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LEGO Minitalia (Italy) and LEGO "OLO" (Japan)
Something new and something old....
Minitalia, an Italian version of LEGO that was produced from 1971-75 was in response to a law by the Italian Parliament that forbade the import of construction toys... that begat LEGO Minitalia. More on this later...
But what most folks do not realize is that in Japan... a different version of a local toy was produced called "OLO". OLO was also first introduced in Japan (produced in Denmark and exported)... in 1970, and was discontinued by 1977.
OLO and Minitalia both share very similar LEGO brick patents. And like well known Minitalia, OLO also has a very interesting story.
Here is an image from the front page of a very obscure 1970 OLO Catalog. Looks like regular LEGO of that era.
And also... here is a comparison (from my Japanese LEGO friend Yodoba)... of Minitalia and OLO bricks. TLG made them different enough for us to very easily identify them.... Minitalia has "Pat. Pend." on the underside... and OLO has "Pend. Pat." on the underside! :-)
More to come...
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Recent discussions •
The reason for Minitalia actually NEVER took place... in May of 1970 the Italian Parliament decided to put a rather bizarre law into action that forbade the imporation of construction toys. And so TLG decided in haste to quickly set up an Italian version of LEGO called Minitalia that was produced in Italy from dies made in Denmark.
But there's more to the story about Minitalia that is not fully known... and that had me puzzled for a long time... Minitalia sales in Italy happened from late 1970 until 1975. So if LEGO sales were banned... then why are there 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1975 Italian LEGO catalogs??
Here's one from 1974...
So TLG decided that they already heavily invested in Minitalia artwork, molds, sets, etc... so they decided to continue production of the product for several years... in addition to continue producing regular LEGO sets for sale in Italy.
Here's an image of the new Minitalia bricks (from our good friend Maxx3001) with the "XXX" construction on the underside, as well as hollow studs. This design was another of TLGs patents, beside the normal famous tube construction LEGO brick design of 1958. By 1973 TLG started producing Minitalia bricks with tube bottoms (although still different from regular LEGO), but still with the hollow stud bricks...
More info coming...
So Minitalia was started in Italy in late 1970 because of a (soon cancelled) toy import ban.... and OLO was started with the same brick mold designs in Japan for a completely different reason.
LEGO sales started in Japan in 1962, as they did in Australia and Hong Kong. The Japanese mindset at that time looked at imports (be it toys or radios or automobiles) as inferior to home made Japanese products. So a toy imported from Denmark was not a very popular item. Also due to the problem with distribution of sales, LEGO was not sold in very many places. It was mostly found in Department stores and toy stores in larger cities, with rather poor sales.
TLG had a local Japanese licensee, the Ahashi Corp., as the distribution agent in Japan. Well as I mentioned... sales and distribution were both rather poor. So TLG decided to try something different... produce a toy with a local sounding name (OLO), and packaged so that it appeared to be a local product. But before sales could start, the Asahi Corp. split into to parts in 1969, and the LEGO sales were handled by the spit off company, called Fujisho Corp.
So it was in 1970 that the Fujisho Corp. started to distribute the TLG Denmark produced (and locally packaged) OLO Toy sales.
Here are the OLO bricks introduced in 1970.... and the OLO windows/doors, which were identical to the classic 1x2x3 LEGO door, 1x2x2 and 1x4x2 LEGO windows... but with no glass. Also... the windows are of the (pre 1970) long ledge variety.
Here is the larger 75 set, and a catalog image of what could be built with that set. The catalog seconded as building instructions. These sets packaged in Japan, of parts made in Denmark.
Say.... is that a colorful Godzilla as one of the catalog building models?? ;-)
And the baseplate that is used is a 6x16 gray thick baseplate... identical to the trolley base used in Minitalia here (but without the wheels, which were included in the larger sets).
The story my dad remembers is that Italy wouldn't buy the expensive "luxury" toys produced by LEGO, so they produced some (somewhat) inferior products to sell in Italy, hoping to corner the market, and later replace it with regular LEGO-products. But maybe there was a shortlived import-ban as well - you don't tell everything to your production staff!
My dad still has quite a collection of Minitalia bricks - maybe one of the larger collections outside of Italy - but unfortunately only a smaller selection of the various types and colors of bricks available, since they didn't produce all kinds at the factory.
This was Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen's uncle... Gerhard Kirk Christiansen... who along with his brother Karl Georg left TLG after the 1960 wooden toy warehouse fire... when their brother Godtfred Kirk Christiansen (President of TLG), refused to rebuild/restart for wooden toy sales. The 2 brothers went off to continue production of Bilofix/Bilotoy... a wooden toy that never made it into the 1970s.
Gerhard is at the factory in Kolding...
OLO too was sold (produced in Denmark) as a cheap LEGO substitute to try to stimulate poor LEGO sales in Japan. The irony is that Minitalia and OLO were sold at the exact same time... first half of the 1970s... using the same mold design... but NOT the exact same molds... and definitely not the same plastic!!
I've seen and have tons of classic windows and doors without the glass. I find it highly doubtful I have any OLO elements as I never tried to buy any (I have no Minitalia elements either). Most of my classic windows and doors are Samsonite. The glass many of these has broken, was pushed out, sometime left out or was otherwise removed.
That "K" emblem inside the studs is not a "K"... it's actually the Japanese symbol for whatever the word "OLO" is based on.... ("brick" perhaps??). This same symbol is found on OLO boxes...
Hehehe... I didn't want to give away all the secrets from the chapter in my collectors guide.... ;-)
Since posting my comments on this thread, I think that there may be some errors in my comments. It is very possible that the OLO bricks were indeed produced in Japan, as opposed to imported from Denmark. But I do feel that the molds were made in Denmark (or possibly Germany, where a lot of the tooling for LEGO was done).
The reason I believe this is the case is because I have been studying up on the import situation of imports to Japan in the 1960s and 1970s. It seems that there were some very steep fees for such silly things as "docking" or "unloading" imported items... and these fees could be quite steep. So I am thinking that TLG molds were sent to Fujisho Corp. in Japan, and the parts were produced and boxed there. The boxes don't mention anything about being imported.
And there is another thing about OLO that may be true... that the molds were produced to a much higher standard than even TLG produced for Europe and the rest of the world. The Japanese are very finicky about quality... and when examining the OLO pieces close up, one is impressed by their absolute flawless appearance. I now believe this is no accident. In order for Japanese buyers to buy LEGO, the finest in quality had to be assured.
I don't remember ever seeing regular LEGO bricks with such crisp flawless edges...
The mixed use of Kanji, Katakana, Hiragana and Roman script is initially very confusing because each is used within its own specific context (reminding me a bit of the LEGO mayhem).
Thank you for the update on your comments :)
I can see the same injection moulding machines producing both LEGO and Minitalia parts, but that would require changing the entire mold, not just a part of it.