Shopping at LEGO or Amazon?
Please use our links: LEGO.comAmazon
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

FAO SCHWARZ - USA Luxury Toy Store closing their last (famous flagship) Toy Store

IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,331
FAO Schwarz has been an American luxury toy store tradition since they first opened up in NYC in 1862.  Their Fifth Ave. flagship store was the equivalent of Harrod's of London's toy department.   Very up market and exclusive.

The went thru way too many owners since the last of the German Schwarz family finally sold out in 1963.  Their current owner is closing the last of their 42 nationwide toy stores in July, not so much because of sales declines, but because of the increasingly high cost of doing business on Fifth Ave. in NYC.   Their current owner is Toys R Us, which is looking for a new location in NYC.  They do not want to eliminate the high brow toy brand name....

I remember visiting the store back in the 1980s, and their LEGO department was unparalleled in the USA.  The store has been in several movies as well as being a NYC icon.

Here's a bit of history about the store....

And there's a reason why FAO Schwarz was not just another toy store... as far as LEGO was concerned.... from 1962-72 it was one of the major USA toy stores that sold LEGO Exclusive sets.  FAO Schwarz and Sears were the first toy store chains in the world that had LEGO exclusive sets... a tradition that carries on into the present.

Here is a 1970 FAO Schwarz mail-order catalog page....  all Samsonite LEGO... and even Samsonite table and chairs (non-LEGO)....

The LEGO Town Set at the top of this FAO Schwarz mail order page of 1970 is the very interesting 080 set... which was a set that merged LEGO Town System with the LEGO Train System.  I don't recall any set that had this type of 2 complete systems in 1 set.   The 080 set was only sold in continental Europe (not Britain, Ireland nor Australia).... and in the USA (not in Canada)... only at FAO Schwarz... known as the "Ambassador Set", with the 080 number (and Samsonite markings).

Besides the outside of the box, there were other subtle differences between the USA exclusive and the continental European basic set... such as the baseplates (USA version had all stud baseplates), and trees/bushes (USA version had the unpainted trees/bushes).

There is an entire chapter in my Unofficial LEGO Sets/Parts Collectors Guide that pictures and maps out well over 60 different and unusual exclusive LEGO sets... some in plain brown mailing boxes, others always in colorful boxes, and some that came either way... in-store (colorful) or mail-order (brown cardboard box).

Since FAO Schwarz was the premier exclusive American toy store, they always had top of the line colorful box LEGO sets, often with names that sounded exclusive... such as the "Suburban", "Governor", "Diplomat", "Adventure", "Discovery" or "Ambassador" set names.

More to come....  :)



  • oldtodd33oldtodd33 Denver 4800 miles to BillundMember Posts: 2,631
    I can't say that I owned any of those Lego sets but I still have that Samsonite table and chairs. Same color and everything, my youngest still uses it.
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,331
    The earliest known American LEGO ad for FAO Schwarz dates to late 1961, when LEGO was first introduced to the USA.  LEGO was first produced at a Samsonite plant in Stratford Ontario Canada, packaged in boxes from a Detroit USA Samsonite plant, and shipped all over the USA in late 1961.  Then in 1962 the Canada Samsonite plant also started LEGO sales in Canada.

    Here is the Samsonite LEGO 1961 FAO Schwarz ad, which just lists the regular LEGO sets of that time (smallest to largest).... 705, 708, 711, 717 and large 725 Town Plan set.  Interestingly enough, the Town Plan set layout is the one used for the European 810 Town Plan Set.   Even the first USA/Canada Samsonite LEGO catalogs show the European 810 set, and not the USA/Canada 725 set....

  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,331
    edited May 2015
    Another one of the very rare FAO Schwarz exclusive sets is the 326 SUBURBAN SET... of 1968.   As with all these exclusives, this set was never found in any LEGO catalog.  As is often (but not always) the case with 1966-70 Samsonite LEGO sets... the set number matches the parts count number...

  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,331
    edited May 2015
    OK.... now for something a bit more challenging... time to play LEGO Sherlock Holmes!  :)

    One of the regular USA/Canada Samsonite LEGO sets was called the #004 Master Builder Set.  This set was sold in all toy stores in USA and Canada, even in Sears, Eaton's and FAO Schwarz.  It was a 671 piece set that was just a large Samsonite LEGO set....

    This #004 set was sold from 1965-71 in the USA (and up until 1974 in Canada).  In 1966 USA ended their Town Plan series of set that were produced since 1961.  And so there were some specialty parts inventory (that were imported from Denmark) that were left over from those Town Plan sets.

    So someone at Samsonite got the idea of creating an easy to make FAO Schwarz exclusive set by just taking the #004 box with the 671 parts (with those old large Samsonite gears).... adding 33 extra parts (for a total of 704 parts)... and getting rid of the leftover older Town Plan parts in the process.  So they came up with an exclusive #704 set (671 parts + 33 parts = 704 parts).  Here is the same #004 box top, but with a new label and name.... #704 Master Discovery Set!  Sounds impressive, for the up market crowd!  :smiley: 

    And here is the FAO Schwarz Ad for this great new #704 set of 1966-67...

