Lego Posts

Christmas Presents of Past Become Toy Collection of Present

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Over the years, I’ve collected a lot of memories of Christmas that have shaped me in ways no one would have ever guessed when I was a little kid. While Santa is to thank for much of that, I should probably also thank my parents who at least took lots of photos along the way. So many fond memories.

Alas, a lot of those toys are only photos and memories, as they went away in the Great Yard Sale of 1974 before we moved from Wisconsin to Tennessee when I was eight. But some of those toys survived in my custody… and I still have a lot of them.

christmas race trackHot Wheels galore – Orange track. Maroon tongue connectors. And those oh so colorful cars. I was only two when these debuted, but had quite a few of the originals by the time I could start remembering those things. The track showed up under the tree a couple years later. I still have an original Rally Case full of my Hot Wheels cars that survived the sandbox well enough to still be recognizable.

Johnny Lightning cars – Speaking of track, one year I got the Cyclone 500 track set. JL made a surprisingly wise calculation on how to add speed to tiny diecast cars. Hot Wheels relied on gravity and motorized boosters, but the folks at Topper put hooks on the bottom of the cars that could be snagged by the drivers and slingshotted around a track and into towering loops with a flick of a lever. Yeah, I had that set. I don’t have it anymore, but a few of the cars are still along for the ride.

christmas tonkaTonka Crater Crawler – Tonka’s large scale construction vehicles are staples of many fond childhood memories. Like a lot of kids, I had several of them. But my favorite vehicle of that scale was a bit less utilitarian… it was the Crater Crawler, a moon buggy molded with gray tires and sparkle blue plastic body panels. Doesn’t sound Tonka tough? I still have it in remarkably good condition despite the fun play heaped upon it.

christmas sspKenner SSP cars – I’ve written about these several times for hobbyDB. I had about six different models of these gyro-wheeled racers, all of which got scraped and bashed on driveways and basement walls. I still have one original, the Sidewinder, from then. About twenty years ago, I worked on completing the collection… right now I have about 85 different models of them. I guess that got out of hand.

christmas tyco trainTyco Spirit of ’76 train set – My father had American Flyer trains since I can remember, and I wanted my own train set for just as long. To celebrate the American Bicentennial, I got this Tyco set with the very patriotic livery that Seaboard Coastline had applied to one of their real locomotives. And yes, I still have every bit of that train, although it hasn’t been set up in decades. Maybe it’s time to fix that.

comic book christmasPeanuts “Speak Softly and Carry a Beagle” – A surprisingly non-transportation related present. When I was a kid, Grandma Ruelle worked for a comics publisher, Gold Key, who did the Disney, WB, Walter Lantz, and Depatie-Freleng comic books. And I relished them, copied them, actually got sort of good at it. So my parents… I mean Santa gave me a copy of the latest “Peanuts” book by Charles Schulz. Mid-1960s to late ’70-s Peanuts is about as good as comic strip writing gets. Yeah, I still pull that one out and flip through it every now and then.

christmas legoLego Auto Chassis (Set 853) – Hard to believe the Lego Technic sets have existed since the late 1970s. This was game-changing stuff from Lego, a set with axles, universal joints, pistons, cams, and gears. The car was a huge model of a front-engine, inline 4-cylinder, 4-passenger car. I still have it, but, over the years, the parts got rearranged into this…

christmas lego indy carFive years ago, I brought a few of these toys to an interview for a role on the hobbyDB project. Let’s just say I almost didn’t need a resume after I pulled them out of my 1969 Hot Wheels lunchbox (which was not a Christmas present, so it doesn’t count here).

Those toys were great. Those memories were great. It’s especially great to still have both in some cases.

christmas toysWhat are your favorite toys you got for the holidays as a kid that you still have? Post some vintage pics in the comments if you have them!

The Evolution of Lego Minifigs, Brick by Brick

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Lego is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the the Minifigure this year, but the history of block-based humans goes back further than that. So let’s take a look at The Evolution of Lego Minifigs (and their blocks in general) over the last 50 or so years.

