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Mechanics Made Easy Outfits

A brief history

Early Mechanics Made Easy tin
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Jaap Wieman
Loading picture MMEtin

Frank Hornby applied for a patent concerning "Improvements in toy or Educational Devices for Children and Young People" on 9th January 1901, and the patent was accepted on 30th November 1901.  It is possible that he made some sales in the very early part of 1901, but not certain.

MME advertisement in Boys Own Paper, May 1902. Thanks to Ian Button for finding this.
Loading picture MMEBOPad The first reference to the product other than through Frank Hornby's dubiously accurate recollections many years later is in the May 1902 issue of Boys Own Paper, which was published in late April 1902.  We know from Professor Hele-Shaw's letter of November 1901 that MME was not yet on the market at that time, so let's assume that a tiny number of sales were made at the end of 1901, increasing through 1902.  By August 1902 there were three stores (well, three branches of one store, in Liverpool, London, and Stoke-on-Trent) advertised as stocking MME outfits.

MME advertisement in The Model Engineer, November 1903
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reproduced from Spanner with permission from the image owner,
Jim Bobyn
Loading picture MMEad In 1903 the accounts allow us to guess at a total of around 2000 outfits sold that year, and by November of that year another advertisement shows two further stockists (in Sydney and Birmingham) although the Stoke-on-Trent address is missing.

At the end of 1904, one of the most important changes was made to the system – the introduction of the sequential series of outfits.  By 1906 these had extended to a series of six outfits, with accessory outfits between.  Sales had increased by 35% over these two years, but then more than tripled in the following two years to the beginning of 1908.  We must be aware, then, that in the absence of any information to the contrary, any outfit we come across is much more likely to be later in the period than earlier.

For a brief period in either 1906 or early 1907, the system was named "Simplified Mechanics".  It is not known whether this was temporary, just in one market, or for all the products, but it is certainly short-lived.  As a product it was identical except for the name.

In 1907 the name "Meccano" was coined, and trademarked in September of that year.  The name Meccano was used initially as a subtitle, but very soon as the major product name with "Mechanics Made Easy" as a subtitle.  We can mark the end of the MME period and the start of the Meccano period at some point between the coining of the word Meccano in the middle of 1907 and the creation of Meccano Limited in May 1908.

How do I tell the difference?

MME parts including folded-edge tinplate strips, feather key brassware,
long and well-made bolts, and the very rare feather key
Loading picture MMEparts

Mechanics Made Easy strips are made from thin tinplate steel, with each edge folded over to give strength.  The ends are cut straight across, making them fiendishly sharp.  Pretty much all of the brassware was contracted out to various local firms, and is found in many different forms from rough castings to much better quality milled parts.  The similarity, though, is the thin slot for the "feather key".

More information and pictures of all early type bosses (feather, tongue, and both) can be seen by clicking here.

At the very end of the MME period, a new method of fixing brassware to axles was developed, the "tongue key".  There was a transition between the feather and the tongue key, with parts using both types of fixing for a short while.  However, by the start of Meccano proper, the tongue key was the only one in use.  Similarly, by 1908 the folded-edge tinplate strips had been replaced by thicker strips with rounded ends, with which we are all familiar.  Thus we usually identify MME as being the folded-edge strips and the feather-key (or feather-and-tongue key) parts, and early Meccano as being later-style strips with tongue-key brassware. There is a short overlap (tongue key brassware was used in the last MME outfits, and some folded tinplate strips are found in the very earliest outfits marketed as Meccano), but as a general rule the two are most easily separated in this way.

The most common confusion is with the tongue key.  Many sellers of early Meccano parts, on eBay in particular, incorrectly describe tongue key parts as MME (presumably to make them appear rarer).  Although tongue key parts are indeed used in late MME outfits (probably from the middle of 1907), they are also found in all Meccano outfits up to 1913, and are really quite common.  Feather key parts are found only in MME outfits, and are very much rarer hence more valued by collectors.  If you have brassware with the tongue key, you can be fairly certain that it is from a Meccano rather than MME outfit.