    Looks great, right??   Except there's one little problem.... this ad had already been used in 1966 with all the freebie discontinued Town Plan items (road signs, flags, Esso accessories)...  so when they continued the set into 1967 a problem arose.... Samsonite USA ran out of the limited old Town Plan inventory!  :neutral:   

    So what they did was to continue to produce this FAO Schwarz exclusive, but substitute other parts for those that were now out of production.   And in the ad seen above (a 1967 version of this ad by the way)... they put green panels over 2 of the lower left partitions to hide the parts that were now out of production... and do so in a way as not to be too obvious about it!!  :o

    So here we have an example of the 2 trays in a later #704 set.... and they had replaced all the specialty parts (except the Esso freestanding signs, which were still available)... and added more LEGO trees and bushes to the set!

    Like I've said before... it's all the little ideosyncracies that makes my collectors guide balloon from a 500 page guide to a 2800 page one....  :#

  • Lego_StarLego_Star ... in a galaxy far, far away.Member Posts: 2,147
    edited May 2015
    Awww, always wanted to visit that store. Does anyone know which LEGO sets were in the background in the film, Big, with Tom Hanks? I seem to remember it being mentioned somewhere before but can't find it. I can always watch the movie of course and find out myself! ;)
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,331
    The big piano showing it's best tune......

  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,331
    edited May 2015
    Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s FAO Schwarz and Sears would sell the same sets.  But even then it would still be exclusive for FAO Schwarz.... here's an example....

    The 244 Explorer Set was sold in a colorful box by FAO Schwarz....

    And for Sears, Samsonite used the same inner box and contents... but gave it an annonymous outer cardboard shipping box (without a set name) as a Sears Mail-Order set.   The only way to identify the set number was that it was 3 digits in the middle of a larger group of numbers on the box top of the Sears set.  Elsewhere on the brown box top was the item number as listed in the Sears Catalog....

    This finding the set number within the longer MFG. NO. is often the only way that any brown box mail order sets for Sears, J.C. Penney and other retailers catalog sets were identifiable.

    There are about 40 sets (Samsonite LEGO only) from the 1960s and early 1970s that were packaged in a brown box, rather than a colorful LEGO box.  This made mailing the set (mail-order) easier.  I have an entire LEGO collectors guide chapter on these sets.

  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,331
    1. 1862 – FAO Schwarz was founded under the name "Toy Bazaar" by German immigrant Frederick August Otto Schwarz in Baltimore, where he and his brothers retailed toys from a fancy-goods store. Additional locations of "Toy Bazaar" followed in Philadelphia and Boston.
    2. 1869 – Beginning in November 1869, the Schwarz Toy Bazaar held an exhibition of toys that would be available for the Christmas season, which in 1883 was described as the "14th Annual Exhibition."
    3. 1870 – Schwarz opened a New York City location known as the "Schwarz Toy Bazaar" at 765 Broadway.
    4. 1880 – The store moved to 42 E. 14th Street in Union Square and operated at that location until April 28, 1897.
    5. 1889 – Schwarz added his initials to newspaper advertisements, branding the store at that time as simply "F.A.O. Schwarz," although the "Toy Bazaar" identifier continued until the move in 1897 to W. 23rd Street.
    6. 1896 – Schwarz proclaimed the store as the "Original Santa Claus Headquarters" in New York. Further, the FAO Schwarz holiday catalog is still published annually since 1876.
    7. 1897 – The store took over and moved to two vacant store locations at 39 and 41 W. 23rd Street. By then, The New York Times described Schwarz as "the largest dealer in toys in this city." 
    8. 1931 – The New York City location moved to 745 Fifth Avenue where it operated for 55 years.
    9. 1963 – When the Schwarz family sold their last shares in the business, FAO Schwarz went through a series of owners beginning with Parents Magazine.
    10. 1970 – The company was subsequently sold to W.R. Grace.
    11. 1974 – Sold to toy retailer Franz Carl Weber of Zurich, Switzerland.
    12. 1985 – Christiana Companies, a San Diego, California based company, owned FAO Schwarz for just one year.
    13. 1986 – Peter Harris, with the help of Philadelphian investment banker, Peter Morse, bought the company under Morse Partners Ltd. and moved the toy store across 58th Street to its current location in the General Motors Building at 767 Fifth Avenue at 58th Street.
    14. 1990 – FAO Schwarz was sold to Netherlands-based NV Koninklijke Bijenkorf Beheer (later renamed Vendex/KBB). Throughout the 1990s, new FAO Schwarz stores opened throughout the United States and by 2000 the company had 40 locations.

    In the above history of FAO Schwarz.... #11 stuck out as an interesting owner.  This Franz Carl Weber is a luxury toy store owner in Switzerland.   This is the same company that decided that when LEGO sales started in Switzerland in 1957... that they didn't want regular boxes for their LEGO.... so TLG had to make special canister sets for Switzerland.....  Here is the top to 1957-65 Swiss Canister LEGO sets...

    And here are some Swiss canister LEGO sets....

    But unique Swiss canister sets is a whole other chapter and story.....  :)
Sign In or Register to comment.

Shopping at or Amazon?

Please use our links: Amazon

Recent discussions Categories Privacy Policy

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. Sign in or register to get started. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, the, Inc. Associates Program and the Amazon EU Associates Programme, which are affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.