The first Lego building sets were designed to build, well, buildings. Vehicles weren’t something that needed to be constructed, because Lego originally made separate, somewhat realistic cars and trucks to go with these sets. Those vehicles were eventually discontinued, so eventually the first wheel sets were added, allowing kids to build cars and trucks. But it would take several more years (and a change in scale) to bring about anyone to drive those vehicles.

Lego patent printsLego’s’s first wheel and tire pieces had a 2×2 stud arrangement in the middle of the hub. A human figure scaled to that size would need to be about 4 inches tall. Those would probably be too big and require too many new parts, so Lego balked at the idea at the time. They offered head and shoulder pieces with moveable arms, but the rest had to be built from regular bricks.

The first Lego Minifigs appeared in 1975, along with smaller wheelsets. This was from the days when Lego blocks came only in black, white, red, yellow, and blue. And green baseplates. And clear window bricks. And a few gray pieces, but only technical ones like wheel mount blocks. (Okay, they actually had quite a few different colors going on back then.) And just like that, the Lego universe was dominated by a scale somewhere around 1/48.

Oh, and they weren’t officially called Minifigures yet. But we’ll go with that term for now.

The original Minifig head shape was a bit of a departure for Lego, as round pieces were not part of the universe yet aside from wheels. Also, the diameter of the head was a bit wider than a single stud brick, so it couldn’t be used in certain tight areas. But the shape and size just seemed right, so it stuck. The body had no moving parts, so fitting a character into a car wasn’t really even a consideration. Most of the time, adding a passenger meant just setting aside the legs and installing the torso and head. Some new bespoke pieces included a police hat, a farmer’s hat, and a bit later, simple male and female hair pieces.

lego original minifigsAnother feature lacking in Lego blocks at the time: There were no graphics printed on any of them. Some sets came with stickers, but permanent markings were years away. So that meant blank head pieces at first.

The heads did come with a new feature that was fraught with possibility. The diameter of the neck was perfect for nesting in the middle of of a 2×2 array of studs, meaning it could be centered in a way that threw the entire grid into a new dimension. That may be overstating things a bit, but soon after those pieces came out, smaller cylindrical parts debuted that had the same feature. Coupled with the happy accident that a 1/3 thickness plate could stand on edge between the studs, suddenly the world of Lego was pointing in all kinds of new directions.

lego first minifigs1978 brought a major evolutionary step in the Minifig. Moving arms and legs, as well as printed features including faces. Early ones had only one expression, a simple, noseless happy face. And they were yellow.  (Different facial features would not appear until 1989 with the first Pirate sets, and eventually, heads with faces on the front and back would become the norm.)

lego piratesThe legs fit the same dimensions as the early non-moving ones, but the torsos were now wider, as the arms stuck out from the width of the body. While we’ve become accustomed to this style, it did lead to some changes in the engineering of Lego kits. If you’ve noticed how real cars are getting bigger and bigger (along with the average real person), it’s happening in Legoland, too.

Vehicles, previously 4 studs wide at this scale, suddenly became six or eight studs wide. And that was to accommodate a single, centrally seated passenger. For them to sit side by side required space between the seats, as well as space on the sides.

lego space minifig1979 saw possibly the most important development in Lego history… the introduction of Lego Space sets. These featured new wing shapes in several sizes, new clear canopy parts (even molded in translucent colors!) and cylindrical and cone pieces. And a lot more gray bits. The characters now had a spiffy space helmet option and back mounted air tanks. (The tanks attached by being placed on the neck before the head went on, making the space people just a bit taller.) Sales rocketed to new heights, and kids fell in love with the new parts.

For several years, the yellow brick head and hands remained the standard. The folks at Lego liked the idea that even though only one skin tone existed, it really didn’t match any actual human hue, so in a sense they represented everyone and anyone. It also meant characters who wore yellow looked sort of naked.

