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Part 140: Universal Coupling

140Universal Coupling1924-522N°10
140yFour-hole collar for Universal Coupling19631978?n/aElectrikit part
Universal Coupling, from 1950
Loading picture Universal

The parts

The Universal Coupling was announced in the April 1924 edition of the Meccano Magazine, as "the very latest addition to the Meccano system up to the present time". With traditional accuracy, the very same page contains the announcement of parts 141 and 142, but at least we are fairly close with this date. Five were added to the largest outfit 7 in 1927, dropping to 2 when outfits were reorganised in 1930.

Four-hole collar from centre of Universal Coupling
Loading picture Universalcollar

It was suggested that the four-hole collar should be sold on its own in the July 1927 and the May 1928 Meccano Magazine.

In April 1927 there is an interesting section showing various non-standard uses of the Universal Coupling. In this article we can see the origins of the later Swivel Bearing and Small Fork Piece, being components of the Universal Coupling sold separately.

Part 140y first appears in the 1963 Elektrikit manual
Loading picture Universalekit

The four-hole collar finally gained its own part number in 1963 as part 140y, in the Elektrikit. The shouldered bolt is known as part 140z, but only unofficially as far as I can tell from the Meccano documentation. There are many examples of other companies and reproduction part suppliers inventing their own part numbers, many of which are very confusing and mutually incompatible, so we have to be very careful with non-Meccano part numbers. There is no record of Meccano part 140y being available on its own as a spare part.

I've received lots of information about these bolts. If you have good pictures please send them while I reorganise this page

Special shouldered bolt from Universal Coupling
Loading picture Universalbolt

One part that's not quite so well understood is the special shouldered bolt, of which there are four in the Universal Coupling. This bolt is required to give less play in the joint. It is quite common to find Universal Couplings that have been incorrectly reassembled with standard bolts, so make sure the parts are correct if you're buying.

When using a Universal Coupling you should check and adjust each of the forks to ensure that they're flat, parallel, and the correct distance apart (just a fraction more than the diameter of the central collar). Then assemble the coupling by tightening each of the four shouldered bolts fully, such that each fork piece pivots on the enlarged shoulder of each bolt. Careful checking of this makes for a much better working Universal Coupling.

No-shoulder (left) and shoulder (right) sections of the Universal Coupling
Loading picture Forkpiecesplainshape

Chronological variations

Very early Universal Couplings are single-tapped, but almost all the ones you come across are likely to be double-tapped, which probably happened around 1928 with most other parts.

The most noticeable change in the Universal Coupling (as with the Small Fork Piece part 116a and the Swivel Bearing) is the addition of the 'shoulder' of the nickel section.

Early Universal Couplings, before around 1930, have no shoulder &ndash the central portion of the nickel is a flat disc. Later ones (certainly from 1937 onwards) have a continuous section of nickel around the side, which can be clearly seen in the photo to the right of the Small Fork Piece.

Flat (left) and post-war shaped (right) fork ends
Loading picture Forkpiecesshaped

The second, and better known, change is to the ends of each fork. At some point the ends change from flat to a curved shape to fit around the central four-hole collar. This is at best a pointless change, and in fact actually harms the coupling. Many Meccanomen flatten out these ends to improve their parts (or search for flat-ended pre-war varieties in preference).

Another change I think I can see is that the earlier shouldered bolts (pre-1930) appear to be nickel plated, rather than brass plated with all 1930 and later parts.

DMS/EMP suggest that the earliest Universal Couplings used standard bolts instead of shouldered ones. It would seem that it would be very difficult to investigate this – many Universal Couplings in old outfits have been incorrectly reassembled with standard bolts or set screws and the proper shouldered bolts lost, but the Universal Coupling was not supplied in outfits until 1927 and certainly by 1929 it was being supplied with shouldered bolts. Does anyone have a well-dated almost unused outfit with good provenance that has standard bolts in the Universal Couplings?

