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The first LEGO Idea Book...

IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
From the chapter of my collectors guide on LEGO Building Idea Books... the 238... most complex of all LEGO idea books.... 12 versions, and in total about 20 versions when you add local languages...

The first LEGO Idea books were an unnumbered book found for Denmark (only) of 1955-56, and a 1957-58 unnumbered idea book for Germany/Austria.

But the first truly universal LEGO idea book was the "Building Idea Book 1'... which was found under the 238 number.

This idea book was (depending on location) found with anywhere from 16-36 pages. And at first it came in a large number of languages... being sold as a "language specific", as opposed to "country specific" booklet in Europe.

Here are the earlier (1960-64) booklet covers... (left column top to bottom, then right column)...

1) 1960-61 European booklet (w/o LEGO wheels or black bricks)... sold in English, German, French, Dutch, Flemish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Italian. The German booklet was sold in Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, and German speaking parts of Switzerland. The French booklet was sold in France, and French speaking parts of Belgium and Switzerland. The English booklet was sold in the UK and Ireland.

2) 1961-62 USA/Canada Samsonite version... not sold separately, but only found in 717 Junior Constructor and 725 Town Plan sets. The Canadian version is bilingual (English/French), only one of these individual booklets in more than 1 language.

3) 1962-63 Continental Europe (with LEGO Wheels and black bricks)... so far I have only ever found this version in German and Dutch.

4) 1961-62 UK/Ireland.... This version is called Building Ideas Book No. 2., and still has no wheels.

5) 1962-63 UK/Ireland/Australia... This version (now with "True Building" on the cover) was the updated version of the Building Ideas Book No. 2. There are now wheels included, but (unlike continental Europe), black bricks were not yet introduced.

6) 1963-64 Continental Europe and USA/Canada. This version had no writing in it at all, so it was international. Shows the introduction of black bricks, wheels and small plates.

.... coming up... the other 6 versions of the 238... completely different....


  • madforLEGOmadforLEGO Member Posts: 10,762
    edited August 2014
    Great info once again, Thanks!
    I'm a kid of the 80's and really miss what LEGO had then, with the #200 #250 #260 idea books, with stickers (some unique to the book, some actually similar if not identical to set stickers) that were really as well made as the ones in the sets.
    I just wish LEGO would bring these back in house and with stickers (even though many do not like them)
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Before I get to the other 6 versions of the 238... I just wanted to post some really nice images of the 1961-62 and 1962-63 versions of the Britain/Ireland/Australia "Building Ideas Book No. 2".

    Here are the very similar, and yet different versions of the guides...

    1961-62 (UK/Ireland, no wheels)...

    1962-63 (UK/Ireland/Australia, with wheels)...

    Also... the earlier Building Ideas Book No. 2 shows the British LEGO Ltd. and Courtauld's names, but the later version has no such labeling, only "Printed in England"...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited September 2014
    OK.... even though the 238 Idea books were sold with the similar booklet designs... these were not always sold as 238.... the British LEGO Ltd. versions were always called Building Ideas Book No.2, never 238. And in USA/Canada the idea books never had a number in catalogs, because they were never sold standalone.

    About 1964 some new idea book designs came out... and here is where things start getting complicated.

    In Britain/Ireland/Australia... a Building Ideas Book No. 3 was introduced.... under that name... This was a square 24 page ideas booklet with writing in English.

  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Then in 1965 a similar booklet was sold in all (non-German speaking) continental Europe... and this booklet looked almost exactly like the British LEGO Ltd. booklet just discussed.... except this booklet was shown in continental European LEGO catalogs.... as 238... without any writing on the cover or inside. This book had 28 pages (as opposed to 24 for the UK version).... and about 20 of those matched what was sold in the Building Ideas Book No. 3... but without text...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Around the same time as the continental European 238 was introduced, in Germany, Austria, and possibly parts of Switzerland, a different idea book in German was introduced... titled "So Bauen Wir Mit LEGO"... (This is how we build with LEGO)... and this German language book... was also sold with the 238 number in LEGO catalogs...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    So now on top of these 3 newer books.... one for UK/Ireland/Australia, one for continental Europe, one for German Europe.... there were 3 other idea booklets sold in USA and Canada by Samsonite... Like with the earlier blue 238 booklets sold there... these booklets were only found in the larger LEGO sets, such as the 717 Junior Constructor and 725 Town Plan sets...