Around the turn of the century, Lego was struggling financially. Their toys were immensely popular and beloved, but costs were spiraling out of control. In order to keep up the precise, durable quality of the brand, they had to raise prices just enough to become an issue with consumers. Also, there were some issues with protecting the copyrights on their designs, so competitors popped up, some with lower prices, most with lower quality.

lego star wars minifigsThen came the first licensed sets. And despite the extra cost for the licensing rights, they were a huge hit. Instead of generic characters, buildings, and cars, these sets represented real fictional characters (if that makes sense). 1999 saw the first Star Wars sets, and more evolution came about. While the bodies mostly remained the same shape and size, new helmets and hair were introduced. And for some of the monsters, new molds were created, with head shapes almost completely devoid of lego simplicity. A shorter leg piece was introduced for the Yoda figure. And in 2003, for the first time, more realistic skin tones were used. By then, the color palette for other bricks had exploded into the dozens, so this didn’t seem too earth or space shattering.

lego ninjagoLego managed to right the financial ship by creating their own new original universes that didn’t require any additional licensing fees. The Ninjago series, introduced in 2011 has been one of their most popular lines ever. And best of all, it brought back the traditional yellow skin tones. Throw in the success of The Lego Movie and other assorted video game and entertainment properties, and the company is brick solid again.

The Lego Miniverse is now filled with thousands of different Minifigs of all shapes, sizes and colors. Superheroes (DC, Marvel and Pixar), Pirates (Caribbean and otherwise), wizards, and all sorts of movie and TV tie-ins can peacefully coexist in one toybox. Most licensed Minifigs now go with an approximation of the character’s skin tone, but there has been a notable recent exception.

lego simpsonsThe whole bricktone thing was all brought home with the first Simpsons set in 2014. While each character had distinctly molded heads, most of them were once again yellow, which in a way, makes them the most Lego-y of all characters.

What is your favorite Lego Minifig? Let us know in the comments!

This Lego Bugatti is a Million Bricks (Not a Million Bucks)

lego bugatti chiron

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Lego has a facility in the Czech Republic where designers are responsible for their really large models that go on tour and on exhibit around the world.. Most of them are static, such as famous buildings from around the world. Then there’s the Lego Bugatti Chiron, a full-size, running, drivable car. And it’s built almost entirely from Lego blocks.

The total number of bricks is said to be around one million pieces. As a rule of thumb, Lego models usually retail for around ten cents per brick, so that would be about a $100,000 set. Considering the real car sells for about $2.4 million, that’s a bargain. Remarkably, almost the entire car is built of Lego pieces. The wheels and tires, of course, are real Bugatti spec.There is also a steel tube frame underneath everything for support. But the interior, including seats, rear view mirror, even the removable steering wheel are all Lego.

lego bugatti chironAs with many Lego creations, you have to use a bit of imagination. There is no window glass, as there aren’t any pieces that will quite fit that size and shape. The bricks are primarily Technic brick, which lock together in more complex ways than the standard stacking bricks. Aside from the missing glass, the contours of the car are recreated rather faithfully.

lego bugatti chironLike any exotic racer, it required intense testing, so it was sent to the Ehra Lessien Proving Grounds to be driven by Bugatti’s own development driver, Andy Wallace. The car tops out at a whopping 19 miles per hour, just a bit shy of the real Chiron’s 261 mph top speed. The engine cranks out 5.3 horsepower (again, a tad short of the real car’s number at 1469). What’s remarkable is that the entire power plant is constructed of tiny Technic Power Function motors, over 2300 of them, connected through a mind boggling array of over 4,000 Technic gears.

lego bugatti chironlego bugatti chiron

While you likely can’t afford a real Chiron, and this one isn’t even for sale, Lego has you covered in a couple of smaller ways. Set 42083 includes everything needed to create a 1/8 scale Bugatti Chiron. That’s 3599 pieces for  around $349, adhering to that ten cent per brick ratio closely. Despite the smaller size, (it’s still about 22 inches long) the car does feature working suspension, steering, shiftable transmission, and many other amazing parts. The engine block, with cranking pistons, is a work of art unto itself. The instructions even come in the form of a decorative coffee table book, to be displayed along with the model.

lego bugatti chironIf that’s still too rich for your tastes, there’s Set 75878, the Speed Champion Bugatti Chiron. This one is much smaller, built to Minifig scale (and it includes the driver), who can fit inside. It doesn’t quite have the same working features, but at about $15 for 181 pieces, it’s an excellent value. Even at this scale, the distinct contours and two tone livery of the Chiron are unmistakable.

