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Adding early UK Sets to Brickset

IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,099
edited April 2017 in Collecting
When it came to toe'ing the TLG line on LEGO... British LEGO Ltd. of Wrexham Wales (1960-92) was light years ahead of USA Samsonite in following Billund's orders way of doing things.  That's why USA Samsonite lost their LEGO license in 1972, while British LEGO (who made (1962-78) and packaged (1962-92) LEGO for Britain, Ireland and Australia)... continued on until TLG bought the license back in 1992.

Although Britain for the most part had the same sets as continental Europe... for a few years (1966-72) British LEGO made about 60 different spare parts packs using their own artwork and set numbers.  In finishing up the early years for my LEGO collectors guides, heres' a sample of some of the early British designed sets that I am giving Huw... thanks to my Dutch and Scottish collector friends Jeroen van Dorst and Chris Bull.

The British sets all had "The Building Toy" on the boxes in the 1966-72 era...

For some strange reason... the artwork on these 2 boxes are reversed....   neve saw that happen anywhere else before...

Box end flaps...

Box sides....

.... and many more coming this week to a Brickset database near you!  :-)


  • HuwHuw Brickset Towers, Hampshire, UKAdministrator Posts: 6,450
    Thanks Gary!

    So are you saying that 'British LEGO' was a separate company who made it under licence, and not part of the Danish one?
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,099
    edited May 2017
    Huw... when LEGO expanded to UK/Ireland in 1960, and USA/Canada in 1961/1962, and Australia in 1962... TLG wasn't large enough to handle these major markets.  By 1961 TLG had 11,000 independent toy stores in continental Europe as customers, and their few hundred employees in Denmark (they only had 150 employees in Billund by 1958) weren't enough to handle the addition of these major markets... so TLG licensed the production of LEGO to Britain/Ireland in 1959... to Courtaulds Corp., a UK Chemical and Textile maker.  

    From 1960 until 1962, when the Wrexham Wales Courtauld's plant got their LEGO production up and running, LEGO was imported to Britain/Ireland from Denmark...  with the boxes stamped "MADE IN DENMARK".  Then in 1962 production started in Wrexham.  Also in April 1962 the first LEGO sets were exported from Wrexham to Australia, where LEGO sales started.  

    While Bayer Corp. of Leverkusen Germany produced and tested the LEGO plastic (first Cellulose Acetate under the "Cellidor" name, then ABS and Polycarbonate (for trans-clear parts)... in Britain the Borg-Warner Corporation subsidiary in Grangemouth Scotland produced the ABS and Polycarbonate pellets for British LEGO Ltd., starting in 1962.  This lasted until 1978.  Starting in 1978 all plastics production and molding of parts moved back to Denmark, and Wrexham became more of a packing and distribution center of Danish LEGO elements until 1992, when all LEGO production/packaging returned to Denmark.

    In the 1980s Courtaulds was having problems... here's a snippet from Wikipedia....

    "By the late 1980s, the manufacture of clothing was quickly moving to South East Asia and China. Courtaulds had closed many of its UK factories and moved production to new Asian sites,[5] but its main customer Marks and Spencer wanted better prices. Further, its main profit was coming from its fiber and chemicals businesses, which were being held back by the textiles business.

    In 1990, Courtaulds plc demerged itself into two parts:

    • Courtaulds plc - the fiber manufacture and chemicals businesses
    • Courtaulds Textiles Ltd - the yarn and fabric manufacture and clothing businesses"
    So TLG found this as an opportunity to buy back the LEGO license in 1992.  They had already gotten back the USA Samsonite license (via poor sales litigation) in 1972, and the Samsonite of Canada license in 1985 (although they licensed to keep production going at the Canada Samsonite plant in Stratford Ontario until mid 1988).

    So by 1993, TLG got back worldwide LEGO rights.

    One additional footnote... 1978 was also the year that 2 Grangemouth Scotland Borg-Warner employees started making marbled LEGO bricks on the side (as has been seen in several threads on the Brickset Forum).  So this begs the question.... did TLG move LEGO parts production to Denmark due to them finding that Borg-Warner was abusing their LEGO mold... or were the Borg-Warner folks just having fun with leftover ABS pellets knowing that the LEGO 2x4 brick test mould and production was returning to Denmark?  

