LEGO Historian

Early LEGO in Norway, Sweden, Finland

85 posts in this topic

I noticed that there are a lot of Scandinavian folks on this forum... so I thought I would talk about some of the odd things that went on there in the early years of LEGO....

The official LEGO timeline for the 1950s (when Norway, Sweden and Finland started selling LEGO)... is well not very detailed (that's putting it kindly)....

http://aboutus.lego....o_history/1950/

It doesn't mention Norway at all, it mentions Swedish LEGO sales starting in 1955, and in 1959 LEGO Sweden was established (??) and also in 1959 LEGO Finland was established.

Well here's the real story about LEGO sales in the rest of Scandinavia....

The first LEGO sets started selling in Denmark in 1949 as Automatic Binding Bricks. Then in 1950 Automatic Binding Bricks were also selling in southern Sweden... but not produced from Denmark... but produced by a company called Geas Konstharts of Gisvaled Sweden.

These first non-Danish LEGO bricks were rather odd... they were not made of Cellulose Acetate (the plastic that was used by TLG from 1949-63)... but of Polystyrene... a shiny plastic. These first Swedish sets had the same Automatic Binding Bricks boxes as those of Denmark. The only way to tell the difference was the brochure, or the bricks themselves... but not the box.

Here's part of the first brochure from Sweden....

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This is the oldest known building ideas image of LEGO parts, and dates to about 1950.

The Geas Konsthart's brochure does NOT mention the word LEGO or Billund at all, which is unusual. An acquaintance contacted the still in production Swedish plastics firm a few years back... and they have no records of making LEGO at all.

The production of these strange sets (mentioned in Chapter 2 of my LEGO DVD/E-Book Download) is still a mystery today, since the Billund LEGO Archives also have no info on these early Swedish sets. These sets were not popular in Sweden, and were discontinued within a year.

Then in 1953 Ole Kirk Christiansen, who did some of his early carpentry apprenticeship in Norway (and married a Norwegian) thru one of his Oslo Norway contacts, got LEGO sales started in Norway. However due to toy import restrictions in Norway in the 1950s, he had to have a Norwegian company produced the parts and sell the LEGO sets there. This company was called Svein Strømberg & Co., which under the name A/S LEGO (later changed to A/S LEGIO) produced the first LEGO sets in Norway starting in 1953.

Here is a late 1953 Norwegian ideas brochure page that shows the first set and parts pack numbers sold in Norway at the end of that year...

7882272584_44bfdb3c33_b.jpg

There were 3 basic sets, 2 parts packs sold from Norway that year. There was also a wooden retailer box where loose bricks, windows/doors and baseplates could be purchased (an early PAB).

Then in 1955 sales in Sweden were re-introduced (permanently this time)... and this time the parts were from Denmark (and also some from Norway) in the basic and parts pack sets. Since 1955 was also the intro of the LEGO System of Play... there were a lot of parts packs introduced, as can be seen in this image of 1955 Swedish packs...

7882509614_0a0d32460c_z.jpg

And finally we get to Finland.... the first LEGO sold in Finland was in 1959. Since there was a partial ban on toy imports in Finland as well as Norway... about 70% of all parts (mainly the non-specialty parts such as bricks) were produced in Finland, with the more complex parts imported from Denmark.

The funny thing about Finland is that the first LEGO there was produced by a businessman by the name of Boris Strömsholm in 1959 in a barn-like building!!

7882204402_4c72546815_b.jpg

By the early 1960s the toy import restrictions were eliminated in all Scandinavian countries, and production was moved to Billund Denmark.

I have a lot of images of unique LEGO items produced in these countries in my 2,800 page LEGO download (E-Book), and that includes sets, parts in unusual colors (windows/doors in green in Norway, in yellow in Sweden), as well as unique boxes in the local languages. And one of my favorite topics is the switch in 1967 of Sweden's going from driving on the left to driving on the right (they had a few unique Town Plan boards with left driving roadways).

Enjoy.... (added 9/13)

http://www.volvoclub.org.uk/history/driving_on_right.shtml

Edited by LEGO Historian

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Nice and detailed story, thanks for sharing!

