How much do you know about the first ever LEGO magazine? In this feature from the Blocks archive, we reveal how the very first LEGO Clubs came about – and with them, the very first magazines and newsletters.
Blocks, the LEGO magazine for fans, recently opened up the back catalogue. Now, all print subscribers get access to the full digital back catalogue of more than 80 issues and 9,000 pages – along with a great selection of other perks.
The early days of the official LEGO magazine
The LEGO Club, or LEGO Builders Club, is woven into the story of many AFOLs. Organised and administered by the LEGO Group, legions of brick lovers will cite these clubs as their first link to the fan community, and a source of both joy and coveting from their childhoods. The story of how these clubs came to be, and the magazines that served as their foundation, is a fascinating piece of LEGO history.
The story of LEGO Clubs begins in 1956, when fewer than 150 employees were producing LEGO products in Billund. In that year, the company expanded beyond the borders of Denmark for the first time. A small foreign sales company was established in Hohenwestedt, Germany under the name LEGO Spielwaren GmbH. Three years later, just after the LEGO Group’s founder Ole Kirk passed away, that satellite office would be the first to create an official product that, while failing to take off then, would later go on to supplement and support every single memorable LEGO model for decades, right up to the present day. That product was a LEGO periodical.
Dubbed The LEGO Post, it would have a short life and be cancelled a year later, but it lit a spark that has yet to go out. LEGO periodicals would return two decades later and cement themselves as an arm of the company and ultimately give birth to official LEGO Clubs.
Until 1995, LEGO Clubs and non-catalogue LEGO publications were strictly regional affairs. Country offices could create them for their market, but they were not centralised and therefore unique to a given nation or territory. Basically, if an office thought it would help their market to create a LEGO Club or publication they were free to do so. Germany was the first to do this. The LEGO Post is the first known non-catalogue publication produced by a LEGO office. The Post’s purpose statement was called out on the opening page of its first issue from September 1959: ‘To be a printed link between the house LEGO and its countless friends: the community of LEGO supporters, great and small, around the world, which is growing day by day.’
To that end, the subsequent eight pages appear to have contained pictures of creations, building techniques, a mailbox where they responded to letters from fans, and information about the LEGO Group. For unknown reasons, The LEGO Post only lasted from that first issue in September 1959 until 1960. It would be another 14 years, as far as documentation shows, before another publication intended to bring fans together would be created – and subsequently birth the first LEGO Club.
The UK edition
While for many of you this may be the first time you’ve ever heard of The LEGO Post, a great number of you should have a flash of recognition with what came next – Bricks and Pieces and the British LEGO Builders Club. No, your eyes did not deceive you, nor have you caught us in an editorial mistake; the stylised Bricks ‘n Pieces name came later. For Christmas 1974, the LEGO Group’s British office decided to try something new.
At that time, they had a substantial address list to send out the forerunner of Shop at Home catalogues, the Assortment Leaflet. Instead of just the leaflet for 1974’s holiday mailing, they created and included a newsletter titled Bricks and Pieces, with the subtitle: ‘A newsletter about LEGO for LEGO collectors.’ A note from the editor, Clive Nichols, on the cover explained what the newsletter was and made a request:
‘Dear Collector, thousands of people write to us every year with ideas, suggestions, photographs of models they have built and sometimes even complaints. We thought it would be a good idea to print a newsletter with some of those ideas so they could be shared by all LEGO fans. And here it is. We have called it Bricks and Pieces. We have also marked it Number 1. That suggests that there should be a Number 2 to follow it up. But should there? That depends on you. We have included a little question slip. If you would like to receive another issue of Bricks and Pieces, fill out your name and address and post it back to me.’
Apparently, the response was far more robust than expected based on the second note from Nichols, which appeared in the next issue published during the spring of 1975:
‘Wow! When we sent out Bricks and Pieces No. 1 last Christmas I had not expected to get quite such a big response. I have tried to write to all of you who sent in photographs of models or asked questions, but I am afraid I simply could not write to all those who sent me a nice letter saying how much they enjoyed the magazine and wishing us success. So let me take this chance of thanking you all for your letters and Christmas cards etc.’
