Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bridges and Blocks, Part 1 - Anchor Stone, Bilt EZ, Block City

Once again my dad roped me into giving a presentation for the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club (you can read about my other adventures with the CMACC here). At their monthly meetings, the rotating host is expected to come up with a theme. Members who have things that tie in with the theme bring them and present them, providing background information about the items.
This July the subject was building sets and roadways. The group is focused around the appreciation and collection of toy cars and car models, so the idea was to present building sets and roadways that were (or could have been) used with toy cars.

Some of the members brought some of the same sets they did last time (see: Kenner Sky Rail Project, Part 10). I however, chose to focus on a couple of vintage roadway sets. One very well-known, one quite obscure. Below are some of the set other members brought.

Anchor Stone Blocks

Anchor Stone Blocks were introduced in the 1880's and are still in production today Anchor Stone Blocks were always a high-end toy, and can be found at boutique toy stores and toy websites.

The pieces were made from limestone, sand, and linseed oil, simulating brick, marble, and concrete blocks. The set brought to the meeting was made around 1890-1900 and included metal parts for the bridge construction.

Bilt EZ

In the 1920's, the Scott Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Il. came out with the Bilt EZ metal construction sets. The inspiration for Bilt EZ was the skyline of Chicago itself. The sets consisted of metal wall panels connected by tabbed metal floor plates. The metal is quite thin, and the tabs require some forcing to lock in place. As a result, the panels can be warped easily. 

The owner explained that he's quite cautious about using this set, and I understand why. I've had the same trouble with the Line Mar Vest Pocket Builder. I very quickly discovered that I had to be very gentle with the metal pieces if I wanted them to last to the end of the project.


Block City

We were fortunate to have examples from all phases of Tri-State Plastic Molding's Block City. The earliest version, which pre-dated Lego, had plastic blocks that just sort of sat atop one another. The round keys helped as guides, but they didn't lock the bricks together.

A later iteration used square keys on the top of the bricks, which helped them snap into place -- and make taller structures possible.  The name was also changed from Block City to Brick Town.

The most recent version of this toy used vinyl bricks, with softer, rounded edges. The original Block City shipped in a tube, with cardboard roofs that were almost impossible for a kid to uncurl. Brick City shipped in a flat box, so the provided cardboard roofs worked quite well. Best of all might be the model below, where you could construct the roof as well as the walls, ensuring you can build whatever you want to.

Next: A Paper Mystery

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