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Nice and detailed story, thanks for sharing!

You are most welcome! Also, since you're from the Netherlands... I've been told by TLG Archives folks that some 1950s and early 1960s LEGO sets/parts sold in the Netherlands were produced in Norway. I've never found a way to confirm or identify this.

The one peculiarity that Norway and the Netherlands share is that the 271 Traffic Policeman set (1956-65) was only sold in the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.

http://www.peeron.com/inv/sets/271-2

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I was mentioning Scandinavia.... and I forgot about Iceland!! :sceptic:

The first sets sold in Iceland were starting in 1955, but under a different brand name.... SIBS.... although by 1960 the sets did start using the LEGO name.

And the parts were shipped to Iceland, where the sets were assembled by residents of a Tuberculosis Sanitarium called "Reykjalundur".

Here's another image from my DVD download/E-Book... showing Icelandic Tuberculosis patients putting together the LEGO sets (what no sneeze guard?).... this was in 1960....

8101938526_36d30ac0ce_b_d.jpg

There's an entire chapter of my DVD download - "Chapter 73 - LEGO Sales/History By Country".... that shows old black/white images from the 1940s thru 1960s related to the history of LEGO.

Edited by LEGO Historian

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The funny thing about Finland is that the first LEGO there was produced by a businessman by the name of Boris Strömsholm in 1959 in a barn-like building!

Funny, I've visited the nice and cosy cafeteria that's situated next to this building in Bemböle a few times in the past, but never knew about its history related to Lego.

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Wow... it is a small world!! Next time you go there.... take a photograph!

Here's the very first 4 LEGO basic set designs ever... from 1949-53.... most that you won't find in any online DB....

From top to bottom.... box designs for 700/1 (larger) , 700/2 (large) and 700/3 (medium) first LEGO sets....

1) 1949-51 Danish and 1950-51 Swedish (Geas) box design (700/3 set).

2) 1951-52 Danish (lettering is different) box design (700/3 set).

3) 1952-53 Danish (word "LEGO" added) box design (700/1 set).

4) 1953-54 Norwegian (A/S Norske LEGO) box design (700/2 set).

7885038540_274569b716_b.jpg

Images from "Chapter 2 - Automatic Binding Bricks (1949-54) of my LEGO DVD download E-Book.

Edited by LEGO Historian

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And.... starting in 1953 in Denmark, and 1955 in Norway and Sweden.... these are the box top designs for all the LEGO basic sets.... they no longer say Automatic Binding Bricks, but now say "LEGO Mursten".... with Mursten having the same meaning in all 3 languages (I won't say if it means bricks or blocks... because someone will tell me that it's a slightly different meaning in their language default_laugh_new.gif).

Also, there were many more (smaller) basic sets that were introduced around 1953-55. This is a Danish 1954 Retailer Catalog image that shows the contents that these sets had (the bricks were 1 row deep with the boxes hand packed in a checkerboard layout)....

7885117410_c13a15f987_b.jpg

This is from my LEGO DVD download.... "Chapter 5 - LEGO Mursten & LEGO System Sets". This above image shows 4 colors being packed into the sets. The 4 colors could vary... but often red, white, yellow and green were the colors. Starting in 1955 the colors switched to just 2 (red and white) as the packing below shows.

And this next picture is also from Chapter 5... it shows a worker at the LEGO factory in Billund hand packing these sets... My 2,800 page DVD download collectors guide has over 6,000 images... with many very historic LEGO images collected from LEGO folks around the world and from the Billund Archives/Collections/Vault!

7885189578_d0af07dd95_b.jpg

Edited by LEGO Historian

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One of the interesting things about Finland is that a small percentage of the population speaks Swedish as their main language.

So TLG made the Finnish catalogs Bilingual.... Finnish-Swedish.

Here is a page of the 1966 catalog from Finland that shows all the text in both Finnish and Swedish. I got this from the TLG Archives, so I could get the image of the very rare Finland 710 Wooden Box Set. It was sold "with contents" and empty. Also still shown is the very rare continental European 810 Town Plan set (available since 1961) in some continental catalogs for the last time.

