A Brief History of Lego Colors

RyanA Guest Blog Post by Ryan Howerter
I am a graphic designer and AFOL from Fort Collins who has been doing more collecting and cataloguing of rare LEGO parts than building, lately. I’m fascinated by the rich and at times confusing history of the LEGO brand.

[In this brief history of Lego colors, I use the BrickLink names of colors, since they are the names most commonly used by AFOLs. TLG’s IDs follow in parentheses, since they are much more precise. Colors not recognized by BrickLink are in quotes.]

If you had to guess, how many colors would you say LEGO® bricks originally came in? Most people recall just the basics: Red, White, Blue, Yellow, maybe Black and Green. Maybe you’re thinking of the Town Plan sets from the early 60’s, which also had Trans-Clear. The palette started nice and simple, only to continually grow over the years, right?

Not quite. When The LEGO® Group (TLG) started producing plastic bricks in 1949, they did have the basic colors, but also a wide variety of color variations and unusual hues. These earliest bricks don’t look like today’s bricks—they were (usually) made of Cellulose Acetate (CA), lacked connecting tubes, and didn’t even originally have the LEGO® logo anywhere—but they will still connect to modern bricks, if you can find them in good enough condition. In these early years, TLG was feeling out what worked and what didn’t, meaning odd plastics and inconsistent colors.

Lego

We don’t have a complete history of these early bricks due to box contents being switched around over the years and molds moving from one factory to another. Toy stores sold individual bricks at the counter, sometimes in rare (not-in-sets) colors. TLG employees would even sweep up the factory floor, and use the dropped pellets to make rainbow marbled bricks, which sold for pennies. (These “defects” today can sell for $40 each!) We do know that by 1955, the slotted brick color palette had been standardized to mainly Red (21 Bright Red), White (1 White), Blue (23 Bright Blue), Yellow (24 Bright Yellow), Green (28 Dark Green), and Trans-Clear (40 Transparent). Black (26 Black) didn’t reappear until 1960.

In 1954/5, the slots were removed from bricks, and the Town Plan theme was introduced. For the most part, bricks from these sets only came in Red, White, and Clear, though there were baseplates in Light Gray (2 Grey), and Blue/Yellow/Green bricks in a handful of rarer parts packs.

In 1958, the tubes that help LEGO® bricks connect were invented, and the first “modern” bricks were produced. This was the development that differentiated LEGO® bricks from the many other building toy makers in Europe—particularly from Kiddicraft, which directly inspired the original hollow slotted LEGO® bricks. At this point, TLG was able to patent their basic 2×4 brick design. Beginning in 1963, TLG finally switched to Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) for their bricks, which is the same material they use today (plus or minus some additives). ABS is harder than CA, held its color better, and didn’t warp or shrink over time.

In 1963, TLG introduced Modulex, a smaller version of LEGO bricks intended for professional use by architects and workspace planners. Modulex could easily take up its own article, but I mention it here because many of the original muted Modulex colors were used (much later) for regular LEGO® parts, using the same color IDs. The second wave of Modulex colors, starting in 1983, consisted entirely of proper LEGO® brick colors. (The third and fourth sets of Modulex, in 1993 and 1998, did not match LEGO® colors at all—by that point, Modulex had branched off as its own company.)

The LEGO palette didn’t change much until nearly 1980 (save for some transparent colors), when the Fabuland theme necessitated more earthy flesh tones. “Fabuland Red” (13 Red Orange), Brown (25 Earth Orange), Tan (5 Brick Yellow), Flesh (18 Nougat), Fabuland Brown (4 Brick Red), “Fabuland Green” (14 Pastel Green), Fabuland Orange (19 Light Brown), and Earth Orange (12 Light Orange Brown) all arrived in this era. Most of these were previously Modulex colors.

Beginning in the late 1990s, TLG’s color palette expanded rapidly, thanks at first to bright themes such as Belville and Scala. It grew much worse in the early 2000s, when it was common for a new color to be used only in one part in one obscure Duplo set. The need to maintain this large amount of resources, combined with several desperate themes that didn’t fit the LEGO® brand*, nearly drove TLG to bankruptcy.