    These 3 booklets, all with the same models in a different page format as the earlier books... were

    1) a 1964 USA Samsonite Idea Book with the Town Plan accessories...

    2) a 1965 Canadian Samsonite Idea Book with the new Samsonite gears and motors...

    3) a 1966 USA Samsonite Idea Book again with the new Samsonite gears and motors...

  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    So by 1967 the 238 Idea books of all types were finally discontinued... in favor of the 240 Ideas Booklet (note:the 239 was a hard cover large idea book in the German language for German Europe).

    So there were 12 different books, and when adding the languages... a total of 24 different books during the 238 book era... the most complicated idea book of all!! :-)
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited September 2014
    I'm not going to post the page by page contents of the 12 versions of the 238 Idea Book (you'll need to get my collectors guide for that! ;-) )... but I will post a few pages.

    One of the coolest thing about several of these versions... is that they give us a visual snapshot of all the LEGO parts that were available at that time. All of the parts were also available in spare parts packs... and the next few groups of images show the parts and their associated spare parts pack numbers... often by color...

    The first is the 1960 Building Ideas Book No. 1 sold in most of the languages of continental LEGO Europe. These 2 images show the inside front and inside back cover of this idea booklet, with all the LEGO elements available at that time... with all the very nice Town Plan accessories...

    This is a nice time capsule of what was available in 1960...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited September 2014
    And from the 1963-64 International (no text) version of Building Idea Book No. 1 (238).... we have these images. By 1963 new items included black LEGO bricks, LEGO wheels, small plates, and an assortment of the new 1:87 LEGO cars (261-268) sold in clear plastic garages.

    A nice time capsule of wht was available from LEGO in 1963...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited September 2014
    Then finally in the German language 238 "So Bauen Wir Mit LEGO" book of 1966... we have this assortment showing what was sold in 1966... new items include tile bricks (1x1, 1x2 and 2x2), the large 50x50 gray baseplate, LEGO train parts, LEGO motors, and the newer LEGO 1:87 cars/trucks.

    A time capsule of what was available from LEGO in 1966...
  • LusiferSamLusiferSam Member Posts: 573
    I'll have to dig out the early idea books I have and see which versions. I know I've a a couple of Samsonite booklets and the German 239 "Wir Bauen Mit LEGO." Beyond that I'm not 100% sure of what I have. I sure I have a couple are European book 1's, but it's a matter of which version. And I think I've got a 238. I think it's the European version and not the British version.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    I'm looking forward to what you have LusiferSam....the earliest UK version (1960-61) was the continental version, but in English.

    One of the reasons that Britain went on their own was because of the intro of parts there versus continental Europe....

    Black bricks.... 1961 in continental Europe, 1963 in UK
    LEGO wheels... 1962 in continental Europe, 1962 in UK
    Small plates..... 1963 in continental Europe, 1964 in UK

    So this meant that the UK had to come up with some different versions of these booklets... since the parts intro was different than continental Europe.

    P.S. in USA/Canada.... it was 1963 for wheels, black bricks and small plates.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Here's something that is virtually unknown about LEGO paperwork back in the 1959-68 era when the 238 Idea Books were all the rage.... the LEGO Ideas Leaflets were produced. These leaflets are listed in the Bricklink database, but so little is known about them.

    Here are some of them....
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    So what were these leaflets? They were produced from 1959-68 as building ideas for children. When they were first introduced in 1959, they were sold to children at a penny or two (pfennig, øre, groschen, or whatever the lowest denomination coinage a particular country was.

    Then circa 1963, TLG must have decided to give these away for free, so later versions were given away by retailers for free.

    From 1959-62 they had no identifying number on them... then starting in 1962 they started using an identifying number... such as B101, B102, B103, B104, etc...