    I've gotten conflicting information as to which of these 2 scenarios was the cause of parts production returning to Denmark... although I tend to believe that production moving to Denmark was already planned by the time the 2 Borg-Warner employees ran amok with their marbled LEGO creativity.  

    As a footnote:  Borg-Warner also produced LEGO pellets for USA/Canada Samsonite LEGO parts.  They did this from a Marbon Chemical subsidiary in West Virginia, with Canadian plastic production moved later to a new Marbon Chemical plant in Cobourg Ontario.

    Here is one of the few Courtaulds identified British LEGO products, Building Ideas Book No.2... bottom of last page...

    P.S.  British LEGO Ltd. licensed the production of the 1960s #200 UK Town Plan Board to Waddington's, a UK game board maker.
  • redarmyredarmy AberdeenMember Posts: 711
    Pfft...anyone who didn't know that already must be a rank amateur...

    And i include myself as the rankest of amateurs...
  • AstrobricksAstrobricks Minnesota, USMember Posts: 2,472
    Wow, I totally forgot about those old fence gates.
  • HuwHuw Brickset Towers, Hampshire, UKAdministrator Posts: 6,450
    Interesting stuff, Gary, thank you. I didn't know that.
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,099
    Here is a series of commemorative glasses from a Silver (25th) Anniversary celebration of the first LEGO sales in Britain.... the date of the ball is January 28, 1985... so the first LEGO sales in Britain happened in the last week of January 1960.  This is the most precise actual start date for LEGO sales that I'm aware of for any country.  ;-)

  • NateFNateF MinnesotaMember Posts: 28
     So this begs the question.... did TLG move LEGO parts production to Denmark due to them finding that Borg-Warner was abusing their LEGO mold... or were the Borg-Warner folks just having fun with leftover ABS pellets knowing that the LEGO 2x4 brick test mould and production was returning to Denmark?  

    The employees were using the mould for making marbled bricks for a long time before they were discovered by Lego. It probably went on for near a decade and ended in 1978.  I am not sure if the bricks contributed to ending the UK production however the employees who were involved got into "big trouble". I heard basically the same story about that from two different sources.
  • SueButcherSueButcher AustraliaMember Posts: 23
    Aren't marbled plastic items usually the result of colour change-over in the moulding process? Apparently it's cheaper to change the colour while the machines are running, rather than stopping production and cleaning the old colour out. The marbled items would then be dumped, if the company running the show was fussy about quality and consistency. (At that point they could be souvenired by employees.)
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,099
    @SueButcher yes... for modern bricks that is most certainly true.  However in the 1950s plastic was still expensive... and pellet spillage was a problem for the old molding machines.   So the employees in Billund used to sweep up the pellets, and wash them.  Then they were allowed to dry, and reused as a mixed color blend for the early slotted bricks (1949-56).  There were some wonderful mixted marled colors available (some look like the surface of Jupiter!).... 

    One now retired Billund LEGO employee told me a story  that she got directly from long time LEGO President Godtfred Kirk Christiansen... that in the 1950s LEGO marbled bricks sold as factory seconds for 8 øre each (Denmark's fractional currency)... while single color factory firsts sold for 11 øre each.  Today the factory seconds are sometimes worth $100 each, if the marbling is attractive enough.

    By the late 1950s TLG found another used for the 'floor sweepings'... they used them to make LEGO hand painted trees.  This continued until the late 1960s (in Europe).  Some of these show an incredible marbling underneath the painted surfaces....

    It's mainly from the 1970s and beyond where you will find only 2 colors to the marbling.  But with the older LEGO... floor sweepings (because TLG never threw anything away) created some of the most beautiful colors in LEGO parts ever!

    Images from my LEGO Collectors Guide.

  • SueButcherSueButcher AustraliaMember Posts: 23
    Thanks. I've only got one of the trees but it's broken, so I might check under the paint!
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