One of my major BAYKO frustrations has been that, despite acquiring 6 or 7 Grey Bay Window Covers over the years, for some reason I'd not picked up a Grey Canopy. From chats with fellow BAYKO nuts / enthusiasts, I knew they existed, so why couldn't I get hold of one?
Multi-coloured, spotty screwdriver, shown courtesy of Robin Throp
Imagine my delight, when, while cleaning and sorting a job lot I'd picked up several months ago, my grubby little fingers closed on a Grey Canopy! I was as happy as the proverbial pig in insalubrious surroundings! I lovingly hand washed and dried it and carefully put it with it's fellows in my rarities box. A quick rummage through the rest of the contents set me thinking. What is it about rarities?
I'm sure psychiatrists would explain away a collector's yen for rarities as a vestigial response to instincts developed when we were hunter-gatherers and the goal was survival - it's either that or inadequate potty training, I leave you to decide!!
Looking at it logically(?), why do rarities exist, how do they arise, what are the causes?
BAYKO's best-known unexplained rarity were multicoloured (spotted) Screwdrivers. I spoke to many people over the years about their possible origin, the consensus being that they were 'specials' for Toy Fairs, Exhibitions or key customers.
Back in 1994, Geoff Lilleker and Malcolm Hanson organised the "Diamond Jubilee" BAYKO exhibition in sunny Liverpool. Through their efforts, a few people came who had worked on BAYKO and were only too happy to reminisce about their work. Their explanation of how things like 'Oak' Pillars, White Steps or Spotted Screwdrivers came to be was simple. "You know what it's like on Friday afternoons", they said. "People can get demob happy and BAYKO factories were no exception. Sometimes we just threw any old **** into the moulds". So much for the carefully crafted theories - still, we all like the rarities don't we?
But that only really explains the wrong 'uns. There are plenty of other rarities with the manufacturer's approval. The grey Bay Window Covers and Canopies that started this off are a good example. Though not in any literature I've seen, they exist non-the-less, indeed I have a red-boxed, post-war #3 set which includes Grey Bay Window Covers but Red Canopies. I understand that this was a "trial enhancement" which didn't sell and so was quickly dropped. I suspect the origins of White Arches and Bay Window Covers are similar but can't prove it. They were produced in limited numbers before the war - I wonder, is it possible that a White Canopy was produced at the same time?
What of other rarities? The first BAYKO sets from 1934 and early 1935 had a strange half Door, half Canopy, panel. It's fragility lead to a short production life, compounding its rarity today.
Early Green Arch - they can also be found in a light green version
Between 1938 and the war Sets #20 to #23 were part of the strategy for introducing a range of new parts. The much-sought-after Orange pieces, the short lived 1-Brick Pillars and the Mottled Green Large Bases stem from these sets. The sets were extras, outside the normal range of sets #1 to 6 and so, by comparison, few sets were produced. The same is true for Red Pillars, and Green Arches (light or dark) which were available loose or in the 'Ornamental Addition' sets A, B & C from 1935 onwards.
Also produced from 1935 onwards was the De-Luxe #6 set with its 'Oak' Bricks, White Windows and Mottled Green Roofs. Less well known is the fact that 'New series' sets, produced from 1939 until Plimpton's switch to war work, could also we ordered in the same colours. This means that 'Oak' Long Bricks, Curved Bricks, End Bricks, Straight Steps, Domes, Pinnacles, Turrets and Bay Window Covers; White Windows, Large Windows and Curved Windows; and Mottled Green Small Roofs (#28) all exist - how many have you got? These include some of the rarest of the rare and you can add White Turrets to this list, which were produced at the same time. They were all available, but only by an 'extra effort' on the part of the retailers and collectors of the day, so they are rare because so few were bought originally.
White Curved Window
We have post-war rarities too when austerity was the name of the game and everything was in short supply. The first sets produced after the war included the new Flat Roof pieces, which, for the first 12 months or so, were made with a diamond tile pattern. The Doors and all 3 types of window produced around the same time were in a cheerful yellow-green and they too are much sought after.
Whether the colour was a marketing decision or pure necessity is unknown, but we do know that there was a lot of improvisation with other parts at this time, creating more rarities, mostly of Red pieces. Bricks, Curved Bricks, End Bricks, Canopies, Bay Window Covers all exist in a strange translucent Red plastic and, at the same time, were also being made in a deep raspberry colour rather than the normal red. Sets exist with mixes of these components. There are a few surviving examples of bases made in a similarly translucent almost blue colour, but only rich people like Chris Reeves have any of these!!!
Three red Curved Bricks with the early, unreinforced cylinder at the rear
Early Curved Bricks from this period had cylindrical backs, but these were not reinforced like the later standard parts. Their poor survival rate testifies to the need for the redesign but leaves us with yet more rarities. A brief flirtation with shades of grey Bases also date from this period.
Chronologically the next hard to find pieces are the Green Garage Doors which were launched a few months before the 1959 MECCANO take-over and so are relatively uncommon.
Surprisingly the MECCANO era has its rarities too. We all know the 'New Parts' (only available for 18 months from 1st August 1962) but later on MECCANO retooled several parts as they returned to the Plimpton era Red & White colour scheme. Bricks, End Bricks, Long Bricks and White Half Bricks were produced in the 'flanged' or 'minimalist' style (do 'flanged' Red Half Bricks exist?) with matching Curved Bricks and bright White Pillars and Roof Ends in sizes A & B. The shiny khaki Steps, Ramp and Crazy Paving probably appeared at the same time.
Various parts from the final months of the MECCANO era which match the 'Flanged Bricks'
The very rare Balcony pieces
So interestingly there are rarities in the first and last BAYKO sets produced as well as many in between - a collectors dream! All this - and I haven't even mentioned the Balcony pieces - or Binding Strips; Curved Tie Bars; plastic, painted or copper-clad Tie Bars; hollow Rods; 23 x 15 and 8 x 11 hole Floors; 'Oak' Windows; Wall Capping; pre-war conversion sets; Plimpton parts in MECCANO packaging……….
I've since written a follow-up article on the same subject...
I now know that the white Bay Window Covers mentioned above were, in fact, mentioned in a pre-war 'New Series' price list.
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