    Here is how the earliest ones of 1959-60 looked like... they were folded...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    And here is a leaflet from the 1959-60 era for ideas for dollhouse furniture... both front and back...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Now the key to understanding these leaflets, and how they all relate is found in the LEGO retailer containers that held these. Here is an image from the LEGO collections, showing how these leaflets were sold to children in the early 1960s...

    And finally here is also how the later (1963-68) leaflets were given away from a retailer countertop stand, as seen in a 1967 LEGO Retailer Products Catalog....

    These are explained in much greater detail, along with all the early idea booklets and books in my LEGO collectors guide... Chapter 37 - LEGO IDEA BOOKS, BOOKLETS & PAMPHLETS (1950-75) and Chapter 38 - LEGO MAGAZINE STYLE IDEA BOOKLETS (1971-90).
  • LusiferSamLusiferSam Member Posts: 573
    After looking through some of my stuff I've got '61/'62, '64 and '66 versions of the Samsonite idea books. I got a some sets in storage and another stack of paper somewhere to still to look through. I've been doing a massive reorganization of my instructions, so sometimes finding stuff isn't the easiest at the moment.

    What I thought might have been 238 might be something different. For starters it's I believe the cover is missing, as the first page as no Lego logo on. The first page I have is a couple of buildings. The first is a yellow building with a Swiss flag on the top, second is white with a red roof (bricks, not slopes) and red windows and doors (looks like a school), and the third I can't tell what it is. Next it's too long. What I've got made up of 38 sheets, so that 76 pages. That's too long to be the 238 you're describing. There's no text, page number or any writing. And finally it must later because it shows sets like 325, 332 and 335.

    I'll keep looking for my other items let you know what I find.
  • LusiferSamLusiferSam Member Posts: 573
    Never mind about the mystery book. Its 240 with the first two pages missing. It was placed in a stack of German catalogs and left there by mistake.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    One of my LEGO collectors guide chapters had LEGO retailer catalogs and paraphernalia in it...everything retailer imaginable.... and it just got expanded more than twice the size with a treasure trove of LEGO info from German collector Thomas, UK Collector Chris, and Dutch collectors Maxx3001, Jeroen, and Henk.

    For example... in 1961 there were 11,000 LEGO independent retailers in Europe! Now we get to see ALL that they had to work with from TLG, in an endless assortment of documents, display items, LEGO display models, and so on... an entire treasure trove of information! ;-)

  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    Sorry for that shameless plug.... Some of the models in the different versions of the 238 Building Idea Book were images of models that were used elsewhere. For example in the 1958-59 LEGO Retailer Glued Display Model Catalog.... 3 of the buildings show up elsewhere.... the two towered castle and the half timbered house show up in the 238 Idea Book... and the twin towered hotel shows up on the Town Plan scene used on the box top of 1957-60 LEGO basic sets...
  • LusiferSamLusiferSam Member Posts: 573
    I finished looking through my catalogs and ideas. I don't have any 238 idea books. I have a three 240 and '61/'62 Samsonite books, a bunch of '66 Samsonite booklets, and a few '64 booklets. What I thought might have been European idea books are badly damaged German catalogs.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    OK.... LusiferSam, I see that you are careful to differentiate the 238 booklets from those that you provide other labels for.... ;-)

    Well I want to show you why I label all 12 varieties under the 238 banner. TLG never did anything easy in the early years... and the way they themselves labeled these books would give most people a headache....

    Let me start with the beginning.... the first booklets... no wheels, 36 pages... sold in continental Europe and Britain/Ireland in the local language(s). The first time these booklets show up in any catalog is in 1962. However, these booklets were first sold starting in 1960... but they never showed up in any LEGO country catalog.

    Here's the earliest known image of one.... from a 1960 Swedish Ad.... mentioning that there is a coupon for a discount on a new Building Idea Book... and that discount expires on the 1st of November 1960. Note also that there is no "238" mentioned in this ad....
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    So the earliest versions of 238 were sold in all of Europe... in different languages. These idea books were not found in 1960 or 1961 European catalogs. It was not until 1962 that they first appear advertised in LEGO catalogs.