And the very interesting TERAPI I - II - III sets are shown (Terapia in Finnish). These were wooden box Educational sets (with a plain red sliding top), mainly for schools and kindergartens. These were only sold in Denmark, Norway and Finland in the 1960s, but later became available in many continental European countries (and their LEGO catalogs) in the 1970s as Educational Sets 91, 92 and 93.

7887744266_68a58a32dd_b.jpg

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Those strange "TERAPI" Educational sets I just mentioned do show up in this 1965 Danish catalog image... at least the image of one of the sets does... with the red top.

Also shown are all the new 005-010-020-030-040-050-060 basic sets. When these basic sets came out, it freed up a lot of TLG workers time that was previously spent on hand packing flat sets in checkerboard brick patterns (1949-65). So now LEGO basic sets worldwide had loose LEGO parts packed inside the boxes, which now had paper or plastic compartments inside where the bricks were loosely stored. I'm not exactly sure when LEGO sets started to be packed by machine (instead of humans)... but loose box packing was a big step towards automation.

Spare parts packs had loose parts since 1955, but it was not until 1964 that the first model or basic sets had loose parts (except for wooden box and Town Plan sets which were always loose parts).

These are sets 010-020-030-040-050-060...

9716188588_6c9fed99ff_o_d.jpg

On very rare smaller set was the 005 set of this same era as the 010-060 sets. This very small set was sold mainly in Scandinavia, and contained a unique 10x10 gray baseplate with cross supports underneath.

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Rare 700h 10x10 gray baseplate (with bottom cross supports) only found in this 005 Basic Set.

9716252632_de88a3b7a1_o_d.jpg

Edited by LEGO Historian

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Getting back to the 1950s Norway....A/S Norske LEGO (as seen in an earlier advertisement)... was forced to change their name to A/S Norske LEGIO... this happened about 1954-55.

And the reason for this was because TLG Denmark was probably not happy with the Norway LEGO licensee for putting the word "LEGO" on their "Mecline" sets and catalogs.

Here is one side of a 1956 Norwegian catalog that shows both LEGO products (mainly in the area with the blue lines)... and Mecline, another building system toy... that as this catalog image shows... also had vehicles that looked similar to the LEGO ones.

7888305192_3ec7f291d2_b.jpg

Edited by LEGO Historian

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Since Denmark, Norway and Sweden were the first LEGO countries (1949-55), they share one thing in common... the first slotted bricks and the first old style LEGO windows/doors not sold elsewhere. When Germany became the next country to come online in 1956, the windows/doors and bricks that we know of today were introduced (although the tubes underneath came out in 1958)....

Here's some unique items (found in Chapter 2 - LEGO Automatic Binding Bricks, Chapter 26 LEGO Parts Pack and Chapter 29 LEGO Windows....

The very first Automatic Binding Bricks windows and doors of 1949-56 (Chapter 2 LEGO download)

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The box (of 12) that these windows doors were sold in... known as 700B

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In 1954 tall classic windows and doors were introduced in a set called 700C. And the 700B box was updated to match the 700C box. Also the 700A (12 2x2 and 12 2x4 bricks) pack was also updated with a new box look. Here's a new (Aug. 2013) found image... from my Belgian friend Rohnny. These were sold in Denmark, Norway and (by 1955 Sweden)...

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But by 1955-56... new window boxes were used (mainly in Sweden)... (Sept. 2013 image)...

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Here is a group of the (1954-56) tall classic windows that were produced for Sweden (likely produced in Norway, since the Billund Archives are not aware of this color). These rare Swedish windows would probably sell for about 80 Euro each... with the rarer green Norwegian ones selling for 100 Euros each.

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Also produced (from Denmark) were the tall classic windows in white, blue and dark blue), with the dark blue shade being the rarest.

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Then in 1956 with the discontinuing of the slotted bricks... all of these window types and colors were discontinued. What came out in 1956 was the regular classic windows/doors (produced until 1986)... mainly just in red and white colors.

But these rare early window/door types were only sold in Denmark, Norway and Sweden....

