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Friday, June 25, 2021

The one that almost got away: Nintendo Time Bomb (タイムボーン, 1965)

Earlier this week, an online sale on Yahoo Auctions Japan made some heads turn in Nintendo collector circles.

Firstly, because the final bid was for a whopping ¥256,555 (around US$2300 or €2000). Secondly, because the sale involved a Nintendo toy that was virtually unknown until a week ago.

It's name is Time Bomb (タイムボーン) and it dates from 1965.

Yahoo Auctions Japan bidding war - July 24 2021

This particular toy was so unknown that it did not appear in any overview of Nintendo vintage toys, nor in any of the books covering this period of Nintendo's history. Not a single image of it could be found online.

No Nintendo Time Bomb in these books

There was one exception though, although I did not learn about that one until this week as well.

In 2019, an interesting book was published by Kohei Takano (高野 光平), called 「発掘! 歴史に埋もれたテレビCM 見たことのない昭和30年代」, or "Excavation! Never before seen TV commercials buried in showa 30s history". It covers a wide selection of examples from 1955-1965, which are the early days of television commercials in japan. [Amazon Japan link here.]

The 2019 booklet that includes a reference to Nintendo Time Bomb

One of the commercials included in Takano's book is... Nintendo Time Bomb. This ad aired in 1965 in Japan, and shows that the toy retailed for ¥600.

Images of the Nintendo Time Bomb TV commercial (from Kohei Takano's book)

However, for the origins of this toy we have to travel to the United States.

The Time Bomb US Patent # 3,304,650

The toy Time Bomb was invented by Marvin Glass, Gordon Barlow and Henry Stan, all working for Marvin Glass & Associates.

This was an unique company, as it was one of the first, maybe the first toy design company that created toys for toy manufacturers. Marvin Glass & Associates came up with the ideas, patented these and made prototypes. They then pitched these ideas to toy companies, who could license the idea and produce and sell the toy for a royalty.

The patent shows the wind-up ticking mechanism built into Time Bomb

As an aside: a lot more could be said about Marvin Glass and his team, as they had their hands in many of the most well-known toys. I can recommend googling him, you will be surprised.

The original Time Bomb, sold by MB in the USA (images from eBay)

Marvin Glass licensed Time Bomb to Milton Bradley (MB), who started manufacturing and selling it in the United States.

Basically an updated version of the game "hot potato", Time Bomb was marketed at both adults and children.

The player who starts the tossing of the Time Bomb can decide how much to wind-up the spring, which adds an extra element of suspense, as the time it will tick is unknown to the other players.

In the 1960s, advertising on television was already big business in the United States, and MB also made a commercial for Time Bomb.

Time Bomb television commercial by MB

Milton Bradley kept Time Bomb in their catalogue for some time, an indication that it was successful. The advertisement page shown below appeared in a catalogue in 1971.

The regular black body MB version of Time Bomb is not that difficult to find second hand these days. At a certain point in time, MB even released different coloured bodies (red, blue and yellow), and these appear to be somewhat rarer.

With the origin of Time Bomb clarified, we now move to the extremely rare and valuable Nintendo version.

When Nintendo started establishing themselves as toy company around 1965, they looked to (mostly) American companies for licensing deals, including to Milton Bradley.

Nintendo took licenses for multiple MB toys and games, including Twister, Home Bowling, Marble and Punch Race, which they localised, produced and sold in Japan.

Nintendo version of Time Bomb (images from auction site)

And apparently they also licensed Time Bomb from MB.

The packaging for the Nintendo version was localised for the Japanese market, although the original name and some of the effects ("Tic, Tic", "Boom") still appear in English as well.

Unlike the original US version, and also unlike the Time Bomb shown in the Japanese TV commercial, this one does not have the name printed on the body of the toy. Otherwise it is identical to the original MB version.

Quite why this one managed to stay under the radar of Nintendo collectors for so many years is still a mystery. As Nintendo produced a television commercial for it, they must have had the intention to sell these by the truckload.

But did they actually end up manufacturing and selling many? And if so, where are these now? Or was there a problem with either manufacturing or public response that made them stop or recall sales? Did the relationship with MB sour over the amount of royalties to pay, or did the sub-licensing from Marvin Glass cause complications? Many things to speculate about, but for now we simply don't know.

The Nintendo Time Bomb includes the company name moulded into the plastic

Although Nintendo did not design Time Bomb themselves, it is still an important piece in the company's history, as it is part of the initial set of toys from their earliest days as toy company.

In case you are wondering, it wasn't me who paid the big bucks to acquire this item. But .. if you ever happen to come across one for a decent price, can you please toss it my way?

[2024 UPDATE] I caught a Time Bomb! Update here.

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