    However... there was a slight problem....

    When you look at the 1962 Swiss catalog... or the 1963 Danish, Swedish or Dutch... the booklet is shown... but there's no number associated with it!!
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    The only country that had the 238 number was Germany.... the 1962 and 1963 catalogs of that country shows the 238.... so only the German language booklet can really truthfully be called the 238....

    Well not quite... it seems that when we look at the German 1964 catalog... we also see the 238... and by 1964 the international (no writing) version was sold there... so that too is a 238! ... until we look at the same 1964 Austrian catalog... were the idea book is shown... but again no number with it...

    So this adds an additional level of confusion for numbering these booklets...
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    OK... now for the USA.... no 238 or any other book number in any catalog..., good reason for that... the booklets were only found in the 717 Junior Constructor and 725 Town Plan in 1961-65 sets... and some of the larger newer sets after 1965.

    As a kid I got a Samsonite version of the booklet with the blue front. This booklet was included with all the 717 and 725 sets until the supply ran out. Then they replaced it (in those sets) with the International (no language) 238 booklet imported from Europe. I had one of these in the 717 set that I had purchased back in 2002. And the seller was the original owner, who stated that it did indeed come with that booklet.

    The inclusion of 238 type books in larger Samsonite LEGO sets continued with the newer versions of 1964-66. And once those supplies were exhausted... Samsonite again went back to Europe for other catalogs to be added to the larger Samsonite set. I was surprised to find a later 240 idea book included in a (FAO Schwarz exclusive)... 080 Ambassador Set of the late 1960s. Again the original owner said it came with the set.

    So whatever you care to call the USA versions of the idea booklets... these were interchanged occasionally with European 238 and 240 idea books.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    OK... now back to Europe.... after the end of the production of the international (no name) 238 Building Idea Book.... TLG produced another booklet that was sold in all of non-German speaking Europe. It was a white rectangular booklet with 28 pages, and looked nothing like the earlier 238 type booklets... but what did TLG call it.... 238!!!

    See attached 1965 Danish and 1966 Portuguese catalog pages....
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited September 2014
    And this continental European new version of the 238 idea book... is nearly identical (but no words and 4 more pages)... to the 24 page... UK/Ireland/Australia.... Building Ideas Book No. 3... as seen in this 1965 UK catalog page....
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited September 2014
    And if that doesn't muck up what is or what is not a 238 booklet... starting in 1966....Germany and Austria started sales of another new 238 Idea Book... same number as sold in the rest of Europe... but looking totally different from anything else before....

    And this 238 started sales at the same time as the new (German language) 239 hard cover book.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    So if that doesn't obfuscate what does or doesn't constitute a REAL 238 idea book... I don't know what does.... It was just that TLG really seemed rather confused as to what they were doing back then.... LEGO mayhem at it's most confusing.... ;-)
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    edited September 2014
    OK.... I think I probably lost everyone.... ;-)

    Well one thing that everyone can understand is that the 238 idea books and their clones are among one of the most complex of all LEGO items!

    The next few books... the 239 and 240 come in only 2 variations!
  • LusiferSamLusiferSam Member Posts: 573
    I realized I miss read what you first wrote. That's my fault. All of this is super interesting stuff. It's stuff I wish I knew about 8 years ago when I first started collecting 50's and 60's sets.

    On an unrelated note, where does the photo of the Junior Constructor set come from? The reason I ask is because I think I'm the current owner of that particular set.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    I found the 717 on Flickr... someone posted the image in May, saying the set was on Ebay at the time.
  • NeilJamNeilJam Member Posts: 272

    I'm a kid of the 80's and really miss what LEGO had then, with the #200 #250 #260 idea books, with stickers (some unique to the book, some actually similar if not identical to set stickers) that were really as well made as the ones in the sets.

    I still have books #200 & #250 with most stickers intact, and a Technic idea book made when they had the figures. I had #222 & #6000, but they didn't hold up as long.
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