Edited by LEGO Historian

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Thanks questforcastle... very interesting!! :-)

And so very timely too!! :grin:

Now that Flickr no longer has a 200 picture limit... I can go back in this thread and reload the missing images... AND....

...add some new items on Norway Sweden and Finland... about the early years. Found out a LOT of very interesting things in the last year... very interesting things... :wink:

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Here's some new (old) 1955-56 Norwegian windows found within the past year.... in green!!!

8248383456_c94f0c8d63_b_d.jpg

And here's some from Sweden found only in the last few months.... in ORANGE!!!

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Here's the 1955 Swedish 700/3 Basic Set (same box used in Denmark and Norway).... that these very rare orange windows/door came in. This set could have had these windows in red, white, blue, yellow (Sweden only), or orange (Sweden only). It's the yellow and orange ones that are so extremely rare (probably worth about 50 Euros per window/door!!!).... from my Belgian friend Rohnny...

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The different colors that the early classic windows came in has grown quite a bit in the last year (discovering new colors!)... although some of these color variations are just aged/faded windows. Again... these were only sold in Denmark, Norway and Sweden...

8248009029_78a3397b7f_b_d.jpg

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And who knew that LEGO bricks (2x2 and 2x4) were made in so many colors back in the early 1950s, during the slotted brick era... these were mainly made for Denmark, although a few colors were only found in Norway or Sweden....

8133020093_4d707d0159_b_d.jpg

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And since we're discussing Scandinavia... the flags of Scandinavia all had a cross design... just in different color combinations.

The earliest flags were introduced in November 1957. And there were only 4 Scandinavian flags at that time... for the 4 Scandinavian countries that were selling LEGO... Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. For some strange reason the flag of Finland was not produced right away (even though the USA and Britain flags were produced, but there was yet no LEGO sales in those countries).

This 1959 LEGO brochure still shows the Finnish LEGO flag missing...

9707139202_0e61ca2590_b_d.jpg

By 1960 however, the Finnish flag became the 15th LEGO country flag, and stayed in production for as long as LEGO country flags were produced.

And speaking of Scandinavian countries... there is one very small island chain that lies between Norway, Iceland and Scotland called the Faroe Islands. This small group of islands with a population of about 50,000 is an autonomous part of Denmark.

http://en.wikipedia....i/Faroe_Islands

So in 1966 TLG started producing Faroe Island flags (that same year they also started producing flags for Australia and Japan). However, it appears that this shortlived flag (which matches the cross flags of the rest of Scandinavia)... may have only been produced in extremely small quantities, with them all being sent to the Faroe Islands in LEGO flag spare parts packs 492/493 (1966-69). These flags are very very rare and would be very expensive on the secondary market! (I only know of 2 in private LEGO collections.)

8111131086_3962d7264b_o_d.jpg

Faroe Islands (upper left), Norway (upper right).

Denmark (middle left), Finland (middle right).

Iceland (lower left), Sweden (lowere right).

Edited by LEGO Historian

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And lets get back to Sweden.......... :wink:

In 1959 a Swedish magazine known as Hemmets Journal had a LEGO promotion. The promotion involved sending away for a LEGO promotional set, and being able to build the models shown in the Hemmets Journal. There were at least 3 models... with each model numbered on the side (#1, #2, #3, etc).

We have a copy of 2 of the boxes, along with a late 1958 Swedish LEGO catalog, a LEGO brochure explaining the Hemmets Journal promotion, and a Yellow Leaflet... which were sold by TLG from LEGO retailers on a display counter....

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Here is the brochure for Hemmetts Journal #44 on Oct. 27, 1959.

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The problem is that since I've never been able to locate any images from these Hemmets Journals, I have no clue what the models each little pack is supposed to build!! :blush:

Another Swedish promotion was one directly from TLG. In the summer of 1966 the LEGO Train System was introduced in Europe. In Sweden there was a promotion from LEGO toy stores to give away free train items to interest children in the new train system. Here is a Swedish promotional box with train accessories...

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And here is the new train brochure, and the train contents....

