Tuesday, 16 December 2014

It's been an interesting year...

At Blists Hill Victorian Village Sue dons Victorian garb to spread the Meccano message
Christmas is just around the corner and it is time to take stock on the past year and see what we have been up to. It has been a strange year, with Spin Master, the new owners of the Meccano brand, finding their way around the existing Meccano community and getting to know a lot of us enthusiasts around the world. Sue and I have been talking to, and met with, some of the guys from Spin Master since the Autumn of 2013 shortly after the acquisition became public knowledge. The noises being made were encouraging. I have to admit that I was pleased to hear what was planned but, as with so many new owners over the years promising the earth, I was hopeful without getting too excited.

This was just part of the huge Meccano section of the Spin Master stand in 2014
My first indication that this time it might be different came in late January this year when I walked into the London Toy Fair on press day, with Sue, where we were confronted with the Spin Master stand displaying Meccano in a way I have not seen for years. The full story of that visit can be found HERE. It was obvious that these guys meant business. As the year went on, Meccano continued to make their presence known around the world through the Spin Master's extensive dealer network.  Their plan, from day one, has always been to relaunch the brand for Christmas 2015. That may seem a long time but remember that the toy retailers are buying for Christmas in January at the toy fairs. That means that we will find out very shortly what Spin Master have planned for Meccano any day now.

Most of what we have seen so far has been the product of the old company as Spin Master inherited what was already in the pipeline. There has been lots of discussion and speculation around the adult Meccano community regarding what has been happening and what is going to happen. In an attempt to reassure the Meccano world of their good intentions towards us enthusiasts, Meccano supported several events this year including the main event in the Meccano calendar, SkegEx. Not only did they lend their expertise with the publicity and provide financial support, they made the not inconsiderable effort to attend the show themselves - something that Meccano have not done for years. All this has been very encouraging but I really think some people have missed the point completely. So, I am going to do something I don't usually do on our blog. I am going to stand here, on my soapbox, and say my piece.

Meccano is a toy!      

Meccano always was and always will be a toy. It is us, the boys and girls that never stopped building that have turned it (in our eyes) into something different. Meccano have never sold the product as an adult hobby and never will. The adult market is just not big enough. In the 1930s when Meccano was arguably at its most successful it was not the adults that drove the market, but their children that they were buying for. Yes most Meccano, especially the sets, were bought buy adults, but not for themselves. Today is no different, Meccano will survive or fail of sales and the bulk of those sales will be to adult buying Meccano for their children as toys.

What is very different is the marketplace are the volumes of sales required to make a global business successful. When Frank Hornby built his business up in the first few decades of the twentieth century, cashing in on market that was wide open. In those days, there were not the distractions of today, indeed even in the late 1950s and 60s when I first saw Meccano my choice of pastimes was fairly limited compared with today.

We saw Meccano as something that we could use to replicate the exciting new world that was developing around us. Huge civil engineering projects and the modern technology of the day was all based around metal and gears and this could all be replicated in Meccano. Today the big engineering projects only make headline news if something goes wrong or, God forbid, a bit of inconvenience or delay is caused to the odd commuter during rush hour.

In short we would make our own entertainment, today most kids want to be entertained with the minimum of effort. The problem Meccano has is how to find a way to engage those kids in Meccano building without the effort we were (and still are) prepared to put in. It is true that once the introduction has been made, and some fairly instant success has been had, a lot of children will want to explore what else they can build. This is where the whole concept has changed.

A 1960s Meccano set - I had one of these!
Our Meccano outfits were used to build lots of toys from one set; build a crane today and a railway truck tomorrow from the same parts - This was Frank Hornby's original concept. Children were encouraged to buy more parts and the infrastructure was there to support this with hundreds, even thousands, of small dealers all over the country selling sets and spare (extra) parts.  The idea being that small sets could be made up into larger sets. The users (children) were sold a dream, a dream that most of us were not able to realise until we were adults. Today that is not the case at all. Meccano is seen as a kit of parts to build a model, usually the box-art, or 'A' model as it is known, with a few variations. The sets do not relate too much to each other and the progressive marketing of the system toy has gone.

