Tuesday, 22 August 2017

New Meccano stamp...

Low-resolution images of the se-tenant issue that includes the Meccano stamp
A new set of stamps have been issued today entitled 'Classic Toys'. One of the stamps depicts a Meccano model of a Ferris Wheel (Big Wheel). The stamp shows a model from the 1929 4-7 manual, model number 6.5 Big Wheel.

As most small boys of the 1950s and 60s, I was an avid stamp collector. In those days all kids had hobbies and such activities were regularly promoted in comics and magazines such as Meccano Magazine and Airfix Magazine. Not that I needed any encouragement. Lots of my school friends collected stamps to some extent or another. At the time, I could not afford to buy the magazines, on my meagre pocket money, and have any left to buy Meccano or stamps. I would buy old copies at jumble sales (remember those!) and marvel over the adverts for stamps, catalogues and albums to keep them in. Stamp collecting was a big thing in those days, not just for me, but for my Dad who was also a collector. I often looked at the early commemorative stamps and dreamt of one day designing my own. I did go on to working in publishing and design, indeed Sue and I ran our own design business for well over twenty years until we sold it to our younger partner 17 years ago. I have no idea where that time has gone. Our work has always been closely linked with the toy and model trade, to some extent, working with companies such as Airfix, among others, on both design and editorial, and more recently with the new owners of Meccano, Spin Master. Never did I imagine, while looking at those second-hand copies of Airfix Magazine, I would end up as Art Editor and then Editorial Director.

Since we sold the business, we have had much more time to spend on our joint passion for Meccano.
We also still have a strong interest in philately, but now that has evolved into a specialist collection that is more about research than actually acquiring many stamps. You can imagine my response when, at the beginning of 2016 while attending the London Toy Fair, I was asked if I could provide a model to be featured on a new stamp.

Sworn to secrecy, discussion began with Royal Mail and it was decided that a Ferris wheel would be ideal as it would suit the format. After dismissing several of the later models it was decided that the pre-war model would be the most suitable. "Do you think you could build that for us so we can have it photographed and featured on one of the stamps in the Classic Toys issue?" was the question. It took me several milli-seconds to say yes. For me this was the closet I am ever going to get to design my own stamp, I was hardly going to say no. Okay, it is not my design, although I did subsequently get some input into it, it could not be better as far as I was concerned, me getting one of my Meccano models on to a stamp, never in a million years did I ever think that would happen. It is not possible to publish high-quality images of stamps, for obvious reasons, but below is a partial image of the artwork used showing the detail of the model.

The model in detail
At this size, the keen-eyed viewer will be able to see that the photographer (not me!) had missed the fact that the drive chain had derailed at the 9 o'clock position. Fortunately, this is not obvious on the finished stamp.

All this happened during the first few months of 2016. It was all hurried up and I was told it was for publication late in the year. What I did not realise at the time was they ware talking about 2017! Sue and I have not been able to talk about it until very recently, personally I was busting to tell and keeping it to ourselves for over a year was hard. It is only now, that images are in the public domain, we can talk about it freely.
The model was built as closely as possible to the published instructions using parts from the period, even the nuts and bolts were mostly pre-war It makes an impressive model when built standing a couple of inches under 3ft tall. Photographed at an angle shows the complexity of construction almost lost in a full side on shot shown below.
Nearly ninety years ago, when the 1929 instruction manual was published, the subject matter was very different from the models of today. Meccano was billed as an educational toy and kids wanted to entertain themselves. Building a working model, sorting out any problems and getting it to work properly was thought of as being enjoyable. It still is to most of us who grew up with it before, or in the two or three decades after, the second world war. Today kids want to be entertained and Meccano is a different sort of toy. The model on the stamp, although instantly recognisable to the older generation, must be a bit of a stretch for the kids of today. Not only does it look totally different to today's Meccano, but the subject matter is different too. What excited kids then, bores them today. I think this maybe because all that stuff we used to discover from reading magazines and books is all too available and as such does not seem to appeal to today's youngsters as it once did to us.

Nowadays the toy is perceived in a completely different way. Today Meccano is more of a kit of parts designed to build one model; even the multiple model sets are mostly not used as intended. The kids mainly see the building as a nuisance, a means to an end. At one of the Meccano road shows, a dad with his son was talking to us about the 10-model Dinosaur set. The young boy was looking at the back of the box and said to his dad "Look dad, we can build all these different models." The reply given was the perfect example of how modern Meccano is perceived today. "Yes son, when you have built that one maybe you can have another set for your birthday so you can build another one."

I wonder if, in time to come, the current generation will be looking at today's Meccano with a nostalgic eye. I am not sure if they will be commemorating it on stamps as I fear the adhesive postage stamp could soon be a thing of the past.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Socket adaptor...