Chronological variations

A brief summary of the most significant events during this period is as follows:
1901 Original patent filed 9th January, completed 9th October, accepted 30th November.  Possibly a very small number of outfits sold.
1902 Mechanics Made Easy "Box" first reviewed in June, first advertised in August at 7/6, and sold by three stores in the UK.
1903 First building competition announced in October.  First references to gears in the same month.  An estimate of 2000 boxes sold in this year.  Launch of "Accessories Box" containing gear wheels at the end of this year, for 5/-.
1904 February saw the results of the competition mentioned above.  In particular, there is specific mention of the famous Forth Bridge model made by the students of Bedford Grammar School.  Many outfits would have been required to make this model, which eventually gave rise to the largest Meccano outfits.  By December, a series of outfits A, B, C were available, with accessory outfits A1, B1, and C1.  A new manual is produced to cover these new outfits.  Box A is 8/6 by the end of this year.
1905 A new larger manual produced by the end of 1905, but few other changes.  Box becomes shorter and wider either this year or early in 1906.
1906 Boxes D and E launched.  There is no linking outfit between Box D and the enormous Box E which had more than five times as many strips.  Box E contains enough parts to build the Forth Bridge model first seen in early 1903, and seems to have been designed for no other reason.  Introduction of "Simplex" box (later to be called "Box X") at 5/-.
1907 Simplex box now called Box X.  Company moved from 18 James Street to 10 Duke Street on 1st May.  Production now possible in-house for most parts other than nuts, bolts, and gears.  Feather keys replaced during the middle of this year by tongue keys.  "Meccano" name trademarked in September.  Kindergarten Outfit launched late this year.
1908 Meccano Ltd formed in June 1908.  Production by now is all of later-style rounded-end strips and tongue key brassware.  Outfits change from lettered to numbered series mid-year (Outfits 1 to 6 replace Box X and Boxes A-E).  These numbered outfits are considered to be the earliest true 'Meccano' outfits.

Pictures wanted!

The MME period of Meccano is very little known.  Absolutely any pictures or information you have would be useful.  If you have any pictures of missing outfits below, or another picture of an outfit that is better or not quite the same as one that's already here, please help us by sending a copy of it! It would be very much appreciated.  You can email it straight to us, or upload it to the Rust Bucket forum...

MME Outfits

Early long MME box
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Loading picture MMEbox1

'Box' (1901-1904)

The early MME boxes are long and thin, as this example.  They can be best identified by the text "Patents applied for" and a list of various countries at the top left.  The circular area at the top right contains the price (7/6).  Note that the product is described as "An Adaptable Mechanical Toy".


MME Box A (sticker missing, so could be any!) By Jaap Wieman
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Loading picture MME-box

Box A (from 1904)

Moving on a little, we can see a very similar box but with the text at the top left changed to "Patented in England and Abroad".  The price sticker at the top right is now replaced by a label A/B/C showing which box this is (on this photograph, the sticker is missing, which is fairly common).


MME Box B inside
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Loading picture MMEboxb

Box B

At some stage after 1904 but before the end of 1906, the boxes became shorter, but wider.  You can see the very different shape of this outfit.  Careful inspection shows the contents list stuck to the inside of the lid lists 17 perforated strips of 5½'', which dates this outfit before the middle of 1906.


MME Box C
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Please do not download or copy it for any purpose. It has been
kindly provided for use on this site by the image owner,
Malcolm Hanson
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Loading picture mme-c

Box C

Now we see the outside of the later short box, and we can see that the text has changed to "A Constructional Mechanical Toy" (not "Adaptable").  The precise date of the change to this new box is unknown, but the changeover is certainly no earlier than the end of 1904 and no later than the start of 1906.

MME Box C contents
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Malcolm Hanson
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Loading picture mme-c2

This particular outfit, however, also has a "Meccano" sticker at the bottom.  This dates the outfit after the middle of 1907.  What is exceptional, however, is that this set appears to be completely unused – certainly the oldest known such outfit at present! The condition of the parts is amazing.  In an article in CQ, this outfit is described as being from 1906, but the rest of the article spends most of its time trying to explain away the inconsistencies that that date raises.  The outfit is clearly later, almost certainly from the second half of 1907 (after the word Meccano was invented), and of course after May 1907 Hornby was able to make his own brassware in Duke Street, which explains their much improved quality and most importantly that they are all tongue key parts.  This is a (probably) unique example of an extremely late MME outfit with Meccano as the subtitle, and tongue key fixings (but still MME-style strips).


