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Kiddicraft... the toy that "inspired" LEGO
I just posted a very interesting image and started a discussion over on Bricklink about how the UK toy Kiddicraft was not only the forerunner to LEGO... but its' actual predecessor... but not in a very flattering way...http://www.bricklink.com/messageThread.asp?ID=123647&nID=595614
LEGO was actually copied from Kiddicraft, and there is an image that proves it beyond the shadow of a doubt...
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So LEGO was expanding its' parts system, and Kiddicraft was not... so competing against Meccano was a handicap.
The reason the LEGO archives are so incomplete and the history so sparse is simply because no one was keeping anything at the time. When a product was finished with why keep any of it? ‘It’s just a toy, it’s not important’ was the attitude. They kept very few of the wooden toys too, there is not: ‘lot’s of information in the archives’ there is a display in the idea house made from a folder found in a filing cabinet in the basement a few years back with hundreds of photographs, but no one knows much about who the people in the pictures were or who designed the toys or any interesting information at all! In fact most of the wooden toys they do have have been bought in the last few decades from collectors sales.
The history of any company seems pretty irrelevant until it gets to thirty or forty years old and people start to retire or die and those still doing the work start to realize this needs to be recorded somewhere. How many original IBM computers do you think IBM kept? I bet they buy them from e-bay for their museum these days too! No conspiracy at LEGO, just incomplete records.
Yes, there were some legal disputes when Kiddicraft sued LEGO for selling outside Denmark and for opening factories in Sweden and Norway they claimed this was not covered by the original agreement, and they may have been correct, no one has ever told me who won the court case. (So I have to assume either it wasn’t LEGO or in true Danish manner they don’t want to rub salt in the losers wounds, even though they don’t exist anymore, and would rather ignore the whole thing happened.)
By the time of the court cases LEGO had patented the tube system on the underside of the brick and began manufacture of this truly ‘locking’ brick, and introduced many bricks of their own design that were nothing to do with Kiddcraft. The dispute did rumble on until the late 60’s, when LEGO finally bought out the Kiddicraft patents. This definitely affected when LEGO entered the British market, only really launching in the 1970’s.’
I don’t understand the tone of the Bricklink article at all, it seem very much about painting TLG as being a bad company, LEGO has made toys for children for 80 years, this is not a bad thing.
If you want to see what is actually written in my LEGO CD (versus on an online blog... check it out yourself... (and it gets way more complicated than just TLG and Kiddicraft)...
In my collectors guide I use phrases like "TLG may have been worried about litigation"...
Also... here's a few known facts...
1) TLG has MUCH better archival information on all their wooden toy products, as well as retailer catalogs than on any Automatic Binding Bricks of that era (just check out Richard Topelin's "Miniland" site for copies of 1950s catalog images). There are NO known images of any of the Automatic Binding Bricks in any of those retailer catalogs, and yet there should be.
2) TLG was VERY proud of their name "LEGO".... and they plastered it all over every one of the other toy and plastic products IN LARGE LETTERS, with fancy logos... but it took a few years for them to put the LEGO name on either their Automatic Binding Bricks boxes OR the actual parts.
3) Kiddicraft NEVER sued LEGO. I mentioned Hilary Page's widow said her husband never even knew that TLG was making basically a clone of their product, although Kiddicraft knew TLG was making some plastic toys. Hilary Page and his wife even made at least 1 trip to Denmark (ironically her passport survives to show this... from what I gathered British passports must be surrendered to the government once a person is deceased, but Hilary Page's non-British wife had no such restriction on her passport, hence its' survival). But we're not exactly sure what or where they were shown anything LEGO related.
4) Funny that you think I'm being accusatory.... go Google "Kiddicraft LEGO"... you'll find somre really accusatory terms coming from the Eurobricks website, as well as the MEGABLOKs website. I'm just stating the facts as I see them, without actually making accusations.
5) Yes it is a well known fact (I've discussed this at length with many other collectibles authors) that many companies that get started have poor record keeping and archiving practices until many years after they've been established. Their major concern in the early years is sales and survival, not keeping a history. And the TLG archives have an unfortunate "ambiguity" to them, even in more modern years. That was one reason the FANTASIA book folks had to come out with a 2nd edition to their collectors guide. There were some serious problems in some of the archival records that WERE kept.
6) I have a good working relationship with the head of the Billund Archives and Collections. We often exchange information on items that one or the other was not aware of. So they are aware of some of what was going on in the early years of TLG, and I am not somehow besmirching their name...
Also... one final note... the folks in Billund do get copies of my Unofficial LEGO Sets/Parts Collectors Guide (1949-90s) on CD.... all 2,500 pages of it...
Interestingly enough, I have been having a debate with other old time collectors about one very particular German LEGO basic set.... the 077 set that according to the Billund Archives was sold from March 1, 1971 to Dec. 31, 1972 only in Germany.
This basic set was sold as 070 elsewhere in Europe (and Britain and Australia) from 1967-72. Even Germany sold the 070 set during those (earlier) years. Yet the 1971 and 1972 German LEGO full catalogs mention the 077 set as being produced there. However, the box they show is the same box as the 070 box.
My argument with many of my old time collector friends (who think that it could still exist) was that Germany is Europe's biggest market, so why hasn't an 077 set been found anywhere yet (it is not even in the Billund Vault).
Well it's easier to prove something DOES exist, than to prove something DOES NOT exist.
The closest I came to proving my point is that an American collector bought a MISB 070 set from a German collector. When he got it, he opened the "sealed" outer round seal, and pulled out the 2 inner sealed trays.... along with a 1972 German catalog.... ;-)
What really has me perplexed (and others irritated) is why did they dismantle this wonderful display case of early LEGO products...
The 5 1950s style LEGO trees and 1 LEGO bush are very difficult to validate as LEGO (see image). There are at least 1/2 dozen other European companies that made identical trees/bushes... with only subtle differences.
Click on this image (and maximize it) of a Siku street scene, and see how many of the trees/bushes below you can spot in this "non-LEGO" image...
The copying of toy designs in Europe back then was in one word.... "rampant"!