Linemar Space Explorer, $25,000 (£20,000) at Bertoia.

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Japanese toys imported to the US remain very popular with collectors, as the latest Bertoia (25% buyer’s premium) auction underlined.

Several sought-after examples of post-war toys were offered in New Jersey on November 17. Japanese manufacturers had been producing tin toys as long as European firms but really hit their stride in the late 1940s-60s, particularly with cars and highly imaginative novelty automata. Cheaper plastic versions led to a decline in tinplate toys.

Estimated at $1200-1800 but hammered down at $25,000 (£20,000) was a Linemar Space Explorer, 5½in (14cm) long, which came in its original ‘very crisp’ box and was described as being in ‘near mint condition’.

The Linemar brand was established as a manufacturing and import subsidiary of the US toy firm Louis Marx & Co in the 1950s. Costs were kept down by Japanese production, importing battery-operated mechanical toys.

Japanese toy giant Nomura took over Linemar in 1960 but toys were produced under the Linemar name until the eary 1970s.


ASC Tremendous Mike robot, $14,000 (£11,200) at Bertoia.

An ASC Tremendous Mike robot took a hammer price of $14,000 (£11,200), double the low estimate. Made by Aoshin, it came in a 10in (25.5cm) high box and apart from one small tear to the lid it was catalogued as an ‘exceptional example of a desirable toy’.

Aoshin produced several renowned robots in the 1950s also including the Chime Trooper, all bearing the ASC logo trademark.


Nomura Space Patrol Car, $13,000 (£10,400) at Bertoia.

Another five-figure result for a Japanese toy was supplied by a battery-operated Nomura Space Patrol Car, 12in (30.5cm) long, in ‘pristine to near mint condition’ overall, which was offered in its ‘rare’ original box that had a small hole in the bottom of the side and a lid with a tiny tear on the side. Guided at $7000-10,000, it sold for a hammer price of $13,000 (£10,400).

Also impressing at four figures was a Marusan Japan TV Space Patrol car which doubled the mid estimate to make $8000 (£6400).

On two wheels


IY Japan tin friction Romance motorcycle, $21,000 (£17,220) at Milestone.

The most eye-catching results at Ohio saleroom Milestone (17% buyer’s premium) on October 28 also roared in thanks to post-war Japanese tin toys - specifically motorcycles in this case, one of the late Elmer Duellman’s favourite toy categories. Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum in Fountain City, Wisconsin, closed in 2022 after 28 years of operation.

While the rambling rural museum is now history, Duellman’s assemblage of 25,000 antique and vintage toys is being dispersed on the family’s instruction, giving collectors a great opportunity to add sought-after items. Milestone’s auction was the first in an ongoing series of quarterly events featuring the Duellman toys.

A rare, 12in (30.5cm) long IY Japan tin friction Romance motorcycle, known to collectors as the ‘large blue version’, depicts a young couple out for a spin, with a boy driver and girl passenger. ‘Bright, colourful and in excellent condition’, it sold for $21,000 (£17,220) against an estimate of $2000-3000.


Condor Motor Cycle, $7750 (£6355) at Milestone.

Another distinctive IY Japan production of the same size, a tin friction Condor Motor Cycle in ‘beautiful all-original condition’ was offered with its rare, original pictorial box showing a helmeted driver on a speeding bike with the striking image of a condor in flight on the gas tank. It took $7750 (£6355) against an estimate of $2000-4000.


Marusan Indian Motor Cycle, $15,500 (£12,710) at Milestone.

Meanwhile, a rare Marusan Japan tin friction Indian Motor Cycle with the brand name Indian and a graphic of a feather-bonneted Native American chief on the gas tank was offered with its scarce original pictorial box and guided at $2000-4000. However, it sped away to $15,500 (£12,710).


Yonezawa #58 Atom Jet Racer, $11,000 (£9020) at Milestone.

In the 1950s-60s the visionary Japanese toy manufacturers dreamed up imaginative, futuristic designs that were unrivalled by any from the Western world.

Duellman owned examples of many of the most elusive Japanese toys of that period, including a Yonezawa tin friction #58 Atom Jet Racer with bright colours and graphics, and many fine details.

Miles King, general manager of Milestone, said: “The Atom Jet Racer is one of the wildest-looking automotive toys every created. It has a huge, undulating tail fin, bullet-form headlights and tail lights, and an unusual cockpit encasing the driver.”

In working condition, including the motor sound it makes when activated, the sizeable - 2ft 2in (66cm) long - vehicle sold for $11,000 (£9020) against an estimate of $3000-5000.


American Circus Television Truck, $4300 (£3525) at Milestone.

Mid-century Japanese toy designers were not afraid to combine absurdly dissimilar themes in a single production, with the resulting hybrids falling somewhere between the humorous and the bizarre.

A battery-operated toy called American Circus Television Truck looked like a modified ice cream truck with a circus-clown driver and graphics that include planets, stars, musical notes, and a seal balancing a ball on its nose while riding atop a rocket labeled Space Patrol.

Together with its profusely illustrated original box, this bonkers creation by Exelo, 1950s, was guided at $600-800 but took $4300 (£3525).


Linemar Casper Ghost Tank, $3000 (£2460) at Milestone.

Another Linemar production, a mechanical Casper [the Friendly] Ghost Tank, all original with a working wind-up mechanism, was offered in its original box which even retained its original 98¢ price sticker. The box illustrations show not only Casper raising a military tank, but also his cartoon stablemates Baby Huey, Little Audrey, Katnip (of Herman and Katnip fame) and more.

Estimated at $300-500, it went for six times the high estimate, closing at $3000 (£2460).

No building done


Tonka #210 Road Builder Set, $16,500 (£13,530) at Milestone.

Among the non-Japanese highlights from the Elmer’s auction was a rare Tonka #210 Road Builder Set containing a Big Mike dump truck, a second dump truck, lowboy semi truck, steam shovel, road grader and plough.

American post-war toys were made to be rough, tough and ready to ‘work’ but this set appeared never to have been played with (it was probably new/old stock).

Retaining its crisp original box with inserts, and described by King as “possibly the nicest of all surviving sets of its type”, it bulldozed its way to $16,500 (£13,530) against an estimate of $6000-10,000.