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Lego is becoming a popular collecting market but the older construction system of Meccano is also a good and relatively ‘affordable’ option to buy. The sets were produced over a near 80-year period and therefore offer plenty of collecting points and styles, although underpinning it all are the same principles and beautifully simple premise of robust parts put together with a screwdriver and spanner.

The key to Meccano, as with most Lego, is that while specific projects can be built, the separate parts can then also be used for different creations.

While Meccano sets appear at auction fairly often, it is rare to see whole collections on offer. So the Lawrences May 12 collectors’ sale in Crewkerne, Somerset, is one to watch as a good test of this market.

Fourteen lots represent a collection assembled by a Devon man over the course of a lifetime, the result of an interest in all things engineering, including Meccano and trains.

Those lots include “a wide variety of the boxed construction sets that made Meccano’s reputation”, says auctioneer Simon Jones. Estimates range from £50-500.

He adds: “Collectors for Meccano love to see things untouched or complete, and you can see that there are two sets that have never been opened, and another is like new. Three of them are large boxed sets that always attract interest.”

Indeed, Meccano value can usually hinge on condition, as with all toys – have they been ripped open and played with extensively? Or have they sat pristine for all those years? It can make a huge difference to an auction result.

Meccano foundations

The roots of Meccano lie with Frank Hornby (b.1863 in Liverpool), whose name is of course now famous because of the model railways.

According to one of the numerous (and extensive) Meccano collectors’ websites out there, alansmeccano.org: “He had two sons and to help keep them amused he made them a construction toy consisting of strips, wheels, rods and nuts and bolts that could be assembled to build simple toy trucks, cranes and other mechanical devices.

“These toys could then be then taken apart and made into a different mechanical toy. Hornby made these parts himself in his small home workshop, probably his kitchen, where he cut strips from sheet copper and drilled holes in them 1/2in (about 12mm) apart. He had brass wheels cast in a local workshop that made furniture fittings. From this simple start an iconic toy was born.”

Few other construction toys at the time “had metal parts or methods of securely joining parts together”. By 1901 the system was developed enough to have a patent granted. The original name was Mechanics Made Easy but by 1908 the Meccano title was established, possibly because Hornby thought it could “easily pronounced in all languages”.

For a full history do visit the very informative alansmeccano.org.

The inter-war years were the heyday of Meccano but the firm increasingly struggled post-war and production in the famous Binns Road, Liverpool, factory finally ended in 1980 (although Meccano products are actually still made in Calais, France, and elsewhere).

Meccano value today

So, what do recent auction results and upcoming sales tell us about Meccano prices?

Hornby O gauge trains and accessories are a surprisingly ‘affordable’ toy collecting option at the moment and, likewise, Meccano sets can often be bought for around £30-50 depending on condition.

On March 21 Kent auction house C&T is offering a Meccano No5a accessory outfit, c.1950s, in original red card box with label illustrating Tower Bridge on the lid, with an estimate of £30-50.

Also that day, West Sussex saleroom Toovey’s has another £30-50 estimate on a Meccano set No4.

At the upper end of the market, on December 7 last year North Yorkshire auction house Tennants sold a Meccano set No5 for £300 (plus 21.5% buyer’s premium) against an estimate of £120-180.

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A ‘non-constructor’ clockwork two-seater sports car finished in blue and cream, boxed with key, which is estimated at £400-600 in the March 21 Toovey’s sale.

Not all Meccano sets were for construction, though – a complete ‘non-constructor’ clockwork two-seater sports car finished in blue and cream, boxed with key, is estimated at £400-600 in that Toovey’s sale.