TLG’s first attempt to “fix” the palette came around 2003. After a series of focus groups, TLG determined that children overwhelmingly preferred brighter, more vibrant colors. They replaced many colors with new versions—most notably the grays, which caused an uproar in the AFOL community among those who had built up a lifetime’s collection of the old colors. Light Gray (2 Grey) became Light Bluish Gray (194 Medium Stone Grey), Dark Gray (27 Dark Grey) became Dark Bluish Gray (199 Dark Stone Grey), and Brown (25 Earth Orange) became Reddish Brown (192 Reddish Brown). At least 10 other colors changed as well, but they were seldom-used and went largely unnoticed.

­In the late 2000s, TLG began mixing their own ABS colors from raw granulate (instead of outsourcing their color mixing to Bayer and receiving pre-colored ABS pellets). Though this gave them more control over their own product, it took a while to stabilize the color quality, and for several years, brittle or milky parts were a frequent annoyance. For the most part, this is no longer the case. Dark Red (154 Dark Red), one of the worst offenders, has even been renamed to 154 New Dark Red, to signify the improvement in consistency. 131 Silver became 315 Silver Metallic, and 148 Metallic Dark Grey became 316 Titanium Metallic, for ostensibly the same reason.

Pictured below: Bricks lit from above on the left, and the same bricks lit from below on the right to show opacity issues.

Since the 2003 color change, TLG has minimized their palette to a carefully-selected few colors. The Friends theme in 2012 introduced several new pastel colors, but they were all unique, without any glaring redundancies. TLG has since focused on using these colors in a wide variety of bricks, plates, and other useful parts, making them much more useful.

Since then, the only colors introduced have been existing colors with metallic additives, which are likely much easier to add to the palette and cheaper to maintain than a brand new color formulation.

Even if there aren’t many new colors, there seems to be an unending supply of old colors to find. Recently it was discovered that the hair from 1974 Homemaker sets and 1969 granulated trees each used a unique shade of brown (we still don’t know the TLG IDs—if there ever were any). If we assume that TLG doesn’t leave gaps in their color numbering system, then we still are missing nearly all colors between 50 and 99. Discounting the numbers for CMYK ink colors, the highest number we know of is 339 (Transparent Fluorescent Green with Glitter). My own color chart only has around 200 colors—time to search for more!

Bionicle

*See Galidor and Jack Stone. Bionicle actually sold extremely well, and has been credited as the theme that saved LEGO.

 

RESOURCES

Comments (2 Comments)
Karl

I had to google to see what an AFOL is!  Obviously I am not one!  :-)  But I do love their old HO scale cars and trucks.  Not to mention the larger 1/43 trucks...

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Sergio Goldvarg, Collector and Manufacturer, Hosts Archive at hobbyDB

goldvarg collection

The Goldvarg Collection of model cars is the latest addition to the official archives at hobbyDB. If that name sounds familiar, maybe it’s because you know Sergio Goldvarg as the world record holder for the biggest collection of large scale model cars. Or that he has a collection of George Barris TV Batmobiles in every scale (including a real, drivable one). Or that he is a member of the hobbyDB Advisory Board.

sergio goldvarg collection

Besides all that, however, he was the founder of a company best known for producing models of American cars from the 1940s and 50s, The Goldvarg Collection.

goldvarg collection kaiser henry j

Sergio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and fell in love with Matchbox cars at an early age. His very first one was the Matchbox Merryweather Marquis Fire Engine, which he still owns today with its original box, and in perfect shape. But when he was six years old, he received a 1/43 scale Solido Jaguar D-Type, and his fever for collecting took off. While he is best known for his large scale collection, he has countless 1/43 scale cars, and his own products favored that scale as well. By the age of ten, he was buying damaged, even nearly destroyed model cars and restoring them. “I came up with an interesting idea,” he said. “I began placing ads in the local newspapers offering to buy used miniature collections. I would restore each of the models and offer them to the shops in my neighborhood. Soon I had enough money to buy my own toys and collectibles.”

sergio goldvarg collection

Sergio with just a tiny fraction of his large scale diecast collection.

