Stabil Construction System
Most of you construction toy fans and collectors will know the name Marklin Metall, the great building system from Germany. What you may not know, however, is that Marklin was not the first system to appear in that country. In 1904, Franz Walther began marketing his Ingenieur Bauspiel (literally "engineering building play") system. By 1911, he had introduced a new system that was essentially an outgrowth and improvement upon the first one. This system he named Stabil, the German word for stable, sturdy, or strong.
Like the Meccano system in England that preceded it by three years, Walther's Ingenieur Bauspiel system was composed primarily of perforated metal strips, plus wheels, gears, shafts, and angle brackets. But unlike Meccano, the parts in Walther's system had 10.3 mm hole spacing and were held together with steel pins. By 1910, Meccano sets were being sold in Germany, and it has been reported that this provided the primary impetus for Walther to develop Stabil. To make his new system more competitive, he increased hole spacing to 12.5 mm (roughly equivalent to Meccano's ½" spacing) and replaced the pin fasteners with screws and nuts. But he also sought to improve upon the method of attaching wheels and gears to shafts. In 1911, Meccano was still using small clips that keyed into slots in both the shafts and wheels. For his Stabil system, Walther threaded the shafts so that nuts could be used to secure wheels to them.
Early Stabil box and manual cover art
Stabil cover art, from the 1928 No. 52 box lid; the same artwork appeared on the cover of the instruction manual
In 1911 the Stabil line included five sets. Two years later there were thirteen general building sets, including seven regular sets numbered 49 to 55 and six auxiliary sets numbered 49a to 54a; these sets remained the heart of the Stabil lineup into the 1950's, when the two largest sets were eliminated. During the early 1930's, a new entry level set, No, 48, was added. Beginning in 1920, motors - both clockwork and electric - were offered in special accessory kits. Walther stopped production of Stabil sets in 1970.
In addition to the regular Stabil line, Walther introduced several specialty product lines under the Stabil name at various times. Between 1911 and 1915, nine Railway Carriage Component sets (59, 59a, 60, 60a, 61, 61a, 62, 62a, 63) were produced. During the late 1920's and 1930's there were three special Inventor Component sets (56, 57, 58). In the 1930's, the military-themed Cannon Component sets were available, as was a series of beginning builder sets marketed under the name Knirps.
Stabil cover art, from the 1930 No. 50a box lid; the same artwork appeared on the cover of the instruction manual
Stabil sets, from the parts they contain to the boxes that held the parts, were of typical superb German quality. Machining and pressing on all parts was precise and consistent, and finish was excellent. By late 1929-30, most wooden and cardboard set boxes had given way to strong, heavy fiberboard boxes with integral wooden framing. The boxes were covered with a matte finish black cloth or cloth-like fabric/paper outside and glossy cobalt blue paper inside. The blue paper covered ¼" x 3/8" hardwood strips that were glued around the perimeter of the box bottom. These strips reinforced and strengthened the box while also serving as a ledge on which the upper part tray rested. This upper tray, also quite heavy, had a black cloth loop glued to each end for lifting the tray. Cardboard dividers were integrated permanently into both the upper and lower trays to form separate storage areas for different parts. These features can be seen in my pictorial on the 1928 No. 52 set.
Now, let's look at one of the sets themselves. The set in this pictorial is the No. 52 from 1928. The 52 was the middle set in the line of seven regular sets, between the 49 and 55. It contained a total of 466 pieces, including screws, nuts, and tools, plus a hank of string and a manual. The box, made from heavy, reinforced fiberboard with an integrated wooden frame, was covered with black cloth outside and glossy cobalt blue paper inside. It measured 12" x 9" x 2" and weighed 8 pounds. Parts were arranged in two compartmented trays, one removable, stacked one upon the other (see photo below). Small parts were stored in three round, flat cardboard containers. The set contained a wide variety of the standard part types, such as perforated strips, angle girders, pulleys and gears, flat and flanged plates, etc., plus a selection of more specialized or unusual parts, including toothed wheels, windmill blades, grooved wheel rings, and many more. The manual, which featured the same color cover art as the box lid, included set inventories along with the model instructions.
The 1928 version of the No. 52 set
The photos below show the two part trays in more detail. The lower tray (bottom photo) is actually formed into the bottom of the box. A wooden frame is glued into the bottom of the box around its perimeter; the upper tray rests on this frame. The frame, covered with blue paper like the rest of the inside of the box, reinforces and strengthens the box while also serving as a ledge on which the upper part tray rests. The sturdy upper tray has a black cloth loop glued to each end for lifting the tray. Cardboard dividers are integrated permanently into both the upper and lower trays to form separate storage areas for the different parts. As shown in the photos on this page, all parts are nickel plated steel, except for gears and pulleys, which are brass, and two special wooden parts.
Detail of the removable upper tray; note the two sizes of angle girders (top and bottom), flanged plates (with cutout centers), part cans, and wooden disk and plate.
The fixed lower tray; note the brass pulleys and wheels, windmill blades, plus various sizes of toothed wheels and wheel rings
Now that we've taken a brief look at the history of Stabil, let's take a closer look at the parts in the Stabil system. Most construction systems, no matter their country of origin or period of production, contain the same standard part types, such as perforated strips, angle girders, pulleys and gears, flat and flanged plates, etc. However, as I've investigated various systems from around the world, I am always intrigued by the parts that are different from those that are usually seen, some of which may be unique to one system or another. This is often true of the earlier periods of many systems. Stabil, like other German systems including Marklin Metall, is no exception. It contains the usual mix of standard part types, including those listed above, as well as an interesting assortment of modified versions of other standard types, plus a number of unique parts.
The photos below show a small selection of Stabil parts, including both standard and modified types. Further down the page are part digrams for all Stabil parts, including the special Inventor Component parts. All parts are nickel plated steel, except for gears and pulleys, which are brass, and five special wooden parts. All of the parts shown are the 1928 versions, although most of them remained unchanged throughout the life of the Stabil system. The exception to this can be seen in the gears and pulleys. In general form, these parts also did not change significantly through the years. However, as the photos indicate, the pulleys and some gears are "bossless", i.e., have no hubs. Look more closely and you may also notice that where bosses do exist (flanged wheel, pierced disk, some gears), they are not tapped! Wheels, pulleys and gears were fixed to shafts by locking them between nuts threaded onto the emd of the shafts.
An assortment of pierced diskas and other parts; the #21 large wheel rim has a serrated groove around its outer edge for string or cord so that it can function as a large pulley
Square tooth gear wheels
A selection of Stabil wheels and pulleys; all are solid brass
A selection of Stabil gears; all are solid brass
Some flanged plates; all such parts have cutout centers
Windmill blade and other perforated plates
Some smaller threaded shafts; on the longest shafts, only about 5/8" of each end was threaded
Two of the five special wooden parts
Shown below are part diagrams for the Stabil system, circa late 1920s - early 1930s. These parts changed very little if at all in later years. The first three images depict parts in the regular Stabil sets, while the last two images show the parts in the Inventor Component sets.
Parts in the regular Stabil sets
Parts in the Inventor Component sets