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Origin of 3-digit Part Numbers on Bricklink/Peeron?

AtuinAtuin ThuringiaMember Posts: 11
Hi there folks,

I've recently been researching quite a bit about part numbers (or more precisely: 'Design IDs' as TLG calls them) but kinda ran into some odd ends. This is up to a point, where I had hoped someone who has been longer up into the online community and early LUGs (or however else you got that knowledge :D) could shed a little light on this.

Before I start up with the main problem, here is what I've been able to find out thus far:

Prior to '96 part numbers used to be 4 digits each, starting with the slightly strange choice of 3001 (2x4 brick) as the presumed starting point (though I have a few theories about that number choice, placeholders etc.).
While I don't know when this system was actually introduced, it seems awkward that it holds up pretty well with the actual release history of the elements even for VERY old parts. 'Mini Fireman Helmet' for example has number 3834, which in itself lies in a whole cluster of part IDs belonging to the initial Minifigure Town release in 1978. The 'Mini Cap' (Old Policeman's/Conductor's Hat) on the other hand has a number of 3624, which totally fits this, as it was released quite a few years before the first minifig, as part of the mid 70's 'proto-figs'.

The system from numbers 39XX forward remains pretty constant in that scheme, with 2 jumps occuring.
In around 1987 (compare some Futuron/Blacktron I Parts) the numbers suddenly changed down from 4XXX format (after 39XX (ca.1979), they had to advance a number) to 23XX-26XX. Sometime around that point, they also decided to put Technic parts in their own gap of numbers, that somehow collided with many 12V and 9V Train elements. The numbers are 27XX-29XX ending roughly around 1994/1995 (check '94 8880 Super Car for example, many exclusive pieces).
20XX-22XX has a few Duplo and Fabuland Parts in it, as well as a very huge bunch of gaps.
Since they were eventually running out of numbers again, they switched a second time around 1991. The parts from then on were identified by numbers 6XXX, with System (including Basic, Freestyle and even Belville) having numbers 60XX-62XX and Technic being in the 65XX range (again mixed up with Trains). There were also a couple of Duplo Toolo elements in the 62XX numbers as well (if Bricklink's entries are correct).
Perhaps in attempt to avoid further number jumps and similar stuff, they finally switched to a 5-digit system around 1995/96. This is kind of similar how they switched the color code system from 2-digit to 3-digit in 1997 and the set number system from 3- to 4- (1980) and finally to 5-digit in 2012. Curiously the new system started again with a 3 - '30000 - Bearing Element 2x2 w.d. Snap'. Kinda seeing a pattern here :)

So my guess for the start of the current numbering system would be one of the following years: 1955-58 (first modern bricks), 1986 (first jump), 1991 (second jump) or 1996 (change to 5 digits). Also note that part numbers didn't appear on actual bricks up until the early 1980s. I might also be totally wrong here , ugh...

What makes me wonder though (and here starts the real question) is that today there are no official indications whatsoever, that the number range below 2000 was ever used for parts.

Strangely though Bricklink, Peeron and LDraw know quite a few of those parts with less than 4 digits. I kind of guess the 3 mentioned databases have some common origin that might predate 2000 or something, I just don't know the exact history here (Lugnet and Brickshelf were also kind of a big thing back then I remember...).
We all know there are some parts, whose geometry doesn't allow for a design ID to be put on the actual part without compromising it's look or function, like many minifig tools. Whenever this was the case, fansites back in the day, when official TLG info was scarce, they numbered it simply with an 'x' followed by an individual number, like 'x70 Headgear Hat, Rag Wrap / Bandana'.
(well there are other types especially for electric type assemblies, where the number is a short term for the actual part, followed by some alphanumericals)

However, there are a few examples, where they have some numbers that they seem to claim or believe are official. Most of them from around the 1970s or from some sort of pre-assembled elements. One rather odd (though presumably well known example) is '983 Hand'. Problem is Customer Service and LDD (both official TLG sources) call this part '3820 Mini Hand', which fits way better to the other elements released around 1978 and the number pattern in general.
Most other standard minifig parts have the same phenomenon.

So anyone any idea how that came into being? An earlier numbering system predating ca. 1984? Numbers received from customer service or some insiders? Misinterpretation of mould position numbers?

Well, long text, hoping for comments and thanks for answers^^

Comments

  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 810
    edited June 2016
    I don't personally know, but I know some people that might.  They don't post very often.  But I'll see if I can ask and find out more.

    Here's what I recall-- LDraw was started up in early 1996.  James Jessiman used lists of part numbers that were compiled starting as early as 1993 in the fan community, and people started contributing elements by rendering them and providing CAD versions, using the part numbers where possible.

    According to someone I know, someone from LEGO contacted them.  At first, he thought it was via RTL, but when we couldn't find any such post in the archives, he thought it may have been through a mailing list or some other venue.  Anyway, the contact at LEGO shared some information regarding part numbers and possibly color data too.  Not anything comprehensive, but it was a start.

    I believe that's probably the origin of many of those numbers.  And those part numbers were later used in Peeron (who tried to stay in sync with LDraw, although didn't always), and then used in BrickLink (who seeded their data largely from Peeron, which was ... odd in and of itself).

    I'll see if I can get one of these someones to share more info.

    DaveE
    Atuin
  • AtuinAtuin ThuringiaMember Posts: 11
    Hmm, yeah that kind of matches up with what I theorized.