Meccano are not alone in this approach, the original idea is lost to history and can't work in the modern environment, except in a very limited way, that does not have the volume of sales required to make it viable. That is where the specialist manufactures and re-sellers come in and, today, supply our every need. There is not a Meccano style part I cannot buy, either as a second-hand original or as an after market reproduction. Taking it one stage further, as an enthusiast I can now buy many extended range parts that Meccano have never made. Parts of different sizes in various colours, more gears than you can shake a stick at, and all readly available to us enthusiasts at meetings or by post. Meccano themselves give this trade its blessing and have no problem at all with enthusiasts producing replica and extended range parts, so long as they are not sold as Meccano.   

None of this makes sales for Meccano. Most children want to build a model and if they do anything with it, will display it and buy another set. Very few modern sets are bought to enlarge a collection of parts in the way we did and still do today. One of the problems with this approach is the amount of Meccano that is bought and never used. The sets have moved away from progression and have taken on the multiple model status with with progression of size being unrelated to the number of models possible. The thing that is all but missing is progression of build within a set. Most models (not all, it has to be said) shown in the instruction manuals use most if not all the parts, so if this is your first Meccano set you are in at the deep end from day one confronted with a complicated build. This is evident by the number of second-hand sets available that are complete down to the last nut and bolt. This is not due to careful ownership but a total indifference to the set. The recipiant usually being put off even starting by the daunting instructions. We have bought many hundreds of second-hand sets over the past few years and I can count on one hand how many had any significant number of parts missing. All these sets have been acquired at a fraction of the original price.

Alternative models made from an Evolution set
Meccano need sales and they need to get parents to come back and buy again. The only way this will happen is if the recipient can achieve a result fairly quickly. Progression within the sets has to be the key to this. Parents will always want to buy the bigger sets, especially if it is to be given as a present, Having some simple models detailed in the instructions will help this, enabling the confidence to be built and the "Look what I built"  moment to be achieved much quicker. The robots above are built fusing parts from the Evolution ATV and as you can see there are plenty of parts left. Even from a small set, a progression of models can be built as we have shown HERE and HERE. In both cases, all the models can be built from one set at the same time.

As the skill level increases, new creations can be made from the parts once the idea that you don't have to use every last part in every model is dispelled. From the recent sets it is not hard to let the imagination run wild and build some interesting models.

A Trike from the 20 model set
The two models pictured here are built from sets that have been released in the past few months. The top one is built from parts in the motorised 20 model set. More details and pictures of this model can be found HERE. It does not use the motor, just because it is there and gives a model that can be built without having to buy new batteries. Below a dragster makes a pleasing model from the latest 15 model set. The full story and more pictures can be found HERE.

Dragster from the 15 model set

The future     

I know that Meccano are introducing some graduation into the sets and that it is no secret that they will be moving into the Meccano compatible electronic toy market. There is also some talk about bigger sets that will be aimed at the higher end of the toy market and that will find some interest from enthusiasts. The Toy Fair is just around the corner and I cant wait to see what Meccano have tucked up their sleeve.

Looking forward to a bright new future for the brand as a whole, here's to a happy and even more interesting 2015 

Ralph.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Meccano 2015 sets...

We have just received a taster of the new models for next year. These are for spring release and do not yet include any of the earth shattering new developments scheduled for autumn 2015. We have been told that some of those items will be available to publish soon.
Re-issue of the ATV in green
The first picture is more illustration than photograph but you get the idea. If you compare it with the box art of the original, see HERE. You will note the track rods on the suspension are shown as being made up from three parts using the short coupling to join two plastic mouldings. This never made it to production on the yellow version and I am sure it will be a one piece moulding on this.

Evolution off roader
A neat looking off-roader may not appeal to die-hard enthusiast but looks to have lots of play value for the target market. The use of the little gripper collars continues for now but so long as the axles are long enough they should work on these non-powered models. I know Meccano are working on the problem and are aware it is a weak point. Having said that, the model will have a limited appeal to the enthusiast, although it will make a good source of parts and there are a growing number of sets now being finished in orange.

Evolution R/C racer
This chassis has been around for a while now and this simple superstructure makes a good-looking model in red/black/white which always works well. Selective and restrained (please!) use of stickers dresses the finished model.

