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Nomura Moon Car with light and mystery action $2,700/3,500
Masudaya Giant Sonic or 'Train' Robot with repro box $7,200/9,000
Masudaya Radicon Robot, boxed, with remote control $9,000/12,000
Masudaya Target Robot with box $9,000/12,000
Yonezawa blue Smoking Robot $3,600/5,000
Yoshiya Space Mobile and Pilot $1,800/2,500
Asahi Space Robot Patrol $1,000/1,500
Yoshiya Space Elephant $1,000/1,500
Robot War Boat with only known box $9,000-14,000
LONDON – It has been a long, dry spell since the last significant single-owner collection of (exclusively) robots and space toys was offered publicly – nine years, to be exact, if one uses the Matt Wyse collection sold in New York in 1996 as the previous milestone. Christie’s South Kensington plans to end that drought on Nov. 17 in London with the sale of the Paul Lips collection, featuring a bumper crop of approximately 600 premium-quality sci-fi toys. The total value of the grouping is estimated at more than $360,000.
Paul Lips is a Dutch-born antique and art dealer who resides in Monte Carlo and works in Milan, Italy. Europe is his turf, and in the course of his travels around the Continent over the last 15 years, Paul has devoted much of his leisure time to seeking out the artform whose aesthetics please him most: lithographed tin robots and space toys from the “classic” period, the 1940s through the 1960s.
As he was amassing his collection, Paul never anticipated his quest would ever come to an end or that one day he would make the conscious decision to part with his collection. But that day did, indeed, arrive. Asked why he decided to dismantle his remarkable collection, Paul jokingly replied, “It’s not because I got married! Actually, my wife likes the robots and was the one who pushed me to start collecting them again when I reached the stage where I couldn’t find any more challenges.” Paul said he doesn’t have the time anymore to spend hours online searching for robots, and that he yearns for the days when there was personal interaction, a camaraderie amongst collectors and a general excitement about robot collecting. “I just loved those days in New York before and during the auction of Griff’s (F. H. Griffith’s) collection. All of the collectors and dealers were there, and we would go out to dinner and have a great time. I would like to see those days happen again and hope I can give it a shove in the right direction when my collection is auctioned – but hey, guys, now it’s your turn to travel to Europe for some fun!”
Paul’s collection was founded in the early 1990s while he was dealing in toys as a sideline occupation. “I came across a mint/boxed Robby Space Patrol at an estate sale and, recognizing its value, bought it on the spot. I subsequently called all the many robot collectors I knew to let them know what I had found. They came to my shop as sort of a pilgrimage, and all said it was indeed a great toy, but none was willing to part with the money I was asking for it.” Then, Paul said, he made a fatal mistake. He took it home, set it on a shelf and quickly grew very fond of it. “After only a few days, a Mechanized Robby joined the Space Patrol on that shelf, and from there, it avalanched. In time, I learned that it made good sense to buy entire collections from retiring or seasoned collectors. That way, I was able to upgrade my own collection with the doubles I acquired, sell the doubles I didn’t want to keep, and sometimes even make a profit.”
In those early days of collecting, Paul was able to source many desirable pieces at toy fairs around Europe, as well as at U.S. events like Atlantique City and the Chicago Toy Show. “I was selling as much as I was buying, and making incredibly good contacts and friendships that have lasted to this day.” Paul said that, as the Internet rose to prominence as an intermediary for buyers and sellers, eBay became his main hunting ground. “But I missed the fun that came from the travel and search.”
From the beginning, Paul resisted the temptation to buy the inexpensive, more common examples of space toys that were readily available at the time he was forming the core of his collection. “The experience of other collectors and dealers told me almost immediately that quality, rarity and original boxes were paramount, so I followed those rules and now have absolutely no regrets that I did.” On a scale of 1 to 10, using strict grading guidelines, Paul assessed the toys in his collection as being “mostly 8.5 to 9.5 condition.”