MME Box D
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Malcolm Hanson
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Loading picture mme-d

Box D

Here we see another late MME outfit, the Box D.  Launched in 1906, we can see that it is supplied in a large wooden box with the 'label' being a standard MME tin lid pinned to the box without folding the edges.  Careful inspection again shows the remnants of a paper "Meccano" sticker at the bottom of this label, dating it to at least the second half of 1907.  Of course, the inscription on the lid helps us to date it before December 1908.  Keep in mind, however, that larger outfits might reasonably take longer to get from production to final purchase than smaller ones.

Inside of MME Box D
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Malcolm Hanson
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Loading picture mme-d2

The contents of this Box D are much less convincing.  However desperate Meccano were to minimise inefficiencies, I just can't see them actually supplying an outfit containing both MME and later round-ended strips.  The brassware is tongue key (which we would expect from late 1907 or early 1908), but it looks to me as if many parts have been substituted to make up the contents of the outfit.  It seems most likely that the MME-style folded parts (and square ended angle brackets) in this outfit are original, the rest are not.

One very interesting feature is the method of storage for the brassware, which closely resembles the later Meccano large outfit wheel pins.


MME Box E
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Malcolm Hanson
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MME Box E
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kindly provided for use on this site by the image owner,
Tony Press
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Loading picture mme-e-tony

Box E

And here's the daddy of them all, the Box E.  Externally, this box looks identical to the Box D above.  You can see to the right another example, with a slightly different lid and decorative handles.  As far as I am aware, these are the only two known Box E's in existence, so we will have difficulty drawing any conclusions at all!

Interior of MME Box E
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kindly provided for use on this site by the image owner,
Tony Press
Click on this image to see a larger version.
Loading picture mme-e-tony2

To the right, we see the ludicrous contents of the Box E, including 169 12½'' strips, 264 5½'' strips, and so on.  Since it contains angle girders, this is from at least the end of 1906, but we were always expecting most surviving outfits to date from the very end of the MME period just by the quantities sold.  Tony Press is carefully adding to this outfit in order to make it as complete as possible, but it's obviously a slow process given the quantities involved! In case you were wondering, the paper wrapping around some of the strips is reproduction, not original.


Smaller and Accessory Outfits

MME Box X
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Malcolm Hanson
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Simplex / Box X (1906 on)

Here we see the smaller "Box X" introduced in 1906 (and initially mentioned as the Simplex).  It was an introductory outfit containing a subset of the contents of Box A.  More importantly, it would have been made less expensive by supplying it in a cardboard box.  Again, the Meccano sticker and tongue keyed parts show this to be a late example.

Simplified Mechanics Box A
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Loading picture mme-sm

Simplified Mechanics

Almost nothing is known about these outfits, as all known boxes have been found empty! There are, however, a number of manuals in existence, all of which are exact copies of the MME manuals with a modified title page.  We can only assume that this was an experimental stage, perhaps just before the coining of the word "Meccano".  Anyone who knows anything better please shout!


Kindergarten outfit
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Please do not download or copy it for any purpose. It has been
kindly provided for use on this site by the image owner,
Malcolm Hanson
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Loading picture mme-kinder

Kindergarten Outfit

Now, really the Kindergarten outfit should be considered one of the very earliest Meccano outfits.  Its manual is labelled "Meccano (Mechanics Made Easy)", and so we can see that the newly trademarked "Meccano" was considered the most important name by the end of 1907.  What is most interesting here, though, is that we can clearly see a transition happening.  At first glance, the strips appear to be MME (and most people think that they are).  Looking carefully, though, we see that they are very thick steel strips, with square ends! These are unique parts as far as I know.