Multimodel airport fire tender
For a compact model this fire tender paints the picture in simple terms. Few parts will make this easy to assemble and it has great play potential. Red parts will appeal to us, and I suspect a few others. Note the inclusion of Evolution parts into the Multimodel range - good move Meccano!

Multimodel - loader?
Another small model with a few interesting features such as the Evolution wheel hubs, used in conjunction with the nobly tyres, that have been around for a while. I must admit to being a little confused as to what this model is representing. It looks like a loader in a vague sort of way but that could be the challenge; to make it a working model. Thinking caps on!

The new 10-model set Jet fighter
Interesting set this, incorporating some of the not so common triangular plates. This set is also full of useful zinc parts. Note the use of those orange driving dogs as the ends of the jet engines.

More news as soon as we get it. The really exciting stuff is coming in the autumn of 2015 and as soon as we get details, which should be very soon, as the Toy Fair season is just around the corner, we will let you know.

Ralph.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Meccano is back on UK TV!

Just in case you hadn’t already seen it on the internet, here is the new Meccano UK television commercial for the 25 Model Set. It is airing during children's television breaks up to Christmas. This advert has a slightly different ending to the ad you may have already seen on YouTube.

video

This is just the start of Meccano's plans to put Meccano back in front of the buying public. Lots more to come in 2015...

Ralph.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Getting 'em started...

Very simple models make an easy start
We all bemoan the passing of the progressive sets. The ability to build a collection from a small set to a larger set over a period of time was something that is just not in the mindset of our younger potential enthusiasts. Today the plan is to be entertained with the minimum of effort. When I was a kid there was not so many callings on my time as there is today. Television can be blamed for a good part of this but so can the internet. Sitting in front of a screen and either calling up endless TV programmes or playing games is much easier than making an effort to actually create something.

The progressive sets provided another sort of progression. This is the way that even the largest sets introduced the recipient to a world of Meccano building that started with a simple model. The table that Sue built for her lamp to stand on is one such model, see HERE. Throughout the instruction manuals provided in those sets, progressively the models to build got bigger and more complicated, culminating in the ones that used most of the parts. This is something that has been missing from the sets of recent years. All the models in the modern sets use most of the parts. There are no instructions for very simple models included. The thinking here was that the beginner would buy a small set and work their way through the range buying progressively larger and larger sets. This may be a good plan in the board room but is total nonsense in the retail world. It just does not work like that. Apart from the fact that most kids will not settle for 'small' when there is a big box available, some the smaller models can be as challenging (if not more so!) as some of the larger ones.

The 3-model set is a super little set, but...
When Meccano introduced the three-model set earlier this year I was impressed. The three models are easy to build and are instantly recognisable. The box-art model of the aeroplane is a little gem.  Even so, for the absolute beginner this build is not speedy. It lacks that instant gratification that instils the confidence to continue. To this end I designed a small selection of three models that can easily be built from this set and you can see the results HERE. All three of these small models can be built form one set, at the same time.

We have used those three models as the basis of our Make it with Meccano activity that we take to public events and it has proved immensely  popular and productive. As we intend to continue with this event and expand it I have produced a further five very simple models that I hope the kids will show the same enthusiasm for. All of them can be build in a few minutes and teach some very basic 'rules of the game'.  

The red tree...
The first little model is the tree. Granted, trees are not red but this is the point, the model is a representation of the real thing. Most people looking at this would recognise it as a tree first and then (and only then) maybe question its colour. It only uses five parts and three nuts and bolts making it look very simple, but it does teach a few things that we all take for granted. First of all the 'trunk' has a nut and bolt passed through its centre hole. As this does not hold anything together it can be inserted and tightened without the complication of having to hold anything together. This is a big thing when you have never put a nut and bolt together and facilitates the need to use tools; the hex-key and the spanner. The bolt head acts as a location stop for the two triangular braced frames that make up the foliage of the tree. The top bolt then has to be passed through three pieces and fastened with a nut. In this case the fixing does not need to be too tight as gravity is working with the construction. The final step is to add the stand. Here the nut and bolt have to be tightened reasonably firmly to allow the tree to stand. This not only adds another skill but also demonstrates the weakness of single bold construction.

