LEGO Collector book review
When I first heard, early in 2008, that there was going to be a book containing details of every LEGO set ever made, I was very excited. After all, I have spent the last eleven years or so collating just this information for Brickset.
I received my copy a few of days ago and I’ve now had a chance to look through and review it.
The book is published by a German company, Fantasia who, it would seem from their website, specialise in producing books for toy collectors. It's been compiled by a number of German LEGO fans, many of whom are well known online.
The first thing that strikes you is its size. It’s A5 and with exactly 800 pages which makes it about an inch thick.
At the front of the book there is a brief introduction in German and also, it has to be said, in fairly poorly translated English. Then there are a couple of pages showing the evolution of the LEGO logo from 1934 to date before what forms the bulk of the book, approximately 700 pages containing, according to the back of the book, 'an almost complete overview of all LEGO sets produced since 1958'. It is organised by year, then numerically, 9 sets per page, from 1958 to 2008 (but not including the summer 2008 releases). I’ll go into more detail about what’s shown for each later.
Following the pages organised by year there are sections on keyrings and service packs. The keyring section is 40 pages long and includes ones I never knew existed from way back in the 1970s and ‘80s, including loads of Fabuland ones. The service packs section simply lists them without pictures, which I suppose is reasonable given that most are fairly boring to look at. Finally, there’s an index in numerical order of all the sets, showing year of release and page number.
One interesting thing to note is the difference in the number of the pages devoted to different years. For example, the sets released in 1965 are covered in 5 pages, those released in 1986, in 13 pages (which therefore makes 117 sets as 9 per page) and for 2006 it takes 25 pages to cover the 225 sets released that year. Clearly LEGO have ramped up production in 40 years!
What's in it?
Now, onto the information provided for each set. As I said before each page contains details for 9 sets: an image and a data panel. The images are all in colour, are well reproduced and generally feature a picture of the instruction cover or box front. The exceptions to this are polybags, tubs and packs in special packaging and so on which feature a photograph (or scan) of the packaging. The data panel neatly and concisely shows the set number, name in German and English, number of pieces, year the set was released and year production ended, whether the set is ‘special’ (promotional, limited release etc.), which regions it was available (North America, Europe, Australasia and Asia) and finally the rarity of the set on a scale of 1-6 indicated by a line of shaded 2x2 bricks. If there is additional information for any of the sets, this is given at the bottom of the page. It does not provide information about what theme the set is from (e.g. Space, Castle) or subtheme (e.g. Blacktron, Forestmen) which is a great shame. Possibly this was for two reasons. First, there might not have been room on the page to show it in both English and German and second, it is often open to interpretation which theme and subtheme a particular set falls in particularly since 1999 or so when things became less clear cut.
I’m unsure how useful, or accurate, the rarity rating is, and what it’s based on. There’s no indication in the book whether it’s attempting to show how hard it is to find the set nowadays, how many were produced, or what. There certainly seems to be some discrepancies, for example the Coca-Cola promo Studios polybag sets from 2001 were all equally hard to get at the time, but some have a rating of three and others of two.
Flicking through the book you notice a few ‘Sorry product image not available’ signs instead of set images which is perhaps surprising given that LEGO apparently have copies of all sets made in their vault. However, it does tend to be buckets and Duplo and that sort of thing which are missing images so it’s not much of a problem.
How accurate is it?
Now, on to the accuracy of the data and how it compares with Brickset. I have to say, I am very pleasantly surprised at how complete it appears to be. Certainly all the promos I have attempted to find are included. I thought that one way to check accuracy for this review was to compare a single year with Brickset’s data, so I chose 1999 which is far enough away for the sets to be currently unavailable, but also in the ‘internet era’ when Brickset was getting news from around the world about special releases and promos, of which there were quite a few that year.
Unfortunately as soon as I start checking, I find a mistake. The fourth set of the year in the book is 1068 ‘Stena Line Ferry’ for which there is no picture. Checking Brickset, the correct number is actually 1054 and we have a picture. Thankfully that was the only error I found. Some sets are listed under 1999 when we have them as 2000 and vice-versa, but every set on Brickset is listed, along with a couple of Duplo and Basic sets we don’t have, which are of less importance to Brickset visitors anyway.
I am not an expert on pre-1970’s LEGO but given that Gary Istok is named in the credits I have no doubt that the book will be accurate for that period.
On the date differences: I am not convinced that the book is any more accurate than Brickset. For example, 4561 ‘Railway Express with controller’ is listed under 1999 whereas 4560 ‘Railway Express without controller’, which are essentially the same, is listed as being released in 1998 which I am pretty certain was not the case; they were released simultaneously, one in Europe the other in NA in 1999. If it was available in NA from Thanksgiving in 1998, as is often the case with the next year’s sets, that might explain the anomaly, I suppose.
So, to wrap up this review then, I have to say that I am very impressed with the book. The book probably does include ‘almost’ every set that has been available to the public (it doesn't include Dacta or other educational sets). Clearly I haven't had time to verify that in the week that I've had it but I have no reason to doubt the claim. It certainly has more than Brickset.
There are some errors in the data but I guess that’s to be expected with a first edition of a book like this. There are perhaps more pictures missing that you’d expect (but still no more than 0.5%) particularly as there are pictures on Brickset and no doubt other places too that would have been suitable for use. The lack of theme/subtheme information is a disappointment. That is about the only criticism I have.
Should you buy it? If you’re a long-time LEGO collector like me then, yes, you should. Although most of the information is available at Brickset or elsewhere, it’s still great to have it in one book that you can flick through and reminisce about. If you’re just starting out in LEGO then, unless you have an interest in the product’s history, you can probably live without it and spend the cash on some bricks instead.
Will Brickset shut down now? Well, if this book has been available ten years ago there wouldn’t have been a need for Brickset so it probably wouldn’t exist today. Online resources are obviously going to be more up-to-date than the book, which is already out of date, so Brickset will be around for a while longer!
One last thing: the book states that the publisher wants to be notified of errors and omissions so hopefully with my help and yours, the second edition, if there is one, will be even better.
Thanks to Jan for providing a copy for review. Reviewed by Huw Millington, July 2008.