9712933015_183828a95c_o_d.jpg

9716169134_0c8eb72692_b_d.jpg

Edited by LEGO Historian

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And then there is the SAS Scandinavian Airlines promotional set of the 1960s. This flat set contained smaller boxes with just LEGO bricks inside each smaller box. SAS Airlines was the major hub for Stockholm Sweden (the headquarters), Copenhagen Denmark, Oslo Norway, and Helsinki Finland.

This small box of LEGO was given to children on SAS flights in the 1960s.

The Box top....

9716425920_260bf59048_o_d.jpg

The bottom of the box....

9713197297_a93b378e79_b_d.jpg

And the inside of the box, showing the SAS Airlines flight map of the 1960s...

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These last few images were from my LEGO DVD/download chapter on LEGO Promotional Sets (over 100 sets from 1955-99 shown in this chapter).

More Scandinavian LEGO from my LEGO DVD/download coming over the next few days.

Edited by LEGO Historian

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Just a slight correction there Gary - the magazine is called "Hemmets Journal" (Journal of the Home) with only one "t" - googling shows you spelled it correct in 2012 :)

Side track: I'm almost (but not completely) sure that I had one of those promotional "train starters" (I was 12 years old at the time), but I can't verify.

Edited by AndersI

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Thanks Anders..... it was 4AM when I typed that... and it was a typo! :wink:

But I went back and fixed it!

Here's some interesting alphabet bricks...

In all other countries... (such as the first one from Belgium in Flemish-French)... the 234 alphabet set (introduced November 1957)... the bricks were always white with blue lettering...

9721553308_7fd9e70551_o_d.jpg

But in Norway.... they (locally produced) also came out with blue bricks and gold lettering in the 1234 parts pack....

9718319175_4a8983860b_b_d.jpg

Edited by LEGO Historian

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And then there's my LEGO DVD download Chapter 48, one of my favorites... LEGO printed bricks... that came in spare parts packs (7-10 per pack, depending on year and country)...

Printed bricks from Finland.... (the style is from the 1960s)...

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Printed Bricks from Sweden.... (the style is from the 1950s)...

9736229942_296645de2b_o_d.jpg

And the first printed bricks from Norway were water decals, not embossed bricks... the "DROSTE" brick is missing the last "E", because the decal folded back over itself, obscuring the "E"... these date to about 1955-57.

9733009467_d24dd0dfbd_b_d.jpg

And then there's the printed bricks of Germany/Austria/Luxembourg, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Britain/Ireland/Australia and USA/Canada. TLG never produced a separate unique set for Portugal (LEGO sales started in 1957), Spain (LEGO sales started in 1965) or Japan (LEGO sales started in 1962).... as found in my LEGO DVD chapter 48.

However... the Italian TEATRO... also works for Portuguese and Spanish! :wink: With THEATER for Germany/Austria, USA and Canada, THEATRE for France and Switzerland, GRAND THEATER for Belgium and Netherlands, and TEATER for Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and TEATTERI for Finland.

And finally some printed bricks are know as "International"... such as GARAGE, ESSO SERVICE, HOTEL, and KIOSK.

Edited by LEGO Historian

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Now you're going to get a little more complicated lesson on LEGO "mayhem"... stuff you would not be able to glean out of an online LEGO database... :wink:

Here are some 1956-59 Swedish LEGO Basic Sets and Spare parts packs. The boxes would be nearly identical to Norwegian ones, since "System i lek" is the same "System in Play" in both languages (it would be "System i leg" in Danish). The largest box is the 700/1 Basic Set, the one standing up (left) is the 700/2, the standing right is a 700/5, and the 2 lying down boxes on the right (dating later) are both 700/6 boxes. Oddly the higher the 700/x number, the smaller the box.

9753042902_db5302494b_b_d.jpg

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There is a large (white) 1956 Swedish catalog shown here, an yellow/red 1958 Swedish catalog, and a red 1958 brochure that talks about "Cellidor" (Cellulose Acetate), the plastic that LEGO is made of back in the 1950s.

The contents of the each of the basic set boxes should be laid out in a checkerboard fashion similar to this...