Having been 'out of the loop' recently, one very useful addition to the Meccano tool armoury was completely overlooked by me. It first appeared in the radio control set depicting the Lamborghini Huracan. It has now surfaced in one of the latest radio control sets to land on my desk.

It is a small plastic 'fitting' that if you are not careful, could be easily overlooked. It is in fact a socket designed to fit the standard Locking Nuts that we are all familiar with. On the Lamborghini Huracan, the wheels are bolted on to the axles, and the wheels have deep recesses in which the nuts have to be fitted. Without this adaptor, this would not be possible using only Meccano tools.

The neat little adaptor fits onto the end of a Hex Driver to enable the nut to be placed and tightened. Having not actually built this set as we had seen it built at the Toy Fair at the beginning of 2016, I had not realised there was a need for the tool or that it even existed. It was not until I was looking at the very latest RC offering, the Speedster,  I realised it even existed. I will be looking at these new generation of RC cars over the next few days and I will feature them in a review here next week. For today I just wanted to highlight this very useful little socket.

The socket fitted to a Hex Driver
It is intended for use with the Meccano locking nuts which do seem to be very slightly larger than a standard nut. This means that the standard nut is not as 'snug' as it might be but it will stay in the socket most of the time. If I was planning to use it with any amount of standard nuts, I would place a small ball of Blu-Tak in socket, just to aid the grip when working against gravity, saving large amounts of tooth enamel.

I have a feeling this little thing will be very useful
This socket has been around since the introduction of the RC Huracan, but with a hefty price tag I doubt many enthusiasts raced out to buy one. The new Speedster is much cheaper and may well sell in greater numbers, making this little tool only slightly more accessible. Don't forget look out for the review of the two RC cars, mentioned here, next week!


Thursday, 3 August 2017

Plastic Spanner

New spanners seem to be included in all new sets 
Today I have been building the latest robotic creation in the TECH range, M.A.X. I will write a full review once I have worked out how he (it?) works. I was somewhat surprised to find it has a new spanner included that, on further investigation, has been rolled out in all the latest new releases.
It's plastic!
My first thought was one of horror. A plastic spanner, what good is that? A few minutes contemplation, a closer look and I realised it was the nut-placing end that is plastic. Well, and I didn't think I would be saying this, it seems pretty good, no, it is pretty good. The nut placer spanner of the pre-Spin Master era was a welcome new addition to the sets, but it was always a bit hit and miss. The redesigned spanner that Spin Master came up with a couple of years ago, was better on the nut placing end but there were a few complaints about it being 'soft' and not very nice to hold. Personally, I did not have a problem with it. This new spanner is even better. It is easy to hold and the nut-placer holds the nuts, even at odd angles, very well.

So far the new spanner seems to have been received well, even by some of the most critical enthusiasts. It is good to see the design guys are constantly trying to improve the product.

I used it for three hours this morning and it did everything I asked of it. I also realised that they can be extended. I am sure there will be a lot of other uses for the hole and slot, spaced at a convenient ½ inch spacing...

The sunken hole and the nut-placer are at ½ inch centres - Handy!


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Welcome to our all new Meccano blog!

Things are looking up...
Earlier on this year Sue and I took the monumental decision to give up building new models and to sell off our entire stock of traditional and modern Meccano building stock. We have given up attending meetings and shows and decided to get on with the other things in our life that we enjoy doing. Meccano has been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember, even in the periods of non activity the interest has still been there as we would be buying, even if we were not using or dealing. If that sounds like an addict speaking, I suppose it may be. It was not some chemical substance that gave us a high, just a craving for more Meccano!  

The sell-off of our building stock continues and I thought that would be it. I was sure I had kicked the habit and Sue felt the same too. We had always intended to keep up with the new releases and continue to follow the Meccano company and its development within the Spin Master family. Right from the beginning of the Spin Master take over we knew there were going to be changes. Like a powerful car accelerating hard, from a standing start, can loose its grip and veer from left to right before the power is tamed, and it heads off in the chosen direction with the confidence of a thoroughbred, so too has it been with the journey of Spin Master's development of the brand over the past few years. That period of testing the market seems to have been concluded and Meccano has morphed into the robust toy that it is today. 

I am sure that when Spin Mater were thinking about buying Meccano, they were given the impression that the adult following for Meccano was much greater than it actually is. I have often been pilloried for saying that the true number of adult enthusiasts, who are actively building and buying Meccano is very small. Initial discussions with the new management of Meccano in London, during the early part of December 2013, were encouraging and it was obvious that they were prepared to listen. One of the questions that came up at that meeting was how many ten sets did they think they would sell if they produced a special run for us enthusiasts. Now, bearing in mind that this would have been at today's prices - I have no idea what that would be, but it would have to be several thousand pounds - I said "Ten, world wide?" Their jaws dropped and I said I might have underestimated it slightly "Maybe twelve".

