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So, what went wrong?


There are lots of good things about modern Meccano. Just the fact that it exists is one of them. And there are new and interesting parts being made. All the same, the "hobby" of Meccano has declined very seriously and has very few new young members. Why is this? What happened?

There's been lots of discussion about this.  But strangely enough, Meccano themselves have defined the issues &ndash in their catalogue of April 1949.  There is a good introduction to Meccano in this catalogue, running to four pages of the small booklet.  Interestingly, almost all of the key points described in this catalogue have been ignored by the various Meccano companies for a very long time.

All the quotes given below are from these four small pages in the Meccano catalogue.

The outfits and parts

Meccano is made in eleven different outfits ranging from No.0, the smallest, to No.10, the largest.  These outfits are linked together by Accessory or "A" outfits, which enable you to pass from one Outfit to the next larger without unnecessary duplication of parts.  None of your original parts is wasted; you do not have to buy any parts twice over.  
This is one of the key issues in my mind.  As we all know, there is no link from one outfit to the next nowadays.  There are several different 'series' in existence, mostly with completely different colour schemes, none bearing any relationship to the next.  This confusion at the retail shelf is a massive turn-off for the buyer and seems designed to reduce sales.  The only numbered series of outfits (10, 20, 30, 40, 50) have no linking accessory outfits, meaning that there is no encouragement for the buyer to come back and get more.  This wouldn't be quite as bad if the colours matched each other, as then at least larger models could be built without them looking like a dog's breakfast.
In addition, most of the Meccano parts can be bought separately, so that you can increase your stock of any particular part, or replace parts you have lost.  
The expense of stocking replacement parts is often quoted as the reason for the spare parts no longer being available, but this sounds like rubbish.  The parts were never cheap in the first place.  Toy shops are rarely reluctant to sell even low-priced items, as they bring in customers.  And, crucially, the Meccano spare parts industry was one driven by the kids themselves, who would save up to go buying the parts they wanted.

Obviously, the spare parts industry nowadays should be available online, and in fact could be done like this exclusively (bypassing the objections about toy shops altogether).  Now, it is technically possible to buy certain spare parts online at the moment, but not directly from a Meccano website, and the supply of parts is often a problem.  It appears that Meccano isn't as good at supplying the online distributors as they might be.

The parts in their shining colours are fascinating to look at and to handle. They are made of metal of the finest quality.  
Well, isn't it inevitable there will be some plastic parts, given the price of metal? Not necessarily, I would argue. Even during some of the world's worst periods of metal shortage, two world wars and the Korean war, Meccano managed to make the parts they wanted – with blackening or other substitute finishes. All of these parts last a great deal longer than plastic ones. The continuing value of Meccano is that even parts 100 years old are still just as good as they were when they were made, provided they have been kept reasonably dry. Cost-effective finishes such as anodising and blackening could be used to make exceptionally durable parts today.

Manuals and models

...it is not necessary to begin your Meccano career with the smallest Outfits...  The Book of Instructions for each Outfit includes these pages of models for smaller Outfits.  
With current Meccano outfits, only the smallest outfits contain simple introductory models.  The Mechanical Workshop, for example, contains instructions for several quite ambitious models, tricky even for experienced Meccano model builders.  An eight- or nine-year-old has almost no chance. By comparison, even the very largest of all outfits up to the end of the Binns Road period contained instructions for a small selection of very simple models, gradually moving to larger and more complex models.  The pre-war instruction manuals contain models that even four-year-olds can build successfully.
When you have built all the models shown, or as many of them as takes your fancy, try your hand at rebuilding one or two of them with small alterations that will readily occur to you.  
Many of the outfits (for example, the tuning cars) have almost no alternative models, or at least not enough parts that much variation can be achieved.  Recently, a Meccano enthusiast built a ball-rolling machine from the contents of the modern ferris wheel set.  It was heralded as an achievement, and many fellow enthusiasts copied it eagerly.  The fact that one interesting and complex alternative model could be built from the contents of a set should hardly be a surprise!
Each Book of Instructions contains also an illustrated list of all the Meccano parts so that you can readily identify them.  
At best, each Meccano outfit now contains pictures and quantities of each part supplied in that outfit.  Most of them are not even described (presumably to save money in translations?) There is almost no record of the various Meccano parts that are currently available.  Oscar Felguieras is maintaining a list of the current parts lists, but it is quite a job.  Colour schemes and variations in supply from one country to the next makes is almost impossible to know what parts are available, and certainly there is no information from Meccano about what parts can be purchased.
Even the smallest Outfits enable you to build a variety of models that work on exactly the same principles as the originals. With the larger Outfits you can build machines and engines of all kinds, with their working details reproduced accurately in miniature. Steam engines with cylinders, pistons and valve gear; motor cars with steering mechanism, gear-boxes and differential; machine tools such as lathes that will actually cut wood or wax; cranes that lift, luff, swivel and travel along; lift and opening bridges – all these and many other fascinating machines and structures can be built...  
With the possible exception of the Mechanical Workshop, there is no Meccano outfit that can build anything like this range of models. Most can build only one or two types, and even the multi-model outfits contain strange varieties of cranes that have no obvious connection to the real world. The idea of a single outfit, such as the 1950's outfits 6, 7, 8, or 9, that have a reasonable range of parts and can build a wide range of models depending on the choice of the builder, has disappeared.