8213557358_e0ccab4ba4_o_d.jpg

By 1957 TLG decided that with the Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzlerland and Netherlands online... with Austria, Belgium and Portugal coming online in late 1957... that too many different language boxes was very impractical. So TLG decided to Switch from the local languages to the international "LEGO System" in 1957.

That's why the Swedish boxes above are of both the earlier local language (Swedish) type and the international type.

Here it shows (along with Danish and German boxes) the earlier box types in local languages, and the later type that started in the local language... but ended up as international...

8184591336_d8335b24a3_b_d.jpg

The sides of the boxes were blank from 1955-57... then starting in 1957 they had writing repeated on the sides in the local language. When the boxes were switched over to the international "LEGO System"... the started having the sides of the boxes in ALL the local languages, as seen here (somehow Portugal and Finland got shortchanged)...

8184553813_722036a27c_b_d.jpg

Now... you would think that this all makes sense, and TLG started LEGO boxes in the local languages, and then by 1958 or so they switched to new box designs in local languages... and afterwards switched to using the international "LEGO System".

Makes sense, right?? Well not exactly... TLG never made anything about old LEGO easy. Just because the catalog was a 2 sided piece of paper, didn't mean that there was no complexity to these early sets...... :sceptic:

And here's why.... this "smoking gun" picture of a LEGO display window at Christmas 1959 in a high end Copenhagen department store named Chrome & Goldschmidt...

5435110729_e17028b19e_b_d.jpg

What this shows is that all the way to 1960 (when new set designs came out)... the Danish market continued to use the local Danish language LEGO boxes with "System i leg"... instead of switching over (like all other countries)... to "LEGO System" back in circa 1958. (note: when Portugal started sales at the end of 1957 they started with LEGO System... ditto for Finland in 1959).

So there are so many exceptions to just about every rule for LEGO, that it makes interpreting the LEGO Archives virtually impossible... :look:

Again, most of these images are from my LEGO DVD/download... with a few new ones to be added in the next update.

Edited by LEGO Historian

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Thanks again for the info, Historian!

And then there is the SAS Scandinavian Airlines promotional set of the 1960s. This flat set contained smaller boxes with just LEGO bricks inside each smaller box. SAS Airlines was the major hub for Stockholm Sweden (the headquarters), Copenhagen Denmark, Oslo Norway, and Helsinki Finland.

This small box of LEGO was given to children on SAS flights in the 1960s.

Wow, that's amazing. I never got freebies like that when I flew as a kid (which I did a lot, as an Air Force brat whose family moved a lot to all the places my dad got stationed).

And then there's my LEGO DVD download Chapter 48, one of my favorites... LEGO printed bricks... that came in spare parts packs (7-10 per pack, depending on year and country)...

Printed bricks from Finland.... (the style is from the 1960s)...

9732994075_54a3344a5c_b_d.jpg

Printed Bricks from Sweden.... (the style is from the 1950s)...

9736229942_296645de2b_o_d.jpg

And the first printed bricks from Norway were water decals, not embossed bricks... the "DROSTE" brick is missing the last "E", because the decal folded back over itself, obscuring the "E"... these date to about 1955-57.

9733009467_d24dd0dfbd_b_d.jpg

Holy smokes! That "TOBAKK" sign in the bottom picture... an official LEGO tobacco shop sign!? And those "TOBAK" and "TUPAKKAA" signs in the images above - do those also mean "Tobacco"? If so, WOW - talk about something that they would never do today. Amazing to think of it...

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Blondie-Wan... to Americans it is rather appalling to think of TLG using tobacco or cigarette signage.

In continental Europe many stores sold tobacco and candy together in the same store. So finding signage for tobacco is not that strange for Europeans.

The printed bricks TLG used for Germany/Austria/Luxembourg were "TABAK", for France it was "TABAC", for Italy it was "TABACCHI", for Netherlands it was "SIGARETTEN", for Denmark it was either "TOBAK" or "CIGARETTEN". For bilingual Switzerland it was either "TABAK" or "TABAC", for bilingual Belgium it was either "SIGARETTEN" or "TABAC".

For Britain/Ireland/Australia (British LEGO Ltd.), and USA/Canada (Samsonite LEGO)... there were no tobacco signs produced.

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