opportunity to use industries like toy manufacturing to strengthen its struggling economy

2. The first toy robot (a windup) is believed to be Japan’s Robot Lilliput – believed by some to have been made as early as 1938, while others think it was in post-war1940s – this was quickly followed by the unveiling of the more well-known Atomic Robot Man. This robot was given out at the New York Sci-fi convention in 1950.


Japan Pressed Tin Robot With Video Screen,
Standing 12 inches high, this marked Made in Japan robot has a host of special features. As the space man walks his chest pops down and a video action screen appears then closes. In working condition, it was offered at $125 at a July 2010 sale by Premier Auction Galleries of Willoughby, Ohio. Photo courtesy Artfact.com.

3. A mid-century Masudaya Target Robot, in excellent condition, sold for $23,600 at an April 29-30 auction. This sale was double pre-auction estimates, and the top robot lot of the auction.

4. The design of many Japanese robots of the 1950s was significantly influenced by the world’s fascination with space exploration, at the peak of the Space Race.

5. For collectors toy robots bring their own challenge of authentication – as many robots made in Japan have an American company logo – which doesn’t accurately identify who made it

6. In 1950, prior to the electronics and toy push, only 1 percent of products imported to the U.S were made in Japan. In 2010, 6.4 percent of U.S. imports came from Japan – with automobiles topping the list.

7. Japan’s toy robot makers were “going green” long before it became the movement it is today – and at the time it was out of economic necessity that they would use tin cans cast off by plants used to make tuna cans or powdered milk cans, to make smaller toy robots

8. An ultra active and superbly informative forum dedicated to Japanese toy robots is robotjapan.proboards.com

9. One of the pioneer companies of Japanese toy robot production was the Tokyo Toy Industry Group.

10. Japanese toy makers were the first to use battery-operated motors in their toys – taking toys beyond clockwork operation



*Sources: The Robotnut; “Super #1 Robot” by Tim Brisko, Matt Alt, Robert Duban; Morphy Auctions, Washington Post, “Techno Fantasies Toy Robots from Japan” by Alan Bunkum, Wikipedia.com

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