About stampingsThe great majority of Meccano parts are stamped, at least with the word "Meccano" and often with more. Although we can't always draw conclusions from these marks, we can often nail down a fairly good date range by using these and the colour or finish of the part.
The nearest thing to a definitive work on this subject was written by Neils Gottlob and published in the Meccano Newsmag. Although it didn't attempt to give dates, it did identify almost all Meccano markings and show where they had been found (and even in which direction!) on each part. We're not going to go that far right now, but we hope to show on this page what conclusions you can safely draw from the marks you find on your Meccano parts.
Early MeccanoThe earliest Meccano (including all Mechanics Made Easy parts) have no markings whatsoever. The first markings known date from early 1911. This isn't usually a problem, as there are very few 'fake' or reproduction parts that are likely to cause you trouble. You should, however, be careful if offered parts that seem too good to be true, particularly if you have little experience with this era. A well-known manufacturer of reproduction parts told me that he has on several occasions been asked to make MME strips (which would be very easy on the advanced machinery he has), but has always refused unless he could clearly mark the parts as reproductions. Some manufacturers may not have been so morally upright in the past.
So, for the most part, early parts are as you will see them on the Parts pages of this site. As a general rule, these can only be found in one of two places: either from 'inside the hobby' (that is, from a known enthusiast who can be trusted to supply the genuine article) which will be very expensive, or as little bits and pieces within an old collection of Meccano. Many old sets in attics that are nickel-plated have the odd part of MME or very early Meccano within them.
The first Meccano markingsThe catalyst for Meccano markings was the arrival of serious competition in the form of copies of Meccano parts. The most significant of these was American Model Builder, a particularly blatant copy of Meccano (down to the text and models in the instruction manuals). After spending a fortune winning the case against this company in the US, Hornby went overboard making sure that the public could tell his product from the competition. The best thing about this is that it is very helpful to us collectors in allowing us to date and follow the progress of the system.
It can be difficult to be certain in this era, but the author has outfits from January 1916 where no strips are stamped at all, and outfits from 1917 where some of the strips (but not all) are. It seems that the late war years show the introduction of the "Meccano" stamp on most Meccano parts.
The French make it easy for usIn 1921, life suddenly gets a whole lot easier. The French government dictated that all imported goods had to be stamped with their country of origin. France was a very significant export market for Meccano, and the French were popular in the UK after the war, so the company decided to mark all Meccano in this way. Of course, the stamping is in French, saying "Fabrique en Angleterre" (Made in England). This stamp is referred to as FEA in the Meccano hobby (or MFEA, for "Meccano FEA"). Note that all Meccano, not just that intended for export to France, was marked in this way.
This is great news. Everything from strips to gears and even axles and small brass parts were labelled MFEA. You can be sure that Meccano marked in this way is not earlier than 1921. The requirement ended in 1927, but many parts continued to be stamped (or were still in stock). Outfits from 1928 and even as late as 1930 certainly have this marking. In conjunction with other changes at this time, you can start to get quite close to dating a part.
The New MeccanoIn 1926, coloured Meccano appeared. This suddenly makes dating even easier for us. Initially, only some parts were coloured -- braced girders were a sickly "pea-green", and flat and flanged plates were a pale red, often known as "pea-red" (because it goes with pea-green). Strips and most other parts continued in nickel plate. In 1927, the "New Meccano" appeared, where almost all previously nickel-plated parts were enamelled dark green, and the plates, large pulleys, and flanged plates became dark red. This is one of the most elegant colour schemes, and helps us date parts from between 1927 and 1932. Note, though, that you could still place special orders with Meccano for nickel parts, and so you have to be careful. For this reason, later parts like the boiler and digger bucket can be found in nickel.
Much brassware changed to double-tapping at around this time. Double-tapped parts started at the end of 1927, not exactly coinciding with the end of MFEA but very close. By the end of 1927, common parts like 1" pulley and bush wheels were double-tapped and stamped just "Meccano", but gears and some sprockets were still marked MFEA and single or double-tapped.
Double-tapped parts therefore date from as early as the end of 1927, but there were still some single-tapped parts in 1929. After this point, everything was double-tapped.
More ColoursSuddenly, the colours changed again. The dark green and dark red of 1927/28 lightened substantially in 1933, to medium green. Only a year a bit later, for Christmas 1934, the colours changed completely to gold strips, blue plates with a gold cross-hatching, and red small parts and pulleys. All of these parts are stamped MECCANO quite clearly, normally without any other stamping. Because the numbering sequence had also changed (from 000-7 to A-L), there were 'conversion outfits' from the old series to the new, and these had a variety of colours. The old outfits up to 7 were still available in dark red/green up to at least early 1936, and some were available for export even later than this.
In 1937, the outfits changed again to the familiar series 0-10, and the colours remained blue/gold in the UK but were variable on exported outfits. Many export outfits had medium green strips and blue/gold flexible plates (which had only recently been introduced, so were never available in red).
The most important thing to us here is that basically all stampings up to the end of production in 1941 remained the same, a simple MECCANO stamp. There are a very small number of exceptions to this (the pulley blocks are one), but generally you can be sure where you are.
Meccano Made in EnglandAfter the war, production started in the 'new' medium red and medium green colours, which are actually identical to those colours used in 1933/34, and up to the end of the war in export markets. However, the stampings all changed to "Meccano Made in England". Thus we can very easily distinguish between pre-war and post-war parts.
The next important change is in 1954, when all the flexible plates changed to have elongated holes in the ends. Most Meccano sets will have plenty of these, and thus you can always spot which part of the 50's you're in.
From there on, we can use colours to spot the years: light red/green took over in 1958, silver/yellow/black in 1964, changing to zinc/yellow/black in 1966, blue/yellow/zinc in 1970, and dark blue/dark yellow in 1978. Stampings remained "Meccano Made in England" up to the 70's, changing to "Meccano England" on many parts later on.