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LEGO Minitalia (Italy) and LEGO "OLO" (Japan)

IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
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...


  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    A couple of other things before I start getting into the OLO story...

    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...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Well I think I have the answer to the question about why we find LEGO catalogs from Italy were uninterrupted between 1970-75. And that was because almost as soon as Minitalia set up shop and started production in Italy in latter 1970... that the Italian Parliament reversed itself and repealed the construction toy import ban (or some scenario to that effect).

    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...
  • plasmodiumplasmodium Member Posts: 1,956
    Very interesting! As a history student it's always cool to see history and an interest like Lego coming together like this.
  • bobabricksbobabricks Member Posts: 1,842
    It's great to have a Lego historian like you! :D Other wise we would just sit around with knowledge only as early as ~1978 "Ooga ooga, Ninjago?" ;P
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Thanks all!!

    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.

  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    OLO Windows/doors....
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited August 2014
    And there were only 4 OLO sets... from smallest to largest.... 25, 50, 75, 100.

    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).
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    TLG decided that just 4 basic OLO sets was not enough... so they added and assortment of the LEGO spare parts pack to what was available with OLO sets... but these were real LEGO spare parts packs (although alphabet and number bricks, road signs, flags, and other specialty parts parts packs were not part of this selection)... and Japanese kids/parents who added the LEGO spare parts packs to their 4 OLO sets... were hoped to not care about the brick structure difference.... ;-)
  • PizzarenoPizzareno Member Posts: 4
    This is very cool. I see the monorail is using 'SNOT' :)
  • peterlinddkpeterlinddk Member Posts: 170
    Minitalia wasn't just produced in Italy - some bricks were also produced in Denmark, maybe not in Billund, but certainly in nearby Kolding, by some of LEGOs subcontractors. I don't remember much, being born in 1973, but both my parents worked for a plastics manufacturer, that produced LEGO bricks as well as Minitalia bricks for the LEGO company. They often used the same molds, with simple inserts to change the LEGO-logo to the hollow stud for the Minitalia bricks.

    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.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Peterlinddk.... funny you mention Kolding... a town near Billund. I bet your dad will recognize the building in the background?

    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...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited August 2014
    Thanks for the story on the Kolding factory... and production of Minitalia. There are still so many unanswered questions about Minitalia... but what you say makes perfect sense.... and above all... Minitalia was indeed an inferior brick... not only in the plastic that was used... but also the molds.... here is an example of the bricks sold as Minitalia in Italy, and OLO in Japan. The red and yellow bricks are Minitalia... and the blue one is OLO. You can definitely see that the plastic and mold for OLO are to a much higher standard (much crisper lines to the bricks) than the Minitalia bricks.

    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!!
  • LusiferSamLusiferSam Member Posts: 568
    I have a question about the OLO windows and doors. Is there a way to tell the difference between OLO windows and standard classic windows where the glass has come out?

    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.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited August 2014
    Well LusiferSam... there is a way to tell them apart. They probably took real Classic LEGO windows/doors molds, and modified them in this way.... as seen by the hollow stud 2x4 OLO bricks... (Note also the high quality bricks these molds produced!).

    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.... ;-)

  • WoutRWoutR Member Posts: 44
    The characters are written in Katakana, a Japanese script where every character represents a syllable. It seems like this script is often used for company names. The first syllable is pronounced as "O", the second as "RO", so the symbols simply spell the company name "OLO".
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Thanks WoutR.... very much appreciate that info.

    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...
  • WoutRWoutR Member Posts: 44
    I am preparing to visit Japan later, so I do have a little language guide :)
    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 :)
  • WoutRWoutR Member Posts: 44
    (...) They often used the same molds, with simple inserts to change the LEGO-logo to the hollow stud for the Minitalia bricks. (...)
    This cannot be true. There are too many differences between the LEGO and Minitalia parts. The studs, the connectors and the mold numbering all are unique for Minitalia.

    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.
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