I'd love to hear your comments on the above... please feel free to add them below...


Total number of messages on this page: 18.  This is page 1 of 3.   Next

Jean Lemire      (at 3:39pm, Thu 24th Jan, 19)

I totally agree. A construction set shall offer a set of simple multipurpose parts that can be assembled to make things. Meccano was offering exactly that with a few hundred parts that cover the need of just about anyone. With the appearance of dedicated parts like, for example, a complete truck cab as could be found in Highway Multikit, the imagination is limited. I prefer to have enough parts to build my own cab as large as I want it and with as much details as I want it. Having thousands of parts that have only one use is too limiting. I also used Lego in the 60s when there was a limited variety of parts. This didn't preclude the building of cars with opening doors, steering and suspension or airplane with retractable landing gears. I go back to Meccano because of the solidity that you can get with bolted structures and the versatility of mechanisms that can be built with gears.

James M. Ogden      (at 10:33am, Fri 19th Oct, 18)

I still have Meccano dating back 80 years or more and as a very senior model builderfondly recall the happy days of my childhood when one could build endless models from the parts supplied in your chosen set and order extra and different parts from the pictured list in your instruction manual to create more exotic models---sadly a thing of the past for the mòdern generation.Second hand Meccano thankfully can still be sourced if you look hard enough!!

Paul Green      (at 11:13am, Sun 7th Oct, 18)

Had sets 4 and 5 as kid in the 70’s
I had a great time with an instruction book that gave accurate plans
(I was 7- 15), as an adult, much disappointment
Instructions an adult can’t understand
The 787 has instructions to mount the engines 1 bolt hole
Differently, how the hell can children follow that s***...

Jeremy      (at 6:29pm, Fri 6th Jul, 18)

The points made in this article are very relevant to the reason for the decline of Meccano as I knew as a child in the 1960s.

Today the Meccano is just one off kits, which once made, offer no further advancement. You buy it, you make it and then you just leave it. This allows for no creativity and a product that at the end of the day is quite boring.

There is often discussion that Lego played a role in the fall of Meccano. I think it is wrong to blame another product for any failure. The fact is that Meccano has been badly handled in the way it has been produced and marketed. The product quality is lower. The metal seems weaker, the plastic easily breaks and there is little value for money.

My advice to anybody wishing to enjoy Meccano is to buy a set from the 1970s or earlier and enjoy the product as it was intended as outlined in the quotes in this article.

ian-1      (at 10:54pm, Thu 3rd May, 18)

most of new meccano sets which are in the shops now don't even look like meccano it is very sad what has happened to meccano since the 1960's when it started to go down hill

Mikhail Samoylenko      (at 1:06pm, Thu 26th Mar, 15)

Sometimes construction sets were at first bunch of basic parts. I (as kid) look at these parts and create my own projects. I had a large Meccano clone set with electric lamps and electromagnete and I really can CREATE anything I want. Car, crane, doorbell, etc.
Now - it is mainly ONE project. Lego, Meccano - all the same. Look at the picture on the box - you can make THIS CAR. Parts are completely behind the scene. If you want to make something else - you will immediately find you missing big plates or axles or bolts or something. Completely missing, for example, big box-shaped base, so you forced to make complex structures from small parts.
Here in Russia I buying for my nephew small and cheap ($5-10 or so) construction sets - they are small about 200 parts, but still have that oldschool universality. They are primary CONSTRUCTION sets, not "make this car, wow!" sets. Simple nickel-plated parts, but there is still a space for creativity, lost by modern Meccano and Lego.

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