Listed below are some of the other notable construction toy systems that were produced during the 20th century. The list is by no means exhaustive, as by some estimates hundreds of such systems have come and gone over the years.
  • Bing's Structator (Germany)
  • BRAL (Milan, Italy)
  • Buildo
  • Construction (E.Germany)
  • Constructor
  • Construct-o-Craft
  • Elektromehaniskais konstructors (Russia)
  • Ezy-Bilt (Australia)
  • FAC (Sweden)
  • Lyons
  • Marklin Metall (Germany)
  • Mekanik (Sweden)
  • Mek-Struct (China)
  • Mini Meta-Build (New Delhi, India)
  • Necobo
  • Palikit
  • Pioneer
  • Primus Engineering Outfits (England)
  • Schefflers
  • Sonneberger
  • Steel Engineering (U.S.A.)
  • Structomode
  • TECC (Czeckoslovakia)
  • Tekno (Norway & Denmark)
  • Thale Stahlbau Technik (E. Germany)
  • The Constructioneer
  • The Engineer (Toronto, Canada)
  • TRIX (Germany and England)
  • Trumodel (U.S.A.)
  • Vogue (Melton Mowbray, England)
  • Wisdom / Sagesse (China)

Merkur Construction System

It all began in the year 1920, when Jaroslav Vancl, the founder of the company, started producing construction sets in the small Czechoslovakian town called Police nad Metuji. The original name of the metal construction sets was the Inventor. Originally, the parts of the sets were connected by small hooks which was insufficient, and in the early 1930s the designers began using nuts and bolts to connect the intricate pieces of the sets.

Once they began using this innovative new system, the creators of the product changed the name from Inventor to its present name Merkur. The manufacturer also made the Metropol which was the set for buildings. At the beginning of World War II, production was halted, it began again in 1947. In 1948, the Communist Revolution took place, and all private companies became controlled by the government.

In the 1960s, the sets began to be sold all around the world. As a result of the 1989 revolution, communism ended and in 1990, the company went from being a communist controlled company to a privately owned business. Unfortunately, three years later they filed for bankruptcy.

A new chapter in Merkur's history began when Mr. Jaromir Kriz purchased the rights to Merkur, which took him three years because of post communist bureaucracy. Today the sets are manufactured in a completely refurbished factory in the Czech Republic by the Merkur Division of Cross, a well-known and respected European toy company.

THE SETS
Sold in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere for many years, Merkur metal construction sets are a relative newcomer to this country. Merkur was first introduced in 1920; in their current incarnation, the sets are manufactured in a completely refurbished factory in the Czech Republic by the Merkur Division of Cross-Merkur, a well-known and respected European toy company. We are pleased to be able to offer them to you here at Girders & Gears in our Online Store.

The Merkur system includes most of the standard part types that are common to almost all metal construction systems, both old and new. One place where Merkur differs from many of these other systems is in scale: Merkur is based on a hole spacing of 10mm, while Erector, Marklin, Meccano, and many other systems utilize 12.7mm (½") hole spacing (see photo). Screws, nuts, and shafts are similarly smaller in scale then their counterparts in other systems. Most larger Merkur parts are powder coated in various colors, while the smallest strips, brackets, and couplings are nickel plated. Wheels, gears, and pulleys have single-tapped nickel plated bosses.

The largest set in the current Merkur line, the M8, comes packed in a reasonably sturdy cardboard box with a slide-on "shoe box" style lid covered with large, color photographs of some of the models that can be built with the set. At 1405 pieces and over 15 pounds, the set is slightly larger than the now-classic No. 10½ "Amusement Park" Gilbert Erector set.

Almost all components of a typical Merkur set are made of steel that has been formed, punched, and/or machined, rather than cast. In most sets, painted parts are typically red, blue, green, or yellow, and all four colors are usually represented. Paint is typically of good quality, as is plating, although occasionally a painted part will show some build-up or thin spots, and a plated part may show some minor discoloration (not unlike Erector). As the parts catalog shown above indicates, the Merkur system features a large number of different sizes and shapes of plates, brackets, and strips, allowing for fairly realistic model designs approaching scale-model quality.

Merkur Parts
Merkur parts catalog (part inventories vary between sets)

Many Merkur sets contain a variety of black rubber tires (both hollow and solid) in different sizes that fit onto nicely designed painted metal wheels. The largest Merkur sets contain at least some parts made from thin, translucent, flexible plastic in different colors and even clear. These parts are usually duplicates of small or medium sized plates, and can be used where a curved or bent part may be required (a nice feature really, as it saves having to bend any metal parts).

To power those wheeled (and other) Merkur models, the largest set (the M8) includes a battery powered electric motor (also available in a separate Motorizing Kit). This two-speed, reversible motor has an integrated gearbox and a separate battery case, and is easily mounted in any model using bosses molded onto the motor housing. The M8, and selected other sets, also include lighting parts (bulbs and sockets).

Another nice feature of Merkur sets are the various building tools. These include a plastic-handled screwdriver, two double-ended wrenches (one flat, one offset), and a combination nut holder and screw holder.

Overall, Merkur parts are very well designed and manufactured, and they offer tremendous flexibility in model design, as there are many more different styles of parts than there were in Gilbert Erector. We're sold on them so far, and are already having great fun building with them. Be sure to check out the Merkur models we have posted in the Model Gallery.

PACKAGING AND INSTRUCTIONS
All sets in the Merkur line come packed in cardboard boxes; most of these are of average to good quality, but bear in mind that, like any similar packaging, they will likely not stand up to much abuse. Inside the box, parts are typically arranged in molded compartments within thin, flexible vacu-formed plastic inserts; in larger sets, multiple plastic inserts are used, each resting within its own cardboard tray. These trays are covered with a thin molded, clear plastic cover to keep the parts in place, although the parts will easily dislodge if the box is tipped to any degree. In addition, all screws, nuts, and other small pieces are also stored in these compartments, and are prone to moving about the box if it is jostled or tipped. Our solution here at Girders & Gears is the same as the one we use with our Erector sets: we re-pack all of the small components in clear plastic compartmented storage containers that are made for screws, nuts, and other small items (you can find these in the hardware section at your local home center or discount department store). And, with their snap-tight lids, those parts stay put even if you drop them (assuming that you latched the lid, of course)!

Until recently, most Merkur instruction manuals pictured a relatively small number of different model designs. While this is still true in many cases, new sets, along with certain older sets, are getting new manuals that feature many more designs to build. Of course, in all cases, just as with Erector, each set will build many more models than its manual may illustrate. And, to assist all of you model builders, both young and old, we have posted additional model designs on the G-Files page that you can download.