OK, show of hands: How many of you had an Erector Set in the family and ended up cannibalizing it for parts for other projects? Or lost parts? Or stored it in the basement or garage where it proceeded to rust?
We did all three, and are we sorry now, because auction prices for this classic "toy" have been climbing steadily as supply of the vintage sets has diminished. Some pre-1962 sets are now commanding prices in the thousands!
First marketed by Oregon-born inventor A.C. Gilbert in 1913, the "Mysto Erector Structural Steel Builder," as it was originally named, was an immediate success. Over the next 5 decades Erector sets were offered in a variety of sizes and models that allowed young builders to create cityscapes of buildings, railroads, ferris wheels, zeppelins, robots, and parachute jumps. It is estimated that some 30 million sets were manufactured until 1962, when the company was sold after Gilbert's death in 1961. Beset by declining quality and increased competition, Erector filed for bankruptcy in 1967. Today, Nikko Toys, through subsidiary Meccano S.N. of France, owns the Erector trademark.
Of course, not just the sets are in demand. Collectors are more than willing to pay top dollar for rare parts, instruction booklets, advertising pieces, and the wood or metal cases the sets came in. A sampling of recent online auction prices has revealed that a "Gilbert Toys" wood box ONLY sold for $144; several out-of-print first editions of Greenberg's Guide to Gilbert Erector Sets garnered from $250 to $350+; and a group of parts for Erector's Hudson Locomotive and Tender Set fetched $612. But the sets themselves command the highest prices, like the 1957 #12 1/2 Master Builder Set just bid up to $798.98 and the 1927 #8 that just sold for $1,898! (Check out the Leslie Hindman site listed below where an auction netted $20,400 for just one lot!)
Throughout its history, the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set had a number of rivals, but today it is considered in a class by itself.
For more information on this popular collectible, please check out the resources noted below:
"Greenberg's Guide to Gilbert Erector Sets: 1913-1932," by William M. Bean, Al M. Sternagle
"Greenberg's Guide to Gilbert Erector Sets: 1933-1962," by William M. Bean
"The Man Who Changed How Boys and Toys Were Made: The Life and Times of A. C. Gilbert, the Man Who Saved Christmas," by Bruce Watson
The A. C. Gilbert Heritage Society
THE site for everything from info, message board, history, newsletter, and links. Also hosts major annual conventions.
Bill Bean's Erector Set and A.C. Gilbert Website
By the man who wrote the "bible" on Gilbert Erector Sets. History, info, photos, links!
Inventor of the week archive has history of A.C. Gilbert.
Leslie Hindman - Chicago Auction House
For examples of brick-and-mortar auction prices check out the "John Drury Erector & Mysto Magic Auction". Click on "Catalogues" them "Catalogue Archives" then "9 October 2005"
Meccano in the United States
Informative site describes interwoven history of Gilbert and Meccano companies and construction sets.
Makes reproduction parts. Check out their parts diagrams and lists.
Strong National Museum of Play
National Toy Hall of Fame