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So, what went wrong?

(Author: Charles)

Thoughts about modern Meccano


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 – 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: 17.  This is page 3 of 3.   Previous

David Leech      (at 6:47am, Tue 26th Aug, 08)

I have purchased a Classic Meccano Construction Set for my grandson of eight (he will be nine when he gets it). I would like to purchase a suitable electricmotor system to go with the set. However, I have been unable to find anything suitable. Can you help me?

My e-mail address is david.leech5571@btinternet.com

JoaquĆ­n Lizano      (at 2:39pm, Mon 26th May, 08)

I want to by a meccano model 10 if possible. waht can I do?

Reply: There are many people who sell Meccano outfits, including number 10's. Email us by clicking on the "contact us" at the top of this page and I'll send you a list of possibilities...

Michael Whiting      (at 10:27am, Tue 29th Apr, 08)

I suspect that modern Meccano models were designed by persons more akin to artists than engineers.The set 50 models are so arty that it is sometimes difficult to realise what they are-I mistook an outboard motor for a food mixer!

craig de bressac      (at 4:21am, Fri 25th Apr, 08)

I totally agree that the modern sets are ordinary at best. The lack of compatability and integration with the other sets is a major drawback.I personally would welcome , with open arms and wallet, a return to the all metal and intergratable sets of the past.I sincerely hope that someone from the meccano marketing team reads this and decides to act on it....your product is not only a toy for children, but a highly desireable and collctable product for an ever expanding adult market....so how about it meccano??????, bring back the metal sets of yesteryear and let us show you what we really want!!!!

Dave Groves      (at 4:19am, Sat 12th Apr, 08)

I agree that a key failure of modern Meccano is the lack of set continuity, which provided an aspirational sequence to young model builders, but just as important to new users starting out on the hobby is a well-designed and high quality manual of models.

Paging through the manuals that accompanied the modern "Special Edition", Mechanical Workshop and 50-Model sets I was struck by the lack of realism in the models. Where there is some realism, the models rely on strangely curved and shaped flexible plates to achieve some modicum of reality.

The manuals that accompanied the old Binns Road sets contained models that users could clearly relate to real world experiences, and as users became more adept with model-building, encouraged builders to take the opposite approach, and use real-world examples to construct their own models - which results in both creative thinking and a love for the hobby which follows us into adulthood.

In my view the best manual of models was the yellow and blue No 7 set of the late Sixties and early Seventies. The wonderfully realistic fork-lift, container crane and articulated lorry, amongst others, were superbly designed by the Binns Road model room within the constraints of the parts limitations of the set. On the other hand, the model offerings for the No 8 and 9 sets were a disappointment.

PS - You have by far the best Meccano site on the Web - Keep up the excellent work

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