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Small Parts Boxes

This page shows just some of the huge range of small parts boxes made by Meccano over the years. Small parts boxes were used inside the outfits to hold nuts and bolts and other small parts together within the box. It's a whole area of collecting by itself.

We're only concerned on this page with boxes that were included in a Meccano outfit. The spare parts boxes which held individual parts for sale on their own are a whole different kettle of fish.

Very little on this page should be taken as gospel (apart from that the boxes actually exist!). Although we can date some boxes quite accurately, many were in use over a long period and almost certainly overlapped with other versions, particularly for export markets and when there was over-stock of one type. In addition, many outfits have been put back together over the years by well-meaning (and otherwise) Meccano enthusiasts. In fact, recently many second-hand Meccano 'dealers' will put almost anything they have into a box and sell it as an outfit. This means that there are very few outfits with sufficient provenance where we can be certain that the contents originally belonged to that box.

We're trying to get a good representative collection of pictures of all the varieties, and if you have any that aren't shown here (or a better picture, or a variant), or if you know anything about these, please contact us or leave a message on the Rust Bucket forum.

Small rounded rectangular tins from MME outfits
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reproduced from Spanner with permission from the image owner,
Jeff Jones
Click on this image to see a larger version.
Loading picture MMEboxes

MME Boxes

Very little information exists about these early outfits, and still less about their small parts boxes. They mostly seem to have been small rectangular tins, heavily rounded at the corners. In the catalogues and pictures of the time, they don't tend to have labels on them.
Small glass-topped cardboard box for nuts and bolt
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reproduced from Spanner with permission from the image owner,
Jim Bobyn, Montreal
Loading picture small glass

The first Meccano

Early Meccano boxes had a glass top (yes, amazing as it sounds) built into a cardboard box. This is a picture of one of these boxes, one of three survivors in a 1914 outfit 5. There was also a space for a fourth box, evidenced by some shards of broken glass in the bottom. There were small and large versions of these boxes. Below is an image taken from an early price list showing a Meccano outfit 6 (the largest of the time), the price list was undated but the prices match up for 1914. Note that the picture clearly shows both large and small boxes with glass tops.


Part of a c.1914 price list, showing glass-topped parts boxes
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Clive Weston
Loading picture 1914cat picture The picture below shows one of the larger boxes (just like the left-hand corner of the line drawing). It's a similar style to the one above, with the gold 'braid' stuck round the glass top.
Part of a c.1914 outfit 5 box, showing the large glass parts box
Loading picture bigglass
Somewhere around 1914, the glass was replaced by a clear plastic top (in a similar style). This was some form of celluloid or possibly 'Xylonite'. These clear lids yellow and scratch very easily, and are now rarely found in good condition.

Small white card nuts and bolts box
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Loading picture DSC01396 From approximately 1910 we find Meccano spare parts in small white cardboard boxes. Some of these are in a 'matchbox' style, where the inside slides out from the cover, but much more common are the two-part boxes with a separate lid and base. The base of the small white cardboard boxes is about 53 x 31 x 17mm, and the top is 56 x 34 x 14mm.
White cardboard lift-off box containing spring clips
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Loading picture DSC01397
Because the base of the box is taller than the top, it's always easy to get the top off because there's some of the bottom of the box to get hold of. This is the case throughout the Meccano small parts boxes. In fact, later on things get cleverer because the difference between the sides and the top change such that both the top and the bottom of the box are cut from the same sized piece of cardboard.
White cardboard 'matchbox' nuts and bolts box
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Loading picture DSC01395 Now, we're straying off the topic a bit here. Although these boxes are often found in very old outfits, there appears to be no evidence (yet) that they were originally supplied in Meccano outfits. These are thus early 'spare parts boxes' and we can probably ignore these and get back to the subject of this page... the parts boxes from outfits.
Small light green box with black and white paper label
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Loading picture DSC01415

Green boxes

The clear-topped small parts box is replaced by a variety of small green square parts boxes.

These green boxes have tops about 56mm square by 11mm deep. The bases are 52mm square by 13mm deep. You can see that, allowing for the thickness of the card, they can both be cut out of a piece of card 73mm square. The inside dimensions are 53x53x10 and 49x12x12, and the card is scored on the outside of the box for folding, and this score mark is hidden by the paper strip round the outside.

The box shown above was used in smaller outfits. Larger outfits had larger parts boxes. The two pictures below show a pair of boxes believed to have been from a 1914 Outfit 5. Note that there are two different boxes, each with a slightly different collection of models printed in outline. One is labelled "Nuts and Bolts", the other one labelled "Parts". From a very early date we can see that Meccano divided up the small parts boxes between the nuts and bolts, and other small parts. This distinction continues throughout the different ranges of boxes, although it gets more subtle as we go along.

