LEGO customer catalogs have been produced by TLG almost continuously since 1949. Until 1965 they were more or less just a single piece of paper, sometimes folded, other times not. All of these early catalogs were either printed in Denmark or Germany. And the design/layout of these early catalogs greatly varied from year to year.
The first year of LEGO... 1949-50... there were only 5 LEGO items produced... 3 basic sets (700/1, 700/2 and 700/3), and 2 spare parts pack (700A 2x2/2x4 Automatic Binding Bricks, 700B Automatic Binding Bricks windows/doors.
The inside of this folded catalog shows the earliest known image of LEGO buildings and models....
As far as I know... there is only one known example of this 1949-50 catalog image, and this is not in the possession of the Billund Archives. I would value this rare survivor into the thousands... $$$
From 1950-53 TLG produced a pair of 8 sided long strip Automatic Binding Bricks catalogs. here is the 1952-53 version, which displays both "Automatic Binding Bricks" and for the first time "LEGO Mursten" (LEGO Bricks).
In 1953 TLG switched from calling their product from "Automatic Binding Bricks" over to "LEGO Mursten". However, there were no true LEGO catalogs or price guides produced in 1953. The only item that fills in the gap for 1953-54 is this page from a Danish LEGO Retailer Catalog....
My LEGO collectors guide has an entire huge chapter devoted to early LEGO catalogs, an unbroken list from 1949-65.
More to come.... ;-)
The most intriguing item on this catalog is the 1237 Esso 1/2 Garage Set seen in the upper right. No examples of this 1237 box have ever been found. But this set is mentioned in both the 1956 Swedish and Norwegian catalogs (not the Danish), and it is even mentioned in the 1957 Norwegian retailer reorder pricelist.
I do believe that this set was actually produced, seeing that we found another previously unknown LEGO set... the 1309 Esso Garage (of the same era)... in the collections of a Norwegian LEGO Collector.
A boxed 1237 Swedish or Norwegian set would command thousands!!
Denmark had individual parts sales from the earliest days... they sold bricks (1x2 and larger) individually from large retailer wooden boxes (with 5 partitions). Other LEGO countries only sold LEGO bricks in parts packs (215-221).
These "Pick a Brick" windows/doors retailer boxes were only ever used in continental Europe, and allow children to buy as few or many of a particular LEGO window/door in either red or white, that they wish to purchase. Many of these retailer boxes have survived, and make a wonderful addition to any LEGO collection.
Here is the 2nd page of this 1960 German Retailer catalog, and it shows the extensive availability of spare parts packs that were available in the late 1950s and 1960s. Also shown are the 1:87 trucks and cars. These were also individually by LEGO retailers, from individual brown boxes of 5 vehicles each...
I devote an entire 60 page chapter of my collectors guide to all of the interesting loose parts that were available fro LEGO retailers from 1955-80. Many of these items were never sold in an actual box... and retailers often had small brown tissue paper bags for these individual purchases.
And on the back side were the amazing number of spare parts packs that were produced for sale back then, during the golden years of LEGO spare parts packs....
Here is the 1963-64 USA Catalog... showing the LEGO sets that were actually produced since the beginning in 1961... also on the back side the introduction of black bricks, wheels, and small plates was introduced all at the same time in 1963 in USA/Canada...
For 2 years my parents and aunt were looking all over metro Detroit toy stores trying to find this Cotswold Cottage style 717 Junior Constructor set seen in the 1961-62 USA Samsonite LEGO catalogs... but never were able to find it....
So I had to make do with the flat roofed 717 Junior Construction set version. It wasn't until 40 years later that I found out from the folks at the Billund LEGO Archives that the original 717 model pictured (along with all the other pictured larger sets) were all just mock-ups... and never actually produced!! Sadly none of these fake box mockups survive.
For those of you who have my LEGO Collectors Guide, Appendix A has a 15 page history about this mock-up set (as well as 4 page instructions on how to recreate it), and how the model originally was nothing more than a continental European glued display model! To add insult to injury... this same building model was used for the first ever USA LEGO Commercial (from my LEGO collectors guide Chapter 71... LEGO commercials)... they show both the actually produced 717 set box... but build the mock-up version....
For most of that time they were produced in gray, white, red, blue, yellow and green.
But in the 1953-56 era they were also produced in quite an assortment of colors, such as black, sky blue, and all shades imaginable....
During much of that time they were sold under the 700E number.
I've now got all the Canadian catalogs from 1962-65 and 1976-94.... and am actively searching for any in between. I would love to get them all for public viewing, since I always felt Canada "got no respect" when it came to the world of LEGO... they had a smaller market than the other 3 major LEGO markets (USA, UK/Australia, and Europe), and there were far fewer sets available there than in the other markets. Plus their sets were packaged differently, with bilingual English/French labeling.
Here are 4 of the Canadian catalogs (1981-84)...
I'm trying to figure out a way to share all of my LEGO catalog collection, whether it's thru my Unofficial LEGO Sets/Parts Collectors Guide as an online link (which would be available to current or future owners of my Computer Desktop Guide), or just available to everyone. Still trying to figure out what medium to do this with.
But the current piecemeal method of finding some catalogs in Peeron, others in Brickfactory and others scattered around the internet, is less than satisfactory! :/
The first UK sets were imported from continental Europe, and the boxes would say "Made in Denmark" either via an ink stamp, or a sticker.
This is the front of the first UK LEGO catalog (also for Ireland). Although it doesn't show it in this image, but the bi-fold cardboard 200 Town Plan board was the same left driving board as used in Sweden (which was left driving until 1967). The only difference between the left and right driving boards was the location of the heavy white lines at traffic junctions. On left driving boards they were on the left side, and on right driving boards they were on the right side. This particular board was introduced in September 1959, so they first were sent from Denmark to Sweden at that time, and starting in January 1960 they were also sent to the UK and Ireland.
Here is the 1960 UK LEGO catalog reverse side. Some items were not yet available in the UK, and they are mentioned as "coming shortly". The LEGO sloped bricks were first introduced in 1958-59, and were still not in full production by the time the UK came online to LEGO in January 1960, which explains the "coming shortly comment". The road signs however were another matter. Road signs in Britain were different than on the continent, so new sign designs were still being developed. In fact from 1960-61 most LEGO was imported from Denmark, and there was "Made in Denmark" either stamped in ink on the boxes, or included as a sticker.
In late 1960/early 1961, a UK mini brochure came out showing some of the LEGO sets and parts packs. New among them was a mention of sloped bricks, and also a 700/K wooden box set. In this image, the wooden box is identical to the continental European wooden boxes. This shows us that the boxed LEGO sets were still being imported from Denmark, until 1962 when the Wrexham Wales Courtauld's Co. plant (LEGO licensee for Britain)... their British LEGO Ltd. LEGO plant was converted for LEGO production starting in 1962.
In my LEGO collectors guide, Chapter 73 (LEGO Sales by Country) itemizes the years that LEGO sets were produced by a local licensee (1960-92 for British LEGO Ltd.) and when the license was purchased back (1992, as the Courtauld's Corp. was being split into 2 separate companies, and LEGO was being discontinued by them).