His next jobs, as an auto racing journalist (he would also later be involved in the organization of the Argentine Grand Prix), and an architect, related to his passion for cars and design as well. “I was the first journalist in South America to write weekly about diecast cars,” he said. His model car column ran in Corsa and Parabrisas, (two well-known South American motor racing magazines) and later Classic Wheels magazine. He still writes today.

goldvarg collection factory

Goldvarg Collection models required quite a bit of hand assembly.

As his collection grew, he also served as an Advisor for Buby, an Argentine diecast manufacturer.

So all that passion and experience eventually led him to start his own model manufacturing company, Miniturbo, in the 1980s and it featured all sorts of vehicles, trucks, vans, pick-ups and buses, which he designed himself.  These were created primarily as toys for younger kids, but he decided to try his hand at something geared more for collectors.

goldvarg collection 1957 oldsmobile

Thus was born the Goldvarg Collection, the first 1/43 diecast cars produced in South America. “Back in those days I was blown away by the beauty and conceptual design of 1950s -’60s American cars,” he said. “To me the British white metal models were the best, but their line lacked some of the items I treasured the most, such as the 1957 Oldsmobile Starfire Coupe. I loved its sexy lines. So the time had come to create my own scale line of models. That Starfire was the basis the first offering in his new line, one year after he set out to start the company.

goldvarg collection packard wagon

His mission was to produce models of cars that he loved, but that had never been manufactured in any scale. In fact, the slogan for his company became, ”From a Collector, to the Collectors.” Some of his models, such as the Kaiser Henry J, and the Packard Woodie Station Wagon 1948 (with real mahogany wood in the sides!), were best sellers when compared with other well-established brands, so his hunch was correct.

He took that first model to Autofanatics, a store in Sherman Oaks, California.  The owner immediately ordered 100 units, and collectors that were in the store at that moment wanted to buy it regardless of price.

In the early 2000s, he moved to the U.S., where among his other tasks, he opened the first “scale model cars related restaurant.” Waffleworks, in Hollywood, Florida, has a permanent exhibit of nearly 900 of his model cars. His idea was to share part of his diecast collection in a place with a unique atmosphere. And serve great breakfast all day!

sergio goldvarg collection

Since 2004, Sergio Goldvarg has been the New Product Development Advisor for Sun Star, working mostly in 1/18 scale. He has helped develop such models as the 1952 Nash Ambassador, 1958 Ford Fairlane 500, 1960 Plymouth Fury, 1956 Mercury Montclair, 1955 Pontiac Star Chief, 1959 Pontiac Bonneville, 1951 Kaiser Henry J, 1959 Mercury Park Lane and 1959 Oldsmobile. Over the last decade or so, Sergio has worked with several model car companies such Sunstar.  In 2011, he wrote a history of Carlos Pairetti, a famous Argentine motor racing driver.

With all that on his plate, we’re glad and very fortunate that Sergio has the time to be on our Advisory Board as well.  While he was never able to put a complete archive of Miniturbo vehicles online before some of them were lost to history, he jumped at the opportunity to document the Goldvarg Collection. You can see the complete archive here.

Comments (1 Comment)
Luisinho Smurf

Excelente matéria. Gostei muito e vou pesquisar sobre.

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Exciting Changes are in Store for the Diecast Hall of Fame

Diecast Hall of Fame Logo

The Diecast Hall of Fame (DHOF) is roaring into action! A staple of the diecast world, the DHOF is best known for honoring pioneers of the model vehicle industry for their efforts to promote and enhance the hobby. From designers to entrepreneurs, there is no shortage of talented folks on the inductee list.

Since its foundation in 2009 by CJ Cramer and Jeff Glasson, the DHOF has grown into one of the diecast community’s best-known and favorite events.