...and silver cacti
The next model is the cacti. Similar in construction to the tree, it also demonstrates that all parts have to be fixed together firmly, and in order to get parts to sit nicely, some consideration needs to be given to the placement of parts; the 'branches' are fitted either side of the trunk so they can be positioned independently of each other without fouling. Again the colour is not an issue - form is the relevance here.

Mmmm... Ice cream!
Using the parts to 'draw' with is another way in which a child's creativity can be propagated. Again it is the form that wins out over reality. This flat ice cream cone with its red chocolate flake can be made in no time and can be presented to Mum as a gift, producing a smile on the face of  both parties. Simple construction provides instant reward. the fact that all these models can be built from just one set means that Mum can be eating her ice cream while the builder continues to create another masterpiece worthy of even more praise.

It doesn't have to work - yet!
The tricycle is a bit more complicated requiring the building of sub-assemblies and then assembly of the final model. Here is the progression moving up a gear. More skill is required to build this little model and a much greater degree of dexterity will need to be developed if the models is to be completed. The fact that the wheels revolve demonstrates the first steps towards a 'working' model. Moreover the fact that the steering is locked solid will set the seed for further development at a later date. We have all revisited models from our past with the intention of making improvements as our skill and selection of parts and tools grow. In this case, the need to have two spanners is required to enable nuts to be locked either side of components to provide a pivot. A skill that will only be acquired if it is explained. We all know about lock-nutting from a very early age as it was one of the basic constructions illustrated in the manual that came with the set, something that needs revisiting at some point in the future...

Baby
Finally the cute little baby is similar to the 'baby-bot' model from the first three alternative models I built from this set. It illustrates how one model can be developed into another by using similar construction techniques.

The whole idea here is to give the kids something that is easy to build to prove that they can do it and it is not hard. Once the "look what I built" moment has passed there is far more likelihood that the experience will not only be repeated but the desire to move on, to progress, has been well and truly established.

Ralph.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Where do you keep yours?

Storage - the small coloured sticker denote the location of more stock
The storage of Meccano parts is an ongoing consideration - at least it is in our household. I started writing a post about our storage system some months ago but every time I was about to publish it, something changed. It also got longer and longer. In the end I decided to make it into an article and I have now posted it as a separate page.  You can find the article by clicking HERE or on the new articles links now running across the top of the page, below the title block.

Ralph.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pre-war No.6 set...

Just lately a lot of talk here at Laughton Towers has been about the modern stuff. Hardly surprising as there is a lot going on out there currently as the new owners of Meccano settle in to their new shoes. Sets disappearing and all sorts of deals around as the old stock and the current production of sets (that were already in the pipeline at the time of purchase) emerge on to the market. All this activity has rather skewed the content of the blog, and taken attention of late.

The number 6 set as found - click on the image to enlarge
To address the balance, here is some of the traditional stuff to get your teeth into! Six months ago I was talking to a fellow Meccanoman who told me about a No. 6 Meccano set he had found at a provincial auction as part of a lot. He said it was in a wooden box and although he thought it not to be complete, it looked like most of it was there. As he was more interested in the other items in the lot he wanted to just move this on to someone who would appreciate it. This week we met again and money was exchanged for Meccano. We are now the proud owner of most of a 1920s Meccano No. 6 set.

The lower layer of parts - click on the image to enlarge
I like the dark red and green of the 1920s Meccano and it is not often that we find it in nice used condition,like this, that is good to build from. It is either really rough, bent and very rusty or it is immaculate and worth a fortune to a collector. This is 'builder' quality and as builders ourselves, it is exactly what we look for. I know the spoked wheels are missing from the set, as you can see, but they are around, built into a model that will be dismantled this week and will follow on to be reunited with the set.

Nice set of channel segments
Some of the parts have been repainted rather heavily and will either be replaced with parts in original finish or will be suitably refinished and lightly distressed to match the rest of the set.

There is a good number of original nuts and bolts included in a small plastic box - a later addition! The interesting thing is the complete set of eight channel segments that all look in good condition. I now need to go away and do some homework to try and date the set and select the correct contents list so I can set about checking and making up the set to be complete.

