Category Archives: Collecting

Collecting covers many things from postcards to clockwork tin toy robots.

EPCO plays checkers . . . and wins

Electopak-Robot---full-picThis rare photograph, seen for sale at an online auction site recently, was, I believe, taken in about 1937. I have managed to find an article in Automatic Age magazine (link) which I believe tells the story of this robot. I’m not too certain because the vendor of the photograph states that it may have been taken in the 1950s.

Electopak-Robot---detail2 Electopak-Robot---detail1These two detail shots highlight the reward of $150 “to anyone who beats the robot playing checkers”, and the mirror above the robot on which the crowd can watch the game of checkers being played by the robot.

The Automatic Age article, The Story of Epco – the Mechanical Man, described how John T. Bradford, the world’s champion master checker player, was beaten by Epco. “Mr Bradford played two games with the Epco robot. The crowd, completely encircling the booth many rows deep, drew in closer to watch the match. It was a dramatic situation, intense from not only the competitive angle but also because of the fantastic atmosphere. … Bradford, a human genius, whose mind is highly developed and attuned to intensive thinking, and Epco, an electrical robot, a thing of cold metal, wood, wiring and electrical gadgets. They played, man against machine! The Epco robot, calmly and mechanically sure of each move, relentlessly checked every maneuver of the world’s champion to gain a decisive victory.”

They played again and Bradford, “although a true genius”, could only manage a draw.

More research is needed, but I have to say I am rather suspicious that there may have been a man inside Epco.

Life-sized Planet Robots made in the UK

Shawcraft_LogoAndy Shaw makes fantastic ‘life-sized’ robot replicas which are inspired by 1950s Japanese toy robots. His company, Shawcraft, also makes replica petrol pumps for your classic garage, games room or living room which can be used as storage cabinets, or even a cocktail bar!

Shawcraft_SAM_1408His robots are produced from purpose-built moulds and are designed for strength and simplicity. Where possible pigmented gelcoat is used, making the robots durable and resistant to scrapes and knocks.

The ‘Planet Robots’ are stunning, standing five foot eight inches tall, in gleaming black and red – just like the original Japanese tin toys. The original toys were made by Yoshia KO of Japan in the late 1950′s and were an unlicensed copy of Robby the Robot, star of the 1956 MGM film Forbidden Planet.

Shawcraft_WalkTalkToyThe toys were made in several colours and versions, the most popular being black and red with clockwork walking action and sparks shooting around the interior visible through acetate ‘windows’.

The Shawcraft Planet Robots can be supplied in any colour combination although only the black/red version is pigmented gelcoat. They can be specified with either three fingered hand or replica claw.

Just like the original the chest plate and face grill are finished then added to the robot giving a crisp, clean joint. All arm and leg joints are well defined so the robot looks real.

Shawcraft_T4They can be supplied as a static prop or with flashing lights in the dome ‘ears’. They can also be ordered with a voice, activated by passers-by, and with intermittent head-turn and flashing ‘voice light’. A radio-controlled walking version is also available.

I asked Andy when his interest in robots arose. “At four years old, back in 1967 when my Gran gave me a black and red clockwork Planet Robot.”

When he was 11, he wrote to the BBC for a copy of their Dr Who Dalek plans, which had been printed in the Radio Times. He began building a Dalek immediately then realised the plans were wrong. So he used the Dalek neck section as the torso of his first large robot.

Shawcraft_build1It takes a couple of weeks to build a Planet Robot and they are in great demand. I have occasionally seen them for sale on eBay, so I asked Andy if he has many in stock, he said, “yes, I build them for stock, but they always go before I can make a second!”

If you would like to see his robots out in the real world, they can be seen at a travelling exhibition called ‘Robot’, and they are often seen at art galleries and universities. They’re also at Randy’s Toy Shop, USA*; Metropolis Toys, Burton on Trent; Celestial Toy Store; a barber shop in Essex; Uncle Sam’s diner.

AdventuresInScienceFictionLate next year they will be at Neil Coles Adventures in Science Fiction, a new science fiction museum opening in Allendale, Northumberland.

Finally, I asked Andy how long he thinks it will be before we have domestic servant robots, or robot butlers, in our homes … and would he want one?