Close-up of 2.5 inch strips
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Malcolm Hanson
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Loading picture mme-kinderstrips

This particular example has a bush wheel with a Meccano Patent boss, dating from 1912 or later, so this part clearly doesn't belong with the set.  I would suggest that it is fairly early on, considering the MME-style angle brackets and very roughly finished strips shown in the photograph to the right.


MME Accessory Box A1
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Accessory Box A1

Here we see an Accessory Box A1, which converted a Box A into a Box B.  Its contents list dates it from no earlier than the middle of 1906, and the lack of any mention of Meccano would tend to indicate it's from that date or a little later, perhaps 1907.  Since they were only supplied in cardboard boxes, and were only bought by (probably) keen users of the system, they are very much rarer than the main outfits whose tins survive relatively well.  By contrast, in most later periods the accessory outfits turn up much more often in pristine condition than the main outfits.

I've not yet heard of any examples of B1 or C1 accessory outfits, nor the original 1903 "Accessory" box, but if they're out there no doubt someone will let us know!

Manuals for these outfits

Clicking on the following images will display a copy of the relevant manual for this era of Meccano outfit.  Warning – These files are very large (the size is given next to each one).  The time it will take to download each one depends mainly on your connection speed.  As a rough guide, 10MB takes about 35 minutes to download on a dial-up modem, around 1-2 minutes on 'ordinary' broadband, or as little as 5-10 seconds on a very fast connection.  You have been warned!

The best option is almost certainly to click on the manual images with your right mouse button, then select either "Save Target As" or "Save Link As" and save the manual to your computer for viewing later.

Further information

Total number of messages on this page: 8.  This is page 1 of 2.   Next

Newspaniard      (at 7:46am, Wed 26th Oct, 11)

Found all manuals going back to 1908 on a cdrom for sale for £2.30 on Ebay. Snapped it up and am delighted with the value. Have completed MME Set E Model 60 (the first of two for that set) a big wheel without gondolas which used a gazillion parts. Now on YouTube under "Meccano 1900". Now about to start "Forth Bridge" looks a bit repetative and too long for my lounge/workshop. Ho Hum. Looking at some of the older models, they are quite a lot better than the rather bland modern efforts.

meccanoland      (at 9:57am, Thu 16th Jun, 11)

I have just added pictures of my Simplified Mechanics Box C to my user gallery Meccanoland.
The Box C I found had content list.

Jose M. Estables      (at 5:04am, Thu 24th Feb, 11)

Sad news coming for your beautiful country! I pray for all you and your country every day. Hearts and souls of the Meccano community in Spain remain near you in these days. God bless you! Jose M. Estables

T Gant      (at 3:43pm, Sun 2nd Jan, 11)

The first picture of the early MME set looks to be a highly touched in version of the one supplied upon request by New Cavendish Books to replace the rather poor quality Figure 15 on page 19 of Volume 6. In the original, the tin is far more marked and scratched and 'looks it's age' !!

Henk Brouwer      (at 6:38am, Thu 2nd Dec, 10)

I own a nr D and E set.
Both sets have the round ended tin plated strips and brassware tonque keys and also round ended angle brackets.
Both sets are incomplete but looked very original.

Kind Regards
Henk Brouwer

Reply: Wow. Could you possibly do some photographs of these rare outfits for the site? There are so very few D and E outfits known in the world...

Jose M. Estables (Spain)      (at 12:49am, Tue 6th Jul, 10)

How happy you all must be in your country with these handsome Meccano Boxes naer you!!! Would it be possible to get your permission in order to reproduce the picture of the "simplex/Box X (1906 on)". I am interested in the rare Nr. 20 Flanged and groved Wheels!
Thank you for being there! God bless you and your beautiful country! Jose M. Estables (Spain; just in the other side of the world)

Reply: Hi Jose, and thanks for your kind comments! These boxes aren't all in New Zealand, they are the result of searching for photographs around the world! Thank you also for asking permission about the pictures. If you click on "contact us" at the top I will forward your message on to the owner, and I am sure he will respond. The 'buttressed' large flanged wheels are relatively common, at least amongst old parts....


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