Printed from www.nzmeccano.com
So, what went wrong?
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 &ndash 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
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: 15. This is page 1 of 3.
Jeremy (at 6:29pm, Fri 6th Jul, 18)
The points made in this article are very relevant to the reason for the decline of Meccano as I knew as a child in the 1960s.
Today the Meccano is just one off kits, which once made, offer no further advancement. You buy it, you make it and then you just leave it. This allows for no creativity and a product that at the end of the day is quite boring.
There is often discussion that Lego played a role in the fall of Meccano. I think it is wrong to blame another product for any failure. The fact is that Meccano has been badly handled in the way it has been produced and marketed. The product quality is lower. The metal seems weaker, the plastic easily breaks and there is little value for money.
My advice to anybody wishing to enjoy Meccano is to buy a set from the 1970s or earlier and enjoy the product as it was intended as outlined in the quotes in this article.
ian-1 (at 10:54pm, Thu 3rd May, 18)
most of new meccano sets which are in the shops now don't even look like meccano it is very sad what has happened to meccano since the 1960's when it started to go down hill
Mikhail Samoylenko (at 1:06pm, Thu 26th Mar, 15)
Sometimes construction sets were at first bunch of basic parts. I (as kid) look at these parts and create my own projects. I had a large Meccano clone set with electric lamps and electromagnete and I really can CREATE anything I want. Car, crane, doorbell, etc.
Now - it is mainly ONE project. Lego, Meccano - all the same. Look at the picture on the box - you can make THIS CAR. Parts are completely behind the scene. If you want to make something else - you will immediately find you missing big plates or axles or bolts or something. Completely missing, for example, big box-shaped base, so you forced to make complex structures from small parts.
Here in Russia I buying for my nephew small and cheap ($5-10 or so) construction sets - they are small about 200 parts, but still have that oldschool universality. They are primary CONSTRUCTION sets, not "make this car, wow!" sets. Simple nickel-plated parts, but there is still a space for creativity, lost by modern Meccano and Lego.
Mr goats (at 2:42am, Sat 30th Aug, 14)
D Hedgley - no it's not just another 'when I was a boy' story - as I'm a young man and agree whole heartedly that people in general of today lack patience and concentration. Not just children. Thanks for your insight.
G Elliott (at 7:07pm, Fri 11th Apr, 14)
Agree entirely with you R Thornton. My 8 yr old was given multi model 50 set by generous grandparent. I was as excited as he was. Utterly soured now. Poor instructions and dreadful quality control. Each step of each model had problems- inaccessibility, bolts sitting proud. Expensive rubbish.
henry (at 6:14pm, Wed 25th Jul, 12)
reassembling a clockwork motor that someone was too curious with probably fifty years ago, judging from the labels on the small leather suitcase.. packed with 1930s blue and gold,several pounds weight.... all the pieces seem to be there ! it was at the war and peace show,kent, of all places ! came across this site whilst looking for info..v useful ! well remember being given a set in the late 50s, and the annoying realisation that very few of the illustrated models could be built with parts supplied..so we attached a rocket to a small trolley and fired it off up the drive.it didnt reach the main road, no steering, but spectacular...