Evolution of the Gears Outfit 1949-1977


by Greg Rahn

 

The Meccano Gears outfit was introduced during the postwar recovery effort in late 1949. It was designated the gears Outfit “A”. The outfit provided owners of smaller sets, that had little or nothing in the way of gears, sprockets and such, an economical way of entering the world of gears and chain drive. This set and it’s successor, the gears outfit “B”, proved to be very popular for nearly 30 years!

1949/50

The first set was in a blue box( 9 ¼” x 6” x 1”). It sported, in this early time, a very plain label on the lid.(fig.1 top/left)

Fig. 1

The set appeared in Meccano Magazine advertising for most of 1950. The parts were presented on a light blue stringing card. The words [Meccano Gears Outfit ”A”] were printed, in outline style font, on the stringing card. (Fig. 2 top)

Fig.2

Contents of the “A” outfit are found in the appendix at the end of this article. The chain was packaged in a cello wrap with a blue diamond shaped label with the part # on it. It and the worm gear were the only parts to be strung with green string. The rest of the parts, being bossed, were fitted into holes in the card. The manual was a small, 16 page effort that had an introduction to the world of gears and plans for 14 simple mechanisms that demonstrated certain principles.(fig. 3 top/left)

Fig. 3

1951-1955

The “A” set was continued thru the next few years. It continued unchanged in contents and the only noticeable change was to the label on the lid. The new label was illustrated with a selection of gears and a built up mechanism. The label was blue with “Meccano Gear Outfit” in red. The “A” was blue. The pictured gears, on the label, was a kind of false advertising or false expectations, at the very least, for the purchaser or recipient. The expensive gear ring, bevel gears and exotic large pinions were not included in this outfit, or any outfit, as the label would otherwise hint. The label would not be corrected for many years. (fig. 1 bottom/left) Numbers of sets sold, derived from print data on manuals of this period, suggests over 150,000 outfits were sold. The sets were featured in advertising leaflets and booklets for years. (fig. 4)

Fig. 4

A new variety has come to light recently. The Korean war created a metal famine that was the cause of Meccano’s so called “black period” where certain parts were made from steel and then blackened. These were a few of the former brass and nickel plated parts. One of these parts found their way into the Gears “A” set in 1952/1953. The author has a mint set from early 1953 with a black #27a-57t gear. Another difference in the sets is the packaging. The set box was now a very dark blue and the lettering on the stringing card was now filled in or solid as opposed to the outline style font in the early sets. ( fig. 5 and 6 )

Fig.5

Fig.6

1956-1958

The gears A outfit was upgraded in 1956. The set gained the newly introduced keyway rod, a spring and 4 collars. One sprocket gear was omitted. The new outfit was designated “B”. The box retained the “A” outfit’s dimensions but was now red. The old blue label was retained and a blue colored “B” was pasted over the “A” on the label.( fig 1 top/right) This can only be attributed to an economy measure to use up 1000’s of leftovers from the previous period. The parts were rearranged and now presented on a new stringing card. The handsome card was yellow with the part numbers, printed in red, next to the actual gears and parts.(fig 2 bottom). Actual stringing now included the rod/collar/spring assembly, as well as, the worm and chain that now had a yellow diamond shaped label in the cello packaging. It should be noted that both the A and B stringing cards were raised above the bottom of the box. This was accomplished but folding down a ¼” portion of the sides of the stringing card to form a void for the bosses of the gears to rest. Quite elaborate packaging , that was the hallmark of Meccano. The quality of the boxes and packaging is credited with the large numbers that survive today. In advertising of the period, the set was offered for the princely sum of C$2.75 in this 1957 advertising booklet.(fig 7)

Fig.7

1959-61

The “B” outfit box was updated in 1959. Gone was the textured red box and borrowed “A” set blue label. The new box was covered in red paper with an integral label that sported Meccano in block letters in the style of the regular set packaging of the previous period! Better late than never! The label was also corrected, with the illustrated gears, limited to the actual contents of the outfit. (fig 1 bottom/right) The contents, as well as, the presentation continued as before. The “B” outfit manual(1956-61) was similar to the “A” outfit in that it still had the introduction to gears and gearing, etc. but plans were updated, rearranged and now number 15 in total. (fig 3 bottom/left)

The price had risen to C$3.25 by 1961! (fig 8)

Fig.8

1962-64

Packaging changed again in 1962. The box dimensions were now 9 3/8” x 4 13/16” x ¾”. The lid was completely printed now with the so called “M” series packaging. The colored bars are green, white and red. (fig 9 top/left)

Fig. 9

Inside, as with the main sets of the time, the stringing card disappeared and was replaced by a pale yellow formed tray that the parts were set into eliminating the costly sewing and placing parts onto the card. The tray was contained in a red box bottom. (fig 10 top).

Fig. 10

The contents remained the same, as well as, the manual, however, it was now folded once so as to fit in the now, narrower box.

1965-67?