    That year of 1993 in regards to LDraw is quite interesting since I remember to have read it somewhere... Maybe in the author's note on some part file I would guess...

    Interesting you mention the colors. I've been following RyanH's Brick Colorstream for quite a while now (btw great stuff he's doing there). Somebody there posted a photo of some old color chart (ca. 1996) with all the official numbers and names etc. though OldDarkGrey (27 Dark Grey) was named there '27 Coke'. This name pops up occasionally in minifig parts (http://brickset.com/parts/4143120). Might be a hint to 2 different systems or at least occasional changes.

    Umm on a side note, what do you mean with 'RTL'? The Radio/TV channel?

    Well, thanks a lot for the response :D

  • TigerMothTigerMoth Member Posts: 2,343
    Atuin said:

    Umm on a side note, what do you mean with 'RTL'? The Radio/TV channel?
    It's a Usenet group - rec.toys.lego
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 810
    Atuin said:
    That year of 1993 in regards to LDraw is quite interesting since I remember to have read it somewhere... Maybe in the author's note on some part file I would guess...
    1993 was basically the start of a lot of things-- to my knowledge, that's the first instance of LEGO discussion on the internet in a publicly accessible forum.  There may have been some private bulletin boards and such for LEGO discussion prior, but nothing generally accessible.  And in late 1993, Peter Miller compiled the first known list of part numbers.

    Back then, rendering things in 3D was all the rage, because PCs were starting to become powerful enough to do the job themselves, and rendering software was starting to become available.  Up until LDraw became fully established, people were frequently asking about how to render LEGO, and had some different ideas about how to do it.
    Atuin said:
    Interesting you mention the colors. I've been following RyanH's Brick Colorstream for quite a while now (btw great stuff he's doing there). Somebody there posted a photo of some old color chart (ca. 1996) with all the official numbers and names etc. though OldDarkGrey (27 Dark Grey) was named there '27 Coke'. This name pops up occasionally in minifig parts (http://brickset.com/parts/4143120). Might be a hint to 2 different systems or at least occasional changes.

    A lot of colors had multiple names, since I don't think LEGO spoke English universally within their offices.  I know a color chart from the mid 1990s had colors in 3 different names (Danish, English, and German, I think?).  I expect these were often derived from the Danish names, but sometimes may have just been people coming up with their own names in their own languages.
    Atuin said:
    Umm on a side note, what do you mean with 'RTL'? The Radio/TV channel?
    Oh, you kids!  RTL was how caveman AFOLs used to talk to each other about LEGO from about 1994-1999.  Long ago, before the World Wide Web (HTTP) became popular, we used "newsgroups" (NNTP), and there was a group called "rec.toys.lego" (I believe the "rec" stood for "recreation"-- and before that there was "alt.toys.lego", starting in 1993, but that was shorter lived).

    As for the 3-digit part numbers, I'm told that sadly, they were just made up.  When James was making his part files, he tried to use LEGO part numbers when they were known, but for things that weren't known, he used 3-digit numbers.  Later, in order to designate these a little more clearly, an "x" was prepended to the numbers, but not early on.

    According to my source (if I followed correctly), the 4-digit design IDs were revamped around 1968 or 1969, and there were other revamping of numbers later on.  The only known 3-digit part numbers for an actual element was 700E for a baseplate.  Other 3-digit part numbers are known to have existed (and were similar), but they were used for things like packing materials (possibly boxes, baggies, plastic inserts, or other things, I don't know myself).

    I was also told that the longest consistent part number isn't something basic like the 2x4 brick (3001), but is actually the 3017 and 3018 pepper shaker.

    http://brickset.com/sets/852214-1/1x1-Salt-Pepper-Shaker

    I thought that was odd myself, but I was told that's part of why you'll notice that they STILL featured the same old LEGO logo rather than the newer one.  Of course, there was a newer version in 2013, which DOES seem to use a newer logo-- but I don't know if that plays a role in that consistency determination (I don't have access to the data myself to understand why that's supposedly true).

    As for how all this was known?  LOTS of sources.  The guy I talked to basically is like a vacuum cleaner of LEGO knowledge, particularly with regard to element data.  He says that he's had a variety of sources both inside and outside the company.  The reference I made earlier was actually with regard to someone who was NOT a LEGO employee themselves, but had access to some of LEGO's internal systems, and could relay certain limited sets of information.  That was one of the first times that the data could be corroborated with LEGO, even if it was a bit indirectly.

    DaveE
  • AtuinAtuin ThuringiaMember Posts: 11
    Whoah... That pepper shaker really is weird. I didn't know those were available that early on. I thought that those types of gear items started somewhere in the late 90's. Nice to point out that old style logo. Now I finally know a confirmed number from the gap between 3011 and 3020 :)

    Really sad to hear, the 3-digit numbers are just made up, but at least there is a confirmation now regarding this.

    Again, many thanks for the info :)

    Some other oddity I found, is conflicting 4-digit numbers for a few parts. 2986 is listed by LEGO as 'Wedgebelt Wheel Ø11.2' (the micro motor thingy, http://brickset.com/parts/298630) but also as the micro motor itself on Peeron (http://www.peeron.com/inv/parts/2986). I also couldn't find any kind of number on the actual parts themselves. Same went on with #4505: LEGO - Farmer's Cowl (http://brickset.com/parts/4623949), Peeron - Hinge Plate 1x6 (http://www.peeron.com/inv/parts/4505)




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