That monumental response was all the proof LEGO UK needed – Bricks and Pieces would, in one form or another, be continuously in print until just after the new millennium. Regular features quickly began to emerge. The centrepiece was always creations by LEGO fans, deemed Master Builder Awards. The model builder from Britain, David Lyall, had a regular feature that would showcase one of his builds or contain suggestions for builds fans could create themselves. It quickly became too popular to sustain for free.
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Having proved the concept and the fact that there was a demand, Bricks and Pieces changed its name in1979 to Bricks ‘n Pieces and its byline to ‘A Newsletter for LEGO Club Members’. Two years later, the byline changed again to ‘A Magazine for LEGO Club Members’, at which time it expanded to a full eight pages instead of four. The look changed too from the old newsletter format, with a proper cover instead of diving right into text. To fund the publicarion, what is understood to be the first official LEGO Club was born, and a magazine subscription came with membership.
Membership meant something back then – LEGO UK used those fees to promote a real community amongst the fans, as well as disseminate information that was hard to get prior to the internet. Shops that sold LEGO were listed so that parents would not make trips to purchase gifts in vain. Membership fees went to funding a myriad of contests, some quite large, which required actual judging. Many consider this LEGO Club era the pinnacle of Bricks ‘n Pieces. Membership became free in 1995, accompanied by a dramatic change in the LEGO magazine.
The Danish edition
Bricks ‘n Pieces, while the first, was not the only publication active during this time. The second such periodical to be put in place came a few years after the UK paved the way. De LEGO Krant (The LEGO Newspaper) began in 1976 and and was published by LEGO Nederland BV. When they called it a newspaper, they were not kidding – it was an actual newspaper for its entire existence, all the way through its final issue in 1993. Four pages in length, it varied over its run between three and four issues a year and served as the bedrock of the Netherlands’ LEGO Builders Club.
De LEGO Krant was the most thorough and expansive of all the LEGO periodicals that have existed to date in any club. As a full-sized newspaper, there was a lot of page space to fill, and the LEGO Group did not use that space for much internal advertising. There appear to have been puzzles and competitions, the requisite pictures of LEGO creations by fans, a schedule for when LEGO commercials would air on local television stations, club events, short reading stories, comics, explanations of scientific happenings, history articles and major Danish events.
You get the sense that it was part community building for the LEGO Club and part public service to keep the kids of the Netherlands informed of their national heritage and what was going on in the wider world. Again, the purpose was to build community more than it was to advertise.
The LEGO Group printed De LEGO Krant and shipped them to local shops along with their regular products. Shoppers could pick them up for free with their purchases, something that was not the case in other countries until much later. Alternatively, it appears that a subscription could be purchased, and the paper sent directly to the homes of club members. The income was used in the same way as the UK’s – to fund the events that made it a club.
Heading to the USA
One other country had an official, paid, LEGO Club – the USA, though it did not get started until much later in 1987. Clearly inspired by the now well-established Bricks ‘n Pieces model, a paid membership primarily meant receiving the seasonal LEGO magazine, dubbed Brick Kicks, four times a year. The intent of the club rings very similar to Nichols’ statements when the UK paved the way years earlier, as Susan Williams, the President of the American club, outlined in the first issue of Brick Kicks:
‘Greetings! And welcome to the club! It’s going to be an exciting, fun-filled year for us all – starting with this first issue of Brick Kicks, the official magazine of the LEGO Builders Club! It’s just bursting with great stories, news, games, jokes… and so much more! Plus, it gives us a chance to talk with each other from time to time!’
Building a community amongst the fans, while also giving the sense of something exclusive, was the name of the game. But that shared intent was not the only similarity. Build ideas, including those by US based Master Builders in the vein of David Lydell, comics with regular characters, and a build gallery – here dubbed ‘Members’ Masterpieces’ – each had reserved spots in the LEGO magazine.
There were, however, two key differences between the American and European based clubs. Expansive and frequent build contests that were staples of both Bricks ‘n Pieces and De LEGO Krant, were almost entirely absent in the US iteration. Advertising LEGO products directly began to become a more and more prevalent feature in the US version, unlike the European magazines. First it was a half-page inside, then a full page, then the rear cover and some internal content. Community building slowly began to share more space with advertising.
That shift would ultimately lead to the demise of paid LEGO Clubs and the rise of free membership, and a centralised club entity with one publication worldwide.