Ideal's Electronic Count Down Collectible Space Toy
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union shocked the world by successfully launching Sputnik I, the earth’s first artificial satellite. Less than four months later the United States followed suit, sending into orbit its first satellite in the form of Explorer I.
The U.S.-U.S.S.R. space race would be one of the most visible tenets of the Cold War, capturing the imagination of an entire planet. That interest would especially be keen for the baby boomers, whose love and fascination for everything space would translate into a large variety of toys whose central theme was “right out of this world.” Enter Ideal's vaunted Electronic Count Down...
Ideal Toy's Electronic Count Down
The Ideal Toy & Novelty Corporation of Hollis, New York, founded in 1907 by Russian Jewish immigrants Morris and Rose Michtom, would produce a number of fantastic-themed toys during the space pioneering era of the 1950s and ‘60s. One of their best in the field was Electronic Count Down, which hit retail stores in 1959.
Ideal’s Count Down resembles a kind of mini-Cape Canaveral – the famed site in Florida which launched its first mission in July 1950 via a two-stage rocket christened Bumper 2. A rather large toy, it measures 21 ½-inches in length and approximately nine-inches tall. Powered by two “D” size batteries, Count Down acts as a mechanical launching pad, whereby the operator can prepare and eventually launch a rocket into “outer space” – or, more accurately, into the friendly confines of a living room or the backyard. Aiding the toy’s operator in this endeavor are various switches and dials, along with a small, open railway car which traverses a set of tracks while it transports the rocket to its launching site. When the “Fire” level is pulled, the rocket is propelled into the mini-wild blue yonder by a spring, which has to be wound up.
Count Down’s main accessories are three soft plastic rockets: Atlas, Moon Ship, and the two-stage Sun Probe. All are identified with decals, which, unfortunately, tend to flake off with age. The Moon Ship decal is cool, featuring an atomic energy symbol along with the notation, U.S. Space Force. The Sun Probe rocket carries an equally cool blazing orange solar symbol.
A one-page sheet of instructions accompanies the toy. The operating instructions are simple and straightforward, numbering seven points. The first is the all-important “Wind Up Launching Mechanism,” where the “Interplanetary indicator sets travel distance.” The instruction sheet, obviously high in acidic content, tends to yellow and grow brittle over the years.
Ideal Toy's Electronic Count Down (1959) - William J. Felchner
Electronic Count Down Packaging
Ideal’s Count Down, designated as No. 4802, comes in a decorative red, white, blue and black box. The “Electronic Missile Base,” as it is billed, is illustrated on four sides of the box. On the top is an illustration of an Atlas rocket in flight, along with stars and planets, including a depiction of Saturn. Some boxes may bear a shipping sticker on the side where the toy was mailed on special order to a retail outlet.
Electronic Count Down Value
There’s not a lot of pricing history on Electronic Count Down. An example in mint-in-the-box condition (granted, a true rarity) would probably be valued in the $350-500-plus range. What most collectors might realistically hope for, though, is a complete model in working condition with the original box, which would run in the $250-300 range.
As previously mentioned, the rocket decals have a tendency to lose their adhesiveness as the years tick by, so be sure to check for them before buying. Also, the missiles themselves can be deceptively fragile, with pieces sometimes cracking off if handled too roughly.
Another potentially sore point is the wind-up mechanism, which may not work due to overuse (or abuse) by baby boomer kids with no respect for toys, darn it! Another thing to look for is the red, soft plastic tracking antenna, which is detachable and may have gone missing years ago.
Related Vintage Space Toys: Astro Base and The Adventures in Space Game
If you’re a fan of Electronic Count Down, then you’ll definitely want to check out several other related toys from the era as well. Also from Ideal there’s Astro Base, a 1960 successor to Count Down, which assumes that our astronauts have already landed on the moon. One of the fun features of this toy is the motorized scout car, from which rubber-tipped missiles can be launched. It’s valued at around $350 in excellent condition with the box included.
From 1967 there’s Count Down - The Adventures in Space Game, produced by E.S. Lowe Co. This one is quite realistic, utilizing a NASA-consulted Apollo program outline in order to assure authenticity as players attempt to reach the moon and return safely to Earth. It carries an estimated value of around $40 in excellent condition.
Electronic Count Down Legacy
Ideal’s Electronic Count Down, in a tantalizing display of historical pedigree, debuted the same year that NASA announced the Mercury Seven – America’s first astronauts who would slip the surly bonds of Earth and head into space beginning with Project Mercury. Those seven pioneers were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter “Wally” Schirra, Alan Shepard and Donald “Deke” Slayton.
Ah, courageous men all...