“Since the beginning, we’ve enjoyed incredible support from the diecast community” said CJ Cramer. “With more than 170 inductees, including Jay Leno, Carroll Shelby, and Larry Wood, we’ve achieved some amazing things together.”

Jay Leno Diecast Hall of Fame

Diecast Hall of Fame Inductees Jay Leno (2012), Billy Gibbons (2016), Bruce Meyer (2015)

Now collectors across the entire diecast community are coming together to bring new life into the annual event. “With the success of SuperToyCon, I’ve decided to pass the DHOF reins to other passionate collectors who will have the know-how and resources to take the DHOF to the next level,” said CJ.

Folks from all walks of life throughout the diecast community are ready to take on this new adventure. New event collaborators include DieCast X, hobbyDB, the Lamley Group, Model Auto Review, T-Hunted from Brazil, and more. These partners will work together to take the DHOF to the next level, introducing new Models of the Year awards, and a new spin on customizing competitions. For the next few months, until an event producer joins the coalition, hobbyDB will be running the online aspects of the event.

Diecast Hall of Fame Partners

 

Editor of the largest German model car publication, Modellfahrzeug, and organizer for 27 years of a similar event for Germany, Andreas Berse, will be a special advisor to help make sure the event is a success. “We want to get back to also honoring the models that are made as well as the people,” said Berse.

Diecast Hall of Fame Class of 2009

The First Diecast Hall of Fame Class of 2009 – Kneeling, Left to Right: Dave Chang (Diecast Designer), Mike Zarnock (Diecast Historian), Bruce Pascal (Diecast Historian), Jimmy Chavez (Diecast Designer), George Barris (Automotive Legends), Standing, second row Left to Right: Jerry Yates (RAOK Award), Tom Zahorsky (Diecast Designer), Sheri Abbey (Diecast Customizer), Japan George (Intriguing Collector), Tom Daniel (Automotive Legends), Joe Kelly Jr. (Diecast Historian), Bob Parker (Diecast Historian), Luis Tanahara (Diecast Designer), Ray Nakamura (Intriguing Collector) Back Row, Left to Right: Shane Whittenbarger (Intriguing Collector), Larry Wood (Diecast Designer), Carson Lev (Diecast Designer), Vince Mosley (Diecast Customizer), “Big Daddy” Eli Roth (Automotive Legend), Chris Walker (Diecast Customizer)

We hope you’ll join us on this new adventure in diecast and look forward to welcoming you along for the ride! Be on the lookout for future announcements regarding event timing, themes, and more!

Comments (1 Comment)
Luis Tanahara

Excellent move Christian!!!

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You’ll Love These Valentine’s Day Collectibles

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

February 14 can only mean one thing at hobbyDB: It’s time to share our love of Valentine’s Day collectibles!

Hot Wheels has experimented over the years with holiday-related segments, with mixed results. Christmas cars have been enormously popular, possibly because their mere existence helps solve the gift giving aspect of the holiday. On the other hand, collectors might balk at paying for premium price cars in a series of 4 or 6 models to commemorate a holiday like Mardi Gras. Somewhere in between those extremes lie the Valentine’s Day cars. Presumably the paramour of a collector is supposed to purchase these as a gift, because the collector likely wouldn’t want to give them away, right?

hot wheels roger dodger

hot wheels tesla roadsterNow here’s the sneaky thing… for some years, the Valentine’s cars have included a “To/From” space on the packaging like on this Tesla Roadster. When lovingly filled out, that actually ruined the “mint on card” status of the car. Oops! Such a transgression would likely drive a collector mad, so the only solution was to buy another set to keep fresh and perfect.

The 2014 Sweet Rides series were designed to promote a softer sell on Valentine’s Day with more of a candy-themed promotion. Either way, that’s six more vehicles you needed to collect.

For 2017, rather than a set of several cars, Matell is issuing a series of “Holiday Racers,” one for each special day throughout the year. They’re mixed in with the mainline offerings, and the Rodger Dodger is the one to be looking for today. Keep an eye out for New Year’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas soon as well.