A mainstay of any advanced collection is a Masudaya Gang of Four, and at Christie’s sale, enthusiasts will have the opportunity to buy beautiful examples of a boxed Target Robot, boxed Radicon (with remote control), Giant Sonic Robot (with repro box) and Lavender Robot. The latter robot came to Paul in a serendipitous way. “I was at a flea market in a small village in Italy and saw a stall with some toys. I asked the seller if he had any robots. He replied that he had an ‘oversized’ one at home, and when I asked what it was, he pointed to a Lavender in the 1,000 Tin Toys book. That night, I came home with a mint Lavender Robot, after staying at the seller’s place till 11 p.m., trying to convince him to part with it.”
Like the aforementioned pioneer collector, F.H. Griffith (whose 273 sci fi toys were sold together with his collection of American toys in December, 2000), Paul always favored rare variations, both in toys and boxes. However he never felt compelled to buy a Machine Man – the robot whose discovery increased the Gang of Four and led to its being renamed the Gang of Five. Paul says he probably would have bought a Machine Man had the occasion arisen, but from a personal standpoint, always felt the extensive publicity afforded the robot over the years had diminished some of its cachet. “What I really adore is unknown variations, especially boxes – like the one that accompanies my Robot War Boat. At the time I bought that particular toy, I knew the box was very rare, but later I learned that it may be the only known example.” Paul also favors his Asahi robot-driven convertible and Robby Space Patrol/Moon Car variations. Yet another toy that takes pride of place on his shelves is a twist on the “common KO Cragstan Flying Saucer, the orange one with a coiled antenna, that everyone has in their collection. Mine has a green female pilot instead of the usual blue.”
Other favorites include “some really scarce and obscure boxed space toys that don’t have a name,” a Robot 5, his prized mint/boxed Sankei Television Robot, a blue Smoking Robot and two boxed color variations of the antenna-twirling Piston-Action Robot or “Pug” Robby. “I own two different Pugs – one in light blue and the other in gold.” The list of variations goes on to include: all known Sonicon Rocket shapes, more than 15 different teardrop-shaped TM Non-Fall Rockets, a red Masudaya Space Commando with box (ex Griffith collection), two Nando variants, both versions of Tremendous Mike and a vast array of boxed early rockets. Additionally, there are two sizes of the Gumbo gumball machine in Paul’s collection. Both were made in Italy, the smaller version considered even harder to find than its larger companion.
A lively menagerie of space animals is included in the sci fi assemblage to be auctioned, including a Yoshiya Space Elephant (with original ears and super-nice box) and multiple color variations of the KO Space Dog. Also on the diminutive side are two examples of the primitive, 1940s-vintage Atomic Robot Man – one of them with tin arms, the other with arms of a cast metal. This particular robot model is widely regarded as the second mass-produced Japanese toy robot (K.T.’s Lilliput being the first).
After conducting an initial inspection of the robots, Christie’s toy specialist, Hugo Marsh, declared the collection to be of “astonishingly consistent quality, with a remarkable number of original boxes. It really is a reference collection, because you can see the development of similar models and pressings in numerous variations.”
The auction of the Paul Lips collection presents a buying opportunity that doesn’t happen every day or even every year. It is a chance for collectors to take advantage of the years of travel and effort Paul put into crafting his wonderful, panoramic array of futuristic toys. In a way, Paul, with his discerning eye and uncompromising standards, was a personal shopper for the next generation of classic robot and space toy fans. He bought with quality, rarity and original boxes as his watchwords, and as the auction inventory so amply testifies, it resulted in a world-class collection.
The Nov. 17 auction is divided into two sessions, commencing at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. Preview hours are 5-7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14; 9-5 on Tuesday and Wednesday Nov. 15 and 16; and 9-10:30 on the morning of the sale. Christie’s South Kensington is located at 85 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3LD. Nearest Tube station: South Kensington.
For additional information or to order a catalogue, please contact Hugo Marsh at: tel. [UK] 011 44 207 752-3274, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sankei Television Robot $18,000/25,000