Masudaya ‘Gang of Five’ toy robots
The Masudaya ‘Gang of Five’ toy robots are a group of mechanical lithographed tin toy robots produced in Japan by the company Masudaya during the late 1950s to the early 1960s.
Background and Description
Tin toy robots were popular following the Second World War, during an age of much technological advancement in which ideas previously confined to science fiction seemed to become plausible realities. Designed as children’s toys, many of these robots have now become hugely collectible items, not least the Gang of Five.
Masudaya became a leading builder of mechanical and battery operated toys during this post-WWII era. They produced the Gang of Five, a set of five different designs of skirted battery operated, lithographed tin robots. They are considered a gang because they are composed of the same body and arm stampings and drive mechanisms. The five now command the top spots in the pantheon of robot collecting.
The Gang of Five include:
- Radicon robot - The world’s first wireless radio remote controlled robot, second ever radio controlled toy.
- Giant Sonic robot - Also known as Train robot, advances with swinging arms, flashing lights and a train whistle.
- Non Stop robot - Sometimes called Lavender robot or Lady robot due to its lavender coloured. Advances, flashing lights, claws on arms that can grasp and hold objects.
- Target robot - Dart-shooting robot with toy gun and darts and target on his chest
- Machine Man robot - Ordered specially by a USA importer, therefore limited edition and never showed up in a catalogue like the other four. Discovered again in 1997 as the miraculous fifth member of the Gang of Five.
Collecting the Gang of Five
These toy robots are amongst the most sought after vintage toys in the world. It can be a serious quest for a dedicated collector to own all five. However, some of them are extremely rare, Machine Man in particular, with only 10-15 examples thought to remain extant. It is thought the Radicon robot is the second rarest, only 30-40 surviving.
These are highly specialised items, and some of the models are very few in number. They are generally found in prestigious toy auctions, though can also be found on eBay.
Some may be original robots, but with reproduction packaging.
There are lots of reproduction examples made, intended for collectors, including the Masudaya 1999 reissue miniature wind-up set, distributed in America by Rocket USA. These were originally sold for under $20 each, but are likely to become more collectible as they were discontinued.
Given the scarcity of the original robots, these are a good option for a collector. Within this collection, the ‘Gang of Five’ becomes a gang of six. The extra robot is the Shooting Giant Robot, who was originally on the drawing board in the 1960s, but never produced. He therefore made his debut as a Masudaya wind-up toy.
The value of genuine vintage Gang of Five toy robots depends on which of the five, as some are rarer than others, the condition the robot is in, and whether or not they retain their original packaging.
The rarest of the five, the Machine Man, has sold recently for $45,600. It has sold previously for $74,000, making it the most expensive toy robot in the world.
The other four are generally offered for prices reaching from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. A Target robot sold for $52,800 in 2010.
The toy robots are more valuable if they retain their original boxes.
The mini tin wind-up versions are currently available for less than $50-$100. This may well be a good investment, if the prices of the original members are anything to go by, especially as these mini tin versions have been discontinued.
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