The whole point of Lego toys is dreaming, imagining, and creating. This Bugatti just takes the concept to a whole new scale.

What’s Your Damage? A Guide To Common Less-Than-Mint Conditions

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Anytime you’re looking at buying a collectible online, you’re probably hoping to find mint condition, still in the package, never been looked at for more than 30 seconds perfection. Alas, such conditions don’t usually exist in the real world. So if something is “Near Mint” or below, that means something has to be not perfect, right? Of course, if your plan is to take the item out of the package, knowing these terms might help you find a bargain that others would pass on. 

Grading items from “Mint” to “Fair” to “Poor” and everything in between is subjective, so we’re not even going to get into those distinctions here. There are professional grading services that can handle that for a fee. But let’s look at some common terms that show up in collectible listings. Of course, there are certain collectibles like stamps, coins, and comic books that have their own unique forms of imperfection, which we’ll look at sometime in the future.

For now, let’s look at issues with boxes and blister cards, (especially diecast models) and see if we can define exactly what they mean. Here are some ” Less-Than-Mint Conditions .”


package shelf wearShelf Wear – This is some light scuffing, scratching, or rubbing on packaging that comes naturally with a collectible being handled and moved around in the store. Unless employees and customers are using padded gloves and extreme caution at all times, most store-bought items will have at least a few minor imperfections like this.


rubbingRubbing – A common phenomenon in older models that were not secured within the package. Over the years, a Hot Wheels car may have rolled back and forth inside the blister enough for the paint on the center of the hubs to rub off. It’s a shame when the package is perfect but the item inside isn’t. This also can show up on the roof of cars.


yellowed packagingYellowed – Usually this refers to clear plastic bits again. Over time, some plastic just turns yellow, and there’s not much you can do about it. Can also apply to other plastic bits, like hanger reinforcements.

Smoke Damaged – In addition to yellowing of plastic, or discoloration of other elements, the item also comes with the added fragrance of nicotine.


soft cornerSoft Corners – This happens when the corners of the card get a little bit mooshed but not necessarily creased. Layers of the cardboard are often separated. From the right angle, this might not even be visible when the item is on display. Sometimes this can be restored with a bit of glue to stiffen it up.


dented blisterDented Blister – Seems self explanatory, right? Usually the corners of the blister, closest to the edge of the packaging are susceptible. It may be possible to massage the dent out, but that might cause cracks or stress marks, which may look even worse.


stress marksStress Marks – Speaking of which… stress marks occur when a plastic piece bends enough to become discolored (usually white or a lighter shade of the original plastic.)


cracked blisterCracked Blister – Cracked, but nothing is missing. In this case, the entire blister should still be present and connected in some way.


detached blisterDetached Blister – The glue has let go, so even though the card, blister, and contents are in good shape, this is problematic. Even if it came off perfectly clean, it’s hard to prove there were no shenanigans when the collectible isn’t completely sealed in place. If it’s partially attached, but there’s still room for the item to be removed, it can affect value.


creaseLight Creasing – This is a fold that in the card that is light enough to easily return to its original shape, but may have left a scar where the fold occurred. Usually there is no discoloration or missing material.


crunched cornerCrunched Corner – It’s pretty common for at least one corner of a box to be a little bit crunched in. How much that matters to a collector depends on whether anything is torn or discolored, if the seal is broken at all, or if the damage is on the back or bottom where it won’t be seen while on display.


broken sealBroken Seal – Some boxed items have a tape seal of some sort to indicate it’s never been opened. You can have a perfect bobblehead in a perfect box, but to many folks that piece of tape makes a huge difference in value.


price stickerPrice Sticker/Sticker Residue – Price stickers added by the store are fairly rare today, but were very common years ago. To some, such stickers are a blight, but the alternative can be just as bad… sticky goop, discolored patches, or small tears in the surface.


factory sealed hologramMissing Hologram (or other identifying stickers) – Some newer models are supposed to come with a hologram sticker to indicate authenticity or some other status, such as an extremely limited run. If it’s missing or damaged, the value of the item can be lower. Also, if the sticker is placed on crooked at the factory, that can unfortunately make it less desirable.


cut blister card

Cut Card – Why do people do this? Occasionally you’ll see an older diecast car still in the blister, attached to the card…. or what’s left of the card. Was it for storage space? To send in an offer or proof of purchase seals? It’s still a mint car, but dang!