Hot Wheels has also produced boxes of Valentine’s cards, featuring such sentiments as “I WHEELIE like you” or “I never TIRE of you.” They usually come in packs of 24, 28, hopefully enough for your entire class, including one for the teacher.

hot wheels valentine's cards

Corgi delivered their love for the holiday with this Citroen Moving Van… Okay, that might be a stretch. So how about this Minichamps BMW touring car from Team Valentin. That should get your heart racing.

corgi valentine

Long before Tinder, Zoosk, and other dating apps, you could play the Dating Valentine video game. Since online play wasn’t really a thing yet, one can only assume this was an exercise in unrequited gaming. It was made for the iMode Handy, which is obscure enough that anyone using one was probably extra lonely. 

dating valentine game

Kidrobot has gotten in on the love theme in their unusual way… A romantically themed version of the company mascot was released in 2005, and more recently, the Best Friends Forever series of figures included objects that defied the odds to be together, such as a cassette tape and a magnet, or a wedge of cheese and a grater. There’s a metaphor for every type of relationship in the collectibles world.

kidrobot love

Ponder this item: A Snow White postcard, somewhat romantic in nature (although the Seven Dwarfs might get in the way of things). While not specifically produced for February 14, they were printed by… Valentine and Sons.

show white postcard

Milton Bradley’s Mystery Date first appeared in 1965, introducing a generation of girls to the art judging boys for their outward appearance instead of what’s inside. (As someone who resembled “The Pest”, aka the supposed dud, I was not in the least traumatized by the existence of this game. Nope, not me!) As a bonus, the 1999 edition of the game featured a hunky kid named Tyler, aka the “Beach Date,” who would grow up to be Captain America. No, really, that’s Chris Evans, who has played Cap in several Marvel films. Seriously, how’s a guy supposed to compete with that?

mystery date chris evans

Even if you can’t find that special someone for Valentine’s Day, you can still find that special collectors item.

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Replicarz Adds Their Growing Archive to hobbyDB

replicarz marmon wasp

The ranks of diecast companies hosting their archives at hobbyDB keeps growing with the addition of Replicarz to the fold.

Replicarz should be a familiar name to diecast collectors, as they have been one of the premier online retailers for model vehicles for over 20 years. Over the last couple of years, however, they have jumped into producing their own exclusive models as well.

replicarz johnny lightning special

Their offerings span a wide range of famous race cars from Indy to Can Am to land speed record cars, produced in 1:43 and 1:18 scales. Bodies are cast in either resin or diecast metal depending on model, with hundreds of delicate detail parts.

replicarz march sullivan

From Indy, you might recognize Al Unser’s Indy 500 winning 1971 PJ Colt, better known as the Johnny Lightning Special. Or maybe Danny Sullivan’s 1985 March Miller car better known as the “Spin & Win,” since he did an unintentional, complete 360 degree donut during the race and still drove to victory. And then there’s the Smokey Yunick Offset Roadster, truly one of the most bizarre designs to ever compete on any track ever. Just look at that thing! Each model is limited to 333 pieces in 1/43 scale, so they are almost as rare as the real cars.

replicarz yunick

replicarz challenger 1

The land speed cars include Mickey Thompson’s 1959 Challenger 1 with detailed interior visible through those tiny windows. The Can Am series honors the short-lived but amazing series with cars such as the 1974 Shadow DN4, one of the most iconic liveries in racing.

replicarz shadow can am

replicarz stp

Replicarz also offers some diorama accessories such as the “Mr. STP” figure in his red blazer, extra wheel and tire sets with very specific applications, and a 1/18 display case with brick pavement for that extra touch of Indy.

Many of the designs are listed as “future releases,” so not only is our list complete, but it even predicts the future. One of the advantages of following Replicarz on hobbyDB is that you can add these cars to your Wishlist, and when they become available, you’ll be first to know.

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