We have a fair bit of Meccano from this period, but this is the first time we have had anything like a complete set, let alone a decent sized one. The fact that it has been used is not a
problem as it all cleans up really nicely after a wash and a buff-up using Sue's furniture polish trick she gleaned from our friend,  Mike Burgess, a few years ago. The same treatment was given to the parts used to build our little steam saw I built a year or so ago.
Pre-war steam saw...
This was built a while ago using parts from our box of pre-war Meccano that we have been rooting out of collections we have purchased over the years. The saw uses later nuts and bolts as we did not have many contemporary ones at the time. The plastic box of lightly rusty nuts and bolts, that came with our latest acquisition, are a bit of a bonus for us and will clean up beautifully after a wash in the ultrasonic bath (sounds grand but cost a few pounds from Aldi) followed by a soak in rust remover, lightly oiled and given a 'scrunch' - as  my mate Dunmow Dave calls it - in an old towel. I will post some pictures as we go along cleaning up this set.

Modern (ish) meccano used to build a classic model
Now we have this set, it has just occurred to me that it would be good fun to build another Steam Wagon (see HERE) using this set... Now there's a thought, wouldn't that look good all in contemporary colours? We could even race them...

Ralph.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Bargain basement time!

A Gears of War set on our blog?
I did not think I would ever be talking about a Gears of War set on our blog in a million years. When these sets first appeared my will to live was being severely compromised. Surely Meccano were not going down the diversification road in top gear, were they? They were following in the footsteps of that Danish company and forgetting where their roots are. To me these sets seemed over-priced and full of bespoke parts playing lip-service to the brand by adding a few holes and the odd 'real' Meccano part.

So, why on earth is it here now? Price. This week Tesco Direct and Toys 'R' Us (and probably some others) are selling the Halvo Bay Pursuit set for under a fiver (£4.99) each! What appeals to me is  this set contains four fence sections that fit together to make a good looking guard rail, ideal for cranes and other structures. Several of these sections can be configured in many ways to make long lengths of guard rail or closed areas, as they are used in the set.

The fence sections
Narrow double obtuse brackets are not very common in any sets and this set has four of them as  a few narrow strips and a selection of plastic parts including a large square plastic plate that is used as the floor to the tower. 
handy narrow brackets

The set also contains a good selection of nuts and bolts in various lengths, as a bit of a bonus. At its original price, (anywhere between £15 and £20+) this set was not worth looking at from a builders point of view but at this price I could not resist the temptation of buying a few sets. The full manual can be downloaded from the Meccano website. HERE (approximately 2.2Mb) There you will find the full list of parts supplied with the set.

The set makes up into a sort of tower platform that has no means of access. Forgive me I am not familiar with the game that this sets, and all the other Gears of War sets, are meant to complement. As you can see there is not much appealing about this structure and nothing there to make me want to buy it when it first appeared.

Is that it then? Hmmm... not quite
The set is also supplied with a couple of small figures that are cleverly articulated, two side arms and three packing cases. The latter items might find some use but the figures and guns have no foreseeable future as far as I can see.

"Stop chucking those bolts about I am sure the beer is here somewhere..."
I am sure that these sets are just being cleared out and they will not be around for long so if you fancy a few sets yourself, don't hang about as when they have gone I don't think you will see them again.

Ralph.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Two events not to miss...

As the nights draw in and it starts to get a little colder, the days get a little shorter and the Meccano time gets a little longer, it is time to start building those models for the up and coming Meccano events. Here in London, next month we have South East London Meccano club's annual show, which has become one of the most successful one-day shows of the year. 

This year's display cabinet in the Eltham Leisure Centre
SELMEC's promotion machine is rolling and we have already started the publicity in, and around the local area. For the third year running we have secured a display cabinet in the Eltham Leisure Centre to publicise the show in the weeks leading up to the event.  This display presents a taster of some of the superb models that can be seen at the show, a few examples of which can be seen here...


Cath Claydon's superb military vehicles are always worth a good look
...and the almost abstract style of Chris Fry's Peloton
Adrian Ashford's Tug boat catches the lines of the prototype just right
These models and more will be on show at the Eltham centre until the show on the 25th October 2014. 

Meccano UK will be in attendance and as well as giving away special sample sets to the youngsters they will also be running a mini - version of our extremely successful, Make it with Meccano hands on activity.    

Full details of the many other attractions to be found at the show, including the Cycle Racing and lots more, can be found HERE.

And now for something completely different... 