What other common imperfections do you run into either as a buyer or seller? Let us know in the comments and we might add it to our list.

Halloween Means Thrills! Chills! Collectibles!

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Aside from Christmas, there’s no holiday that inspires decor, commemoratives, and good ol’ limited edition fun as much as Halloween. As the holiday rapidly approaches, we thought it would be a good time to look at some of our favorite Halloween collectibles.

nightmare before christmasFirst of all, a question… is “The Nightmare Before Christmas” a Halloween movie, or a Christmas movie? Or should you just watch it every night for two months straight between both holidays? Regardless, there are so many great characters to base collectibles on. Nearly 25 years after its theatrical release, the Tim Burton stop motion masterpiece has only grown in legend, and more items pop up every year. This sculpture of Zero and his dog house is pretty neat.

funko ghostbustersOddly enough, many horror movies have become associated with Halloween, even though the vast majority of them have nothing to do with the holiday. “Ghostbusters,” more comedy than horror actually, has become another favorite movie that embodies the fun of Halloween. There is no shortage of collectibles from the classic 1984 movie (as well as its sequel, the 2016 remake, and the cartoons).

halloween chip n daleIn fact, Halloween has an interesting distinction for fans in that anything gothic, spooky, scary, or macabre fits in. It doesn’t matter if they are officially part of the holiday or not. Heck, you can take any popular characters such as Disney’s Chip ‘n’ Dale,  put them in vampire garb, insert them into a jack-o’-lantern, and presto… instant Halloween collectible!

hallmark great pumpkin peanutsSnoopy and the Peanuts gang hold a special place in Halloween lore ever since their 1966 animated special introduced the world to Linus and his story of The Great Pumpkin. This 1996 Hallmark Keepsake set includes everything you need for a good time except the Dolly Madison snack cakes.

labbit skeleton hello kittySkeletons are always a popular Halloween theme, even though they’re everywhere year ’round. (Here’s a fun joke to play on little kids… ask in a scary voice, “Do you know where you can find a skeleton? INSIDE YOUR OWN BODY! Bwahahaha!” Never gets old!) Apparently Kidrobot’s Labbits have skeletons. Slightly less scary is this Hello Kitty skeleton figure from Funko.

lego skeletonLego has also done minifig skeletons a couple different ways. One version that came with various building sets has a bony, hollow structure, while the other version, sold by itself in blind packs, has a more traditional costume look.

tin wizard harold maude hearseHearses are used year ’round in the real world, too, but if you park one in front of your house the rest of the year, people look at you kinda funny. But in October? No sweat. There are lots of miniature hearses out there to collect, by the way. Just in case your HOA frowns displaying the real thing. (By the way, Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters’ car, is an ambulance, not a hearse.)

halloween hot wheelsSpeaking of driveable collectibles, Hot Wheels has commemorated various holidays over the years with limited edition cars. After Christmas, Halloween is probably the most popular among these series. 2017 is no exception, featuring cars with special skull-themed wheels.

liberty promotions halloween drag busFor something even more limited, Liberty Promotions has offered yearly, low production Drag Bus models for Halloween and other holidays, along with Chase versions.

kfc colonel sanders maskYou like zombies? Kentucky Fried Chicken’s recent ad campaign features multiple actors doing off kilter impressions of the Colonel Sanders , making KFC a pop culture phenomenon. Now you can add your own take on the long-deceased company founder and spokescharacter with this Halloween Harland costume. It was available very briefly on the KFC website this before selling out.

Regardless of your age, Halloween is a fun holiday, and there are collectibles of all kinds to enjoy throughout October or year ’round if you dare.

Do you have a favorite Halloween collectible? Tell us about it in the comments and add it to the hobbyDB database if it’s not already there!