When thinking about the LEGO Group’s greatest failures, the quality of the bricks may not be the first thing that springs to mind. After all, the company is known for its high standards when it comes to the quality of its products. But in the 2010s, some bricks slipped through the cracks of quality control, leading to brittle bricks in LEGO sets, including the infamous brittle brown.
‘Brittle brown’ is the loving nickname given to the most common and well-known of the fragile colours, dark brown. Other colours do suffer from the curse of brittleness, including dark red and gold, but brown is by far the most prevalent. These colours were produced in their brittle form for the bulk of the 2010s and tend to crack, snap, and shatter if you so much as look at them wrong. Admittedly a slight exaggeration, but it’s not too far off the mark. The dyes used to create these colours make them susceptible to breaking when connecting them with or separating them from other bricks. You know, the primary purpose of LEGO bricks.
Now, this wouldn’t be a huge deal if it only happened when the parts were put under undue stress or kept in extreme temperatures. Some breakage could — and should — be expected in those cases, even for non-defective bricks. But these things snap even when built into an official set or simple MOC and stored in a safe, temperature-controlled environment. Taking a dark brown plate off a baseplate, with a brick separator, no less? A good chance it’ll snap. Disassembling a set for storage? Those dark brown and red pieces may shatter. It’s ridiculous, honestly, that fans have to worry about some of their LEGO bricks breaking just from normal use.
Minifigures aren’t even safe. Minifigure pieces are a bit safer than a typical LEGO brick because they typically won’t be taken apart and put back together too frequently, but it is still possible for a minifigure with a brown torso to break if it takes a fall off a shelf and onto the floor.
A generation of LEGO sets, minifigures and bricks (which includes wonders such as 9474 Helm’s Deep and 75059 Sandcrawler) are so fragile that they can’t be taken apart without fear of breaking some of the pieces.
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The LEGO Group became very aware of this issue and it was eventually remedied around 2019 when the dyes used for the brittle colours were updated. This made all the pieces in modern sets safe from the curse of brittle bricks, but sets from the 2010s still suffer from it – and there is no real cure.
To the company’s credit, the LEGO Group does offer a service where broken bricks can be replaced free of charge. On paper, this is fantastic. But the system is set up so that orders over a certain amount (just a handful of pieces) are cancelled due to fears of people cheating the system to get their hands on some free bricks. Obviously, this is necessary. The unfortunate truth is that people would cheat such a system if they could, whether it be to get free pieces for MOCs or to sell online. But for collectors who own dozens upon dozens of sets littered with brittle brown and other fragile colours, it’s frustrating. Buying replacement bricks is always an option, but this has its drawbacks. It can get pricey to replace so many LEGO pieces that shouldn’t have broken in the first place, and some pieces are retired and thus won’t be made with the newer, sturdier dye. They’d be bound to break eventually.
It is a good thing that the LEGO Group both fixed the problem of brittle pieces and offers (albeit limited) piece replacement. But brittle brown and its compatriots live on in all those incredible sets from the 2010s. So many doomed to shatter. It’s a shame, really, that brittle brown lasted as long as it did. For how widespread and recent the problem is, it’s safe to call these brittle bricks one of the LEGO Group’s biggest failures. And while it has been remedied for future generations of sets, the dark legacy of brittle brown lives on.