When I explained that there were probably only a few hundred Meccano enthusiasts buying Meccano world wide they were staggered. They had obviously been talking to other enthusiasts who had given them totally the wrong impression. They were also beginning to discover what Sue and I call the missing generations. For decades now, Meccano enthusiasts have been trying to sell the hobby to the subsequent generations, without any success. Kids have become fathers, fathers have become grandfathers and now even great-grandfathers without successfully passing on the interest. I was standing at one of our Meccano Road Shows talking to a dad, whose son was demolishing our display, and he said " I remember Meccano... My grandfather had some!

The guys from Meccano were full of enthusiasm for the product, these guys are not the suited and booted bean-counting men in grey suits, far from it. These guys are down to earth toy industry 'lifers'. They have been with Spin Master for years and in the industry before that. Even at that first meeting it was obvious that they had a plan. It was way back then when we were first told of some of the changes to come and the development of what eventually emerged initially as Meccanoid GKS 15. (Genesis [the beginning] Kid Size and first released in 2015 - GKS 15). We left that meeting full of hope for the future. Little did we know then of what was to come...

It was not long before the robots were taking over - No, you can't drive!
By the summer of 2014, we were working closely with both the management (now in Toronto) and the design and marketing team in L.A.) Things were developing at an alarming rate. At the London Toy Fair 2014 Meccano had the largest presence I have ever seen. Spin Master had proved to us and the toy trade that they meant business.

Development of the brand continued and we were now firmly on-board with what Spin Master were doing. Having bought the company, lock, stock and barrel, they were committed to continue with  the immediate product releases. The first new products would not start to filter through for another year or so, however all the existing licence agreements for models were terminated. This was the end of the Rabbids and Gears of War models, both of which were very second rate compared with the sort of names other manufactures had on board.

It took a while, but today the new Meccano models have moved on. Away from the all metal sets of our childhood to the modern materials of today. This has been a shock to the system and one that has been just one step to far for the few remaining hard-core traditional Meccano enthusiasts. I get that. Most of us have been involved with the Meccano we knew and loved as a child but we could not afford to buy. I know that all I wanted to do was build with what I defined as 'real' Meccano right up until ten years ago. As far as I was concerned, I believed 'real' Meccano production ended when production was moved away from the iconic Liverpool address of Binns Road.

New parts - of days gone by...
For the past ten years, mainly thanks to Sue's less prejudice eye, we have championed the new parts - even the plastic ones. The introduction was always an addition to the range, as far as we were concerned, something to increase our choice, not to replace our beloved metal parts, which is what is happening with strips and now solid plates. Having already 'divorced' traditional Meccano it has been much easier to look at what is in fact a totally new construction system with new eyes. Yes it still has links with the past and of course all parts and fixings are compatible, but the concept is alien if you have grown up with Meccano. Change has always been slow and organic. Never before has there been a such a radical change in such a short time. What has come out the other side is something that merits proper consideration and a respect for the design and thought that has gone into each and every part.

So, it's plastic, it still looks like Meccano!
Forget that the system is more plastic than metal now. It is the material of the age. Just as Frank Hornby used the material of his age - steel. Forget the 'progressive' set. That is not how kids see or use toys these days. When I was a kid, I would refer to my toys by brand and only brand. With the exception of maybe Lego, but even that usually is prefixed, or suffixed with another major brand. Today most kids will refer to toys by subject "I want a Motorbike" for example. They may well go into the big box store and come out with a Meccano Ducati, but I bet most kids will only see it as a motorbike, not as a Meccano set. The next trip to the shop, to buy another motorbike, could easily result in yet another purchase for Lego.

The way kids play with toys has also changed. Kids don't want to create and entertain themselves, they want to consume and be entertained. One mother told me that her "little 'orror" preferred Lego "cus 'e could do it wiv one 'and" When I asked cautiously what he was doing with his other hand, I was relieved to discover he was "Textin' innit".

For us, the latest Meccano releases have opened up a whole new interest in the product. No we are not going to be building lots of models to tote around from one show to the other, neither will we be going back to being a slave to it. What we will be doing is keeping up with new developments. building and trying to understand the new TECH range and seeing if we can build a few different models from the contents of the sets.

You will be able to follow our journey and get all the latest news here on our new blog. Bookmark it and keep coming back as we will be adding to it regularly.

Ralph and Sue, August 2017