The packaging again changed with the times, although the dimensions remained the same. The main sets now had a “Theme” motif and the gears outfit followed suit. The early ones retained the formed tray and red box bottom. (fig10 bottom) The tray was now white instead of the pale yellow as before but advertising in the Meccano Magazine in 1965/66 clearly shows the tray still pale yellow. (figure 11)

Fig. 11

No authentic example was found during the research of this article and the author doubts any exists. This was probably a “moke-up” for the advertising picture using the early tray. If a sealed example does show up, the history books can be rewritten! Another anomaly, that is verified, is the banner on the back of the box that reads”…..instructions for 20 inside.”(fig 12 top)

Fig.12

This is probably a typo, as the regular manuals, included with the set only show 15 models. Was there an extra sheet of 5? The colors on the bars are bright red, purple and yellow. The “B” was dropped from the box and the outfit was now referred to as “gears” only.( fig 9 bottom/left) The manuals retained the “B’ for a time. The powerdrive symbol and designation made it’s first appearance and was on the gears set box until the set was discontinued.

1968/69

The second version of the windowed box theme era packaging came about in 1968 or so. The outer box bar colors are now an orange-red, dark blue and yellow. (fig 9 top/right) The illustration on the back now has the corrected banner reading “instructions for 15 inside” (fig 12 bottom). Gone, however, was the white plastic formed tray and red box bottom. In its place was a Styrofoam tray that the parts friction fitted into. The tray did not need the bottom box for strength ( cost cutting?) The parts are rearranged slightly. Meccano Magazine advertising in early 1970, for the Christmas 1969 season, clearly shows the change (fig13).

Fig. 13

The manual is still the same but has now dropped the “B” designation (fig 3 top/right). A recent anomoly has come to light. A manual dated 7/669/15 is known and is a sky blue/light blue combo in the style of the post 1970 manuals. It must have had a short life in the theme set packaging in 1969 and maybe very early in 1970. (Fig 14) The numbers of sets sold for this second period 1956-1970 are 150,000 as well.

Fig. 14

1970-77

The packaging once again changed, for the last time, with the coming of yet another change in the main set packaging. The only thing that changed this time around was the outer window box. It was now a dark blue. (fig 9 bottom/right) The outfit is now referred to as a “gears set”. The back of the box showed a number of built-up mechanisms, as before, but the banner saying how many, was finally dropped. The manual had a new cover for the first time since 1949!. Gone were the lad and his steam shovel and in it’s place was a starkly plain cover ,as previously mentioned, in sky blue/light blue. The cover changed to dark blue and blue grey for 1971/72? And black and grey for 1973, 1974 and beyond. (fig 3 bottom/right) The contents was the same as the previous yellow covered manuals. The sets were advertised until the mid seventies and presumably discontinued when the radical change of 1978 came about. It is unknown how many sets were produced during this third and last era but it is probably less than each of the previous two.

To this day, complete gear outfits, from all era’s, turn up in their original boxes, as well as, the numerous sets of gears that are gleaned out of a bunch of parts that could only consist of a rather small set in the #1 to #5 range. This is testament to the popularity of the gears outfit.

Thanks goes out to Clive Weston, Melvyn Wright, William Irwin, Ed Barclay and others that provided information and sets for the author’s collection , that now includes one each of all know varieties from 1949-1977. Are there any other unknown varieties out there? The author can be reached at grahn@transalta.com

Appendix

Chronological History:

1949/50-“A” outfit with “utility” label. Blue textured box/blue stringing card. Manual stored flat in box.

1951-55-“A” outfit with blue illustrated label. Blue textured box/blue stringing card. Manual stored flat in box.

1952/53-“A” outfit in Korean war era packaging and contents. Box now dark blue, stringing card now has solid font on

“Meccano Gears outfit”A”” printing. #27a- 57t gear is black period. Manual stored flat.

1956-58-“B” outfit introduced with upgraded contents. “A” blue label on red textured box. Blue “B” is stuck over the “A” on label.

Stringing card is yellow. Manual stored flat in box.

1959-61-“B” outfit with red smooth box and new integral red label. Stringing card still yellow. Manual stored flat in box.

1962-64-“B” outfit with new pale yellow plastic tray in red box bottom and “M” series lid. Manual folded and stored on top of tray.

1965-67- gears outfit white plastic tray in red box bottom with new “theme” series outer windowed box. “20” instruction banner.

Manual is folded and stored under tray.

1968/69-gears outfit with new styrofoam tray and no red box bottom. Parts are rearranged. “15” instructions banner.

Manual is folded and stored under tray.

1970-77-gear set with white styrofoam tray and dark blue windowed outer box. Manual is folded and stored under tray.

Contents of outfits:

“A” outfit: 2 x #25, 2 x #26, 1 x #27, 1 x #27a, 1 x #28, 2 x #29, 1 x #32, 1 x #94, 1 x #95, 2 x #96a

“B” outfit: 2 x #25, 2 x #26, 1 x #27, 1 x #27a, 1 x #28, 2 x #29, 1 x #32, 4 x #59, 1 x #94, 1 x #95, 1 x #96a, 1 x #120b, 1 x #230, 2 x #231

Manual print Data : ( known dates and print quantities)(eg: 255/20= Feb 1955 with a print run of 20,000 copies)

yellow manuals:

Gears “A” : 1049/40; 650/35; 351/25; 153/12.5; 454/22.5; 255/20( no 1952?)

Gears “B” : 656/30; 157/10; 757/12.5; 258/10; 859/10; 260/15; 1160/10; 361/10; 362/10; 663/15; 365/15; 766/15(no 1964?)

Gears set : 268/10 ,7/669/10(post 1970 style/pre 1970 print mark?), (no 1967?)

black/blue/grey manuals:

sky blue/light blue ( 7/669/15) for 1970?

dark blue/light blue(Triang 1971/72?)

black/grey( 1973 and 1974)


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