Variations and oddities

None known
Universal Coupling in 1978-style packaging
This image does not belong to the webmasters and is copyright.
Please do not download or copy it for any purpose. It has been
kindly provided for use on this site by the image owner,
Richard Payn
Loading picture Universalspareparts

Dealer spare parts boxes

Below is a spare parts box containing three Universal Couplings, part 140. With the product number this dates from after 1954 and its light yellow colour makes it look considerably later, sometime in the 1960s.

Three Universal Couplings in 1960s box
This image does not belong to the webmasters and is copyright.
Please do not download or copy it for any purpose. It has been
kindly provided for use on this site by the image owner,
Bengt Johannson
Loading picture Universalspareparts2

To the right, though, is a much less common skin-card pack dating from around 1978, with the part in the matt brass finish. Is it any wonder so few were sold, with packaging this insipid and prices suddenly so much higher than before.

Individual part numbers

Part numbers for the parts on this page are as follows:    Unique part numbers
For identification, each variation has been given a suffix to the main Meccano part number. These suffixes consist of a two-character code for the colour, and if there are many variations, a further number and sometimes letter code to identify each variation. See the bottom of the 'Parts' page for further details.

You don't need to worry what the codes are, just click on any one for a photograph.

The button above turns on and off the display of DMS numbers (where they are known). The DMS (Development of the Meccano System, Hauton and Hindemarsh) published in 1972 and added to in 75 and 82, suggested part numbers for every variation of every Meccano part. These numbers aren't perfect, but they are recognised and also referenced in the EMP (Encyclopedia of Meccano Parts, Don Blakeborough).

More about bosses More about stampings More about paint colours
Nickel plated forks with flat ends, single tapped24.ni3
Nickel plated forks with flat ends, double tapped27?.ni1
Nickel plated forks with shoulder, brass bolts ¹30?.ni2
Nickel plated forks with shoulder and curved ends50?.ni
Zinc plated forks with shoulder and curved ends24.zn
Matt brass plated forks with shoulder and curved ends78.mb
Zinc plated forks with shoulder and flat ends80?.zn1
Notes: ¹ This is a bit of a guess, so far. Did the shoulder coincide with the advent of curved ends? I don't think so -- I believe that the shoulder was first, and the curved ends were later. It's tricky, though, as many Universal Couplings that have been used have had their ends flattened at some point in the past.

Please send us pictures of missing parts! Hints and tips for pictures
Take a picture of the part in very good light, preferably on a plain yellow background, without a flash but with a tripod.
Ideally, trim the picture to about 150 pixels per inch of the Meccano part (unless the part is particularly big or small), save it as a reasonably good quality jpg file with a filename of exactly the part number, for example 19b.ni1.jpg, and email it to us by clicking on 'Contact us' at the top of the page. Thanks!

Further information

Dick Watson      (at 10:05pm, Tue 14th Mar, 17)

I have at last taken pictures of the couplings mentioned above. They are in my User Gallery, page 5 at the moment.

Tommy Dodd      (at 1:44pm, Wed 13th May, 15)

As mentioned above, the 140z was not available as a spare part. However, Marjorie Kirby of Jeremy's in Princes Arcade London managed to get me a few from the factory.

Richard Payn      (at 2:31pm, Mon 27th May, 13)

I have a late 1927 Dark Red/Green Outfit 6A which is nearly mint. The UJs all have the correct shoulder bolts.

Graeme Wilson      (at 6:04am, Tue 19th Apr, 11)

I am looking for 2 or 3 Meccano Universal Couplings for a Project on hand for my Club HO Model Railway Layout, if there is any around, how much andFreight to Australia

Michel LHOMME      (at 9:18pm, Sun 13th Feb, 11)

The first type (1924) is black, with flat ends, single tapped and stamped as described above by Dick.It is pictured in the album of Henk Brouwer: Meccanoland / Obsolete parts.Other pictures available if you need.

Dick Watson      (at 9:24am, Thu 18th Nov, 10)

I have a couple with black fork pieces without a shoulder. They are marked "FABRIQUE EN /ANGLETERRE/MECCANO" on one fork piece only, but different ways up. The fork pieces are fitted with set screws which I believe to be original and the shouldered bolts are shorter than modern ones and may never have been remooved. I will try taking a photo.
Part 140y appeared in the Electrikit (1963).

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