“Domestic robots are just about seven years away I reckon. I think they’d have been here now if the global economy hadn’t been shafted by the greedy useless parasitic financiers. I embarked, at four years old, to develop and build a domestic robot for myself. Oh yes, I want one.”

You can contact Andy Shaw by email or visit his website to see more examples of his work.

See also Pikore page.

*If you have an original Japanese Planet Robot toy with missing parts, Randy’s Toy Shop specialise in making replacements. They’re not cheap, but how else are you going to repair one of those rare toys? Prices from their catalogue (click here for website) Antenna, $55; Hands $35 each; Roller wheels $25 each.

Collecting robots on postcards – 9 – Enigmarelle

Enigmarell-post-card-front
This unusual, and admittedly rather creepy looking, postcard came up for sale recently on eBay. The “robot” on the left is Enigmarelle who was, according to the card, “the rage of London”. I was inspired to research a little further, and found an excellent article on the website cyberneticzoo (click here for article). As you may have guessed, it seems that there was a man inside the automaton with a false head on top of his own. That man was the unfortunate Alba Root, who lost both his legs in a railway accident when he was younger. Alba was able to ride a unicycle with artificial legs, and there a photographs of Enigmarelle riding a bicycle on stage.

I also discovered the following news story in a 1905 edition of The Entr’acte & Limelight.

The Entr'acte & Limelight masthead

Saturday 26 August 1905

“Enigmarelle” Again

Mr Garrett was engaged on Friday, at the West London Court, in hearing summonses taken out by Sub-Divisional-Inspector Crocker, T, against Mr. E. H. Dobson, manager of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Music Hall; Mr W. A. Bennett, Press representative at the hall; Mr. F. Ireland, and George Dee, for being concerned in causing an obstruction in Goldhawk Road by parading a mechanical figure called “Enigmarelle,” which had been exhibited at the hall. Mr. Philip Conway represented the defendants. Inspector Crocker stated that on the 8th inst. a coach and four, driven by the defendant Dee, drew up in front of the music-hall. A crowd of from 1,500 to 2,000 persons gathered. The coach waited some fifteen minutes, and then from a side entrance of the theatre emerged the mechanical figure, controlled by Ireland. The figure walked across to the coach in the centre of the roadway, and remained there nine minutes. By this time the crowd had increased to 4,000 persons, and witness requested Ireland to take the figure away. The coach was accordingly driven away, but it returned, and then the figure came out again, and by means of a ladder ascended to the box-seat of the coach and, taking the reins in its hands, drove off, followed by an immense crowd, which completely blocked the roadway. Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett both assisted the figure up the ladder, and apparently it drove off by itself. Previous to the occurrence witness had received a letter from Mr. Dobson announcing that it was proposed to make the experiment with the figure, and witness had an interview with Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett, who assured him that they would take the responsibility in the matter. Mr. Conway suggested that it was trifling with the procedure of the criminal law to summon Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett for aiding and abetting in such a trivial offence. Every information was given beforehand to the police, and arrangements were made for the observance of public order. It was not the fault of these gentlemen if a large crowd gathered. The Magistrate observed that there was no question that an obstruction was caused, and the common-sense view of it was that the defendants wished to advertise the mechanical figure. The larger the crowd the better the advertisement, and the object of the defendants was “to cause a crowd to assemble.” He fined Ireland 40s., Dobson and Bennett 20s. each, and Dee 5s.

In the same newspaper, on the front page, there was an advertisement proclaiming Enigmarelle as “the rage of London!” announcing that the mechanical figure would be appearing at the Empire Theatre, Nottingham.

Enigmarelle the rage of London

It is hard to believe that so many people were fooled into thinking that it was possible to create a mechanical man as sophisticated as Enigmarelle, and especially one capable of controlling a coach and four. There was even an article in the January 13, 1906 edition of Scientific American, headed “A clever mechanical and electrical automaton” in which they stated that Enigmarelle “is seemingly a mechanical and electrical combination. The figure stands exactly six feet in height, weighs 198 pounds, and is composed of 365 distinct and separate parts … the figure contains seven motors, which are of special design … there are fourteen dry storage battery cells of small capacity … at the back of the figure is the switchboard containing the rheostat, fifteen switches, three single levers, and three automatic brakes …” The full article can be read on the Cyberneticzoo website linked to above.

Enigmarelle postcard back