Large light green boxes with 'drawn' labels
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Geoff Brown
Loading picture DSCF0341a

Slightly later in the decade, the text "specially designed for use with Meccano" disappears from the label. Two examples below show the (possibly earlier?) version of the label with a serif font, and the later and much more common version with the sans serif font. All of these green boxes are made by folding up a cross-shaped piece of green lined cardboard, taping the four corners together, and gluing round a thin strip of green paper round the edge. This paper is folded over the edges and on to the top of the box. A square label is then stuck on top, covering up the edge of the paper strip. The writing on the label is stamped on (or very primitively printed), and this same stamp is used on several varieties of the same paper label.

Small light green box with green label in serif font
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Loading picture DSC01416
Small light green box with green label in sans serif font
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Small dark green box with green label in sans serif font
from an outfit 2A dated November 1919
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Loading picture DSC01412 Here you see a much darker green box and label, and on top of the box just visible is a small purple stamping of a star with the number "2A" inside it. At last we can start to see where the boxes belong. This box is from a 1919 accessory outfit 2A.

Larger light green box with larger green label, same small print,
from an outfit 3A dated Nov 1919
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For larger outfits, there are slightly larger versions of the same box. This larger box is from an outfit 3A (you can see the purple star with 3A in the centre on the front corner of the box). The overall size of the lid is 62mm square and 12mm deep, the base is 58mm square and 14mm deep. Both can be made from a 79mm square piece of card. You can see that the stuck-on label is larger, although the stamped text on it is the same size as before, leaving more of a margin. This particular one is very off-centre, too!
Early rectangular cardboard box with 'photo' nickel cat variant label
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Loading picture DSC01399

Boys and cranes

In the early twenties (Christmas 1919, according to Jeff Jones), a new pair of pictures were made for small parts boxes. These both show a small boy with a Meccano crane. One has him playing on a carpet being watched by a cat (the 'cat' variant), and the other shows him being dragged away from his Meccano by (presumably) his mother and sister. This is known as the 'family' variant.

The very first boxes used a square picture. In the smaller outfits these were the same green boxes as shown above, with a square picture label stuck on instead of the green stamped label. The larger (5 and 6) outfits used new large rectangular boxes with the square picture framed on each side. Pictures to follow soon...

By around 1922, the label on the larger boxes was extended to fit the top fully. The outfit 7 introduced in 1922 contained six of these boxes. It seems that they had different uses -- the 'family' variant was used for nuts and bolts, and the 'cat' variant for all other small parts. Smaller outfits like the 5 and 6 had one of each box, but the outfit 7 had four 'cat' boxes and two 'family' boxes for nuts and bolts.

Rectangular cardboard box with 'photo' nickel family variant label
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Loading picture DSC01402 Now there are several versions of both of these pictures. The early ones show the crane made from nickel-plated Meccano (obviously), and naturally the later ones show the same models made from red and green "New Meccano". This change obviously dates the boxes after the change to coloured Meccano in 1926, but in fact is later than this because the change didn't happen overnight. Outfits up to at least 1929 exist with nickel crane labels.

But there was another change during this period. In outfits known from the period of 1922/23 the label has a 'photographic' quality to it. You can clearly see that the background colour (pink, in the case of the family picture) is a solid colour. At some point between then and the point where the crane changed to red/green, the photograph changed considerably to a much lower quality 'dotty' finish.

Rectangular cardboard box with 'dotty' nickel cat variant label
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Loading picture DSC01389

The family picture background changed from pink to a light purple, and the picture of the boy actually changes quite substantially. If you look closely at these pictures, you can clearly see that the photograph is made from separate dots of colour -- quite large ones.

All of these boxes are the same size, approximately 82 x 61 x 20mm for the top, and 78 x 57 x 23mm for the base (externally). Both the top and the bottom of the box are lined in green, and again both parts can be made from a piece of card 118mm by 96mm. The whole box is 25mm high when it's together (because, as before, the bottom of the box is deeper than the lid).

A view of the MECCANO embossed paper covering
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Loading picture DSC01401 The outside of these boxes is a black embossed paper, a little like a faux leather. However, some examples are also found with a plain matt black paper covering, embossed with the word "MECCANO" in a repeated circular pattern. You can just see this in the picture to the left -- it can be difficult to spot!
Darker purple background on the 'dotty' nickel family variant label
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Loading picture DSC01403 Here's another example of the family picture -- this time the later 'dotty' version, which has a darker background colour to the picture, rather than the pink above.

For smaller outfits, the same picture was trimmed to fit on to a new style of box. This is a small tin (with a separate bottom and top), with a label stuck over the top. There are a lot of variations on this box too! On some, the picture is lithographed on to the top of the tin.

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