A few miles North East of Eltham, and on the other side of the river, you will find Hainault. Nestled in this East-end suburb of London, you will find North East London Meccano club. Here we have taken a rather different approach. This year will be an open event and we are inviting modellers and collectors from all over to attend and display their latest creations alongside those of our members. This is your chance to be part of London's premier* MECCANO Hangout! New, bright and vibrant, this year's event will mark the change…


The Hainault Hangout

 

What is this all about?

For the past few decades NELMC members have spent the year attending four club meetings and an annual exhibition. You would be forgiven for getting them mixed up as our exhibition was more like an open meeting. Now is the time to try something different. This December our exhibition is taking on a whole new persona. We are going to run the day as an open day for all interested modellers, club members or not.

This year we are going to drag the dusty old exhibition out of the corner it has been hiding in, and give it a 21st century work out. We have secured a lot more space at our usual venue by renting the entire building! By introducing new competitions, supplying raffle prizes that are really worth winning, and presenting the event in a casual and friendly environment, the new Hainault Hangout will be one event you will not want to miss.

Win free Meccano! 

You can join in the fun right now by guessing the number of spacer washers there are in this Jar...

How many spacer washers?
 ... The nearest guess to the correct number will win a Meccano Multimodel, 3-model set. Send your guess to me HERE and the closest guess will receive the prize during the week following the Hangout. The closing date for entries of the e-mail based competition is Friday 5th of December. Please Note: The e-mail competition is open to UK residents only.  You must be 16 years of age or over to enter.

The Hangout will be held on:

Saturday 6th December 2014, 10:00am – 5:00pm

at

Hainault Baptist Church, Franklyn Gardens, Hainault, Essex IG6 2UT


A flat admission fee of £3.00 will be payable by all exhibitors, members and visitors, with the exception of accompanied children who will still be admitted FREE of charge. For this small charge exhibitors will receive an Exhibitor’s Pack containing FREE tea and coffee vouchers, plus one FREE draw ticket for a special exhibitors-only Prize Draw!

Refreshments will be available and our friendly dealer, Mr Dave Taylor, along with his long suffering and amazingly tolerant wife, Marylyn, will be in attendance should you wish to stock up on even more nice shiny Meccano!

Convinced? Here is what you need to know…

  • The Hainault Hangout will take place on Saturday 6th December 2014 from 10:00am – 5:00pm at Hainault Baptist Church in Franklyn Gardens, Hainault, Essex IG6 2UT.
  • The venue will be open for setting up from 8:00pm on Friday and from 7:00am on Saturday.
  • A limited number of free parking spaces are available adjacent to the venue, or for £2.00 at Hainault Underground Station nearby. Reserved parking spaces can be booked for disabled exhibitors (Blue Badge holders). Disabled toilets are available.
While you may just turn up on the day with your models, if possible you should complete THIS form to book your space.


We look forward to seeing you!

Ralph. 
______________________________________________________________________
* Well, it will be if you are there!

Friday, 19 September 2014

They got it right!

Multimodels 10 Model Set scoops the Gold Construction Award at this year’s UK Independent Toy Awards. Along with the 3 model set, this has to be one of the best Multimodel sets to surface this year.  

Well deserved winner!
We were impressed with this set when we first saw it (see HERE) and now the industry has acknowledged the fact too.

Ralph.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Nellie gets new legs!

Nellie now has four grey legs - that's better!
You may remember when I came to build Nellie, a couple of months ago I was short of grey 'legs'. See my previous post HERE. At the time I could only lay my hands on one in grey. I have plenty of them in different colours but have you ever seen an elephant with yellow legs? If you have then you might not care to admit it! I tried a few friends and in the end Dave Taylor came up with one from his vast stock and my mate Peter Goddard from WLMS came up with another. This now meant I had three...

... Nothing for it, I would have to arrange for one to be stolen from an assembled model we have.

Hmmm... That's the bit
A whisper in the right ear and this bloke with hooped shirt and black mask said he could get me one for a small consideration.

He won't miss it
I thought that bloke looked a bit dodgy, but he was as good as his word, and now Nellie has four matching legs. Sue is now complaining that you can't leave anything alone for five minutes without someone pinching something... Really Dear?

Ralph.