Notes on 1938 US Meccano Outfit
I had wanted an outfit in the blue and gold color scheme, to fill in a collection of Meccano outfits in all major color schemes. I found this outfit at a toy show, and wasted little time in purchasing it. When I examined the outfit at home, I realized that it was (mostly) not made in England. Here are some of the features of this outfit which I found interesting.
The address on the box and the front of the manual is 200 Fifth Avenue, New York, and there is a slip of paper pasted into the manual with an address of New Haven, Conn. The manual is the same as those from England, except for the address and the slip inside. The back cover says 'Printed in England', and has a print reference of 13/538/1 (IP). This code indicates a print date of May 1938. The 'No. 38.4' also indicates a 1938 manual.
The Bush wheel (Meccano number 24) is almost Erector part BT (the difference is the red paint and the boss tapping; see below), and the 217a Discs appear to be made from the same blank. The 1" pulleys (22) appear to be Erector P7. However, the bosses on the bush wheels and pulleys are tapped 8-32, not 6-32 as other Erector bosses in my collection. Meccano used 5/32 BSW threads for nuts and bolts as well as setscrews. The three inch pulleys (19b) are very similar to the 'real' Meccano parts, except that the boss is smaller outside diameter, and is tapped 6-32. The road wheels, 187, look similar to the Meccano version, but the ones in this outfit are made from a single stamping, and again are tapped 8-32. Meccano #187 are made from two stampings, fastened by four small tabs.
The axles are 0.154" diameter (not 0.160", as real MECCANO); Meccano axles do not quite fit in any of the bosses, except for the bush wheel. This makes the 176 cord anchoring spring and 212 rod and strip connector rather loose, and they will not grab the axles! The 213 rod connector, on the other hand, is quite tight, but it has been slightly mashed. The 213 and 212 are marked "Made in England".
The nuts & bolts are 8-32, brass color; nuts are square about 0.253" across flats and bolts are round head. The nuts are very snug in the (RED!) spanners. Meccano n&b are 5/32" BSW (British Standard Whitworth), and the nuts are .250" across flats. The screwdriver is an Erector P33.
The clockwork motor is an Erector A48 with K48 key. This motor is interesting for a number of reasons. 'Real' Meccano outfits of this era did not include a motor until outfit No. 8 (Outfits through No. 10 were available). The A48 motor was introduced in 1938, according to Al Sternagle's Erector Parts Illustrated, so a newly introduced part was included in a "competing" outfit! The A48 motor is built in very similar fashion to the Meccano 'Magic' motor, which was introduced in 1935, although the 'Magic' motor is smaller than the A48.
A few other parts seem to differ from "standard" MECCANO parts. Some parts seem to use a different thickness material than other examples from my collection, and from the thicknesses listed in Don Blakeborough's Encyclopedia of Meccano Parts (EMP):
||22 SWG (=0.028")
||2 ½" Strip
||3 ½" Strip
||12 ½" Strip
|| 18 SWG (=0.048")
||0.042" - 0.049"
|| 22 SWG (should this be 21 SWG?)
Another difference is the rounding on the ends of the strips. All of the English production in my collection, up to the 11-hole strip, has fully rounded ends. The (presumed) US production all seems to have slight "corners" at the ends of the rounding, as shown elsewhere on this website (Meccano strips). All of the strips in this outfit have the "corners", including Double Angle Strips. I also notice that the US gold strips do not have lacquer over the paint, as seen on the British gold paint. The US paint is of finer grain, too.
The blue paint colors seem to match 'genuine' samples, taking into account the different condition of the parts. The blue paint (as well as the red) is poorly applied, with runs and thicker areas around holes and edges. According to friends in England, paint applied as poorly as in this outfit would not have left the Binns Road Meccano factory.
Finally, there is an advertising brochure showing blue-and-gold Meccano outfits from No. 1 through No. 4, No. 6, and No. 7. This brochure has an address of "The Meccano Company of America, Inc. 200 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y.", and a print code of D-1229. Of especial interest is the headline "GOOD NEWS! The New English Style MECCANO Outfits Now Made in U. S. A.". The number 4 outfit illustrated does not include the clockwork motor. "US" Meccano manuals exist dated 1937 (print reference 13/737/.5 (IP) for a 37.8 manual); perhaps the brochure dates from 1937, and the clockwork motor was added in 1938.
The above information leads me to conclude that this Meccano 1938 No. 4 outfit was made in New Haven by A. C. Gilbert, except for a few small parts which were imported from England.
A final thought: why did these outfits appear when Gilbert had largely phased out the Meccano construction outfits? One event might suggest some sort of connection: Frank Hornby (the inventor of Meccano) had died on September 21, 1936.