Closes May 31st:

Competition: make a LEGO font

30 January 2017

Old Bricks: 5 Classic LEGO® Colours

LEGO® fans of a certain age will fondly recall the vintage 1960s/'70s LEGO logo that Francesco Spreafico is discussing today but may be surprised to learn it made further appearances in later decades, and even one in 2016. Francesco first published this article in Italian on his excellent blog Old Bricks.

The LEGO® logo has changed many times over the years, and around 1963-1965 they adopted the square shape that it still has today. Next to this square you could find another one, with a "rainbow" made of five coloured stripes: yellow, red, blue, white and black. These five colours were used together with the LEGO logo until 1973 and they kept using them for years even after that, without the LEGO logo.


But what are these colours? You might have read a few different explanations for them, but more often than not these explanations are incorrect or only partially correct.

The most common explanation is that they were "the first LEGO colours", but they were obviously not. Even ignoring the old wooden toys and starting our consideration from the first plastic bricks made in 1949, they were made in many more colours than these five. Shown below are a couple of different shades of green used then, and here, for instance, you can find a classification of those first colours. This "colour abundance" was quickly downsized and at the beginning of the 1950s the number of available colours decreased.


Other people say that the five colours were the colours in production in 1958, when the company requested the patent for their new brick design with bottom tubes. But again this is not true; there were many more colours in production then, if you consider all the LEGO System parts like trees, road signs, vehicles, baseplates and so on.

Were they, then, the colours in production for LEGO bricks in 1958? We're getting closer, but we're not there yet. Because, quite strangely, in 1958 there were no black bricks.

The final answer is probably the simplest. And I say "probably" because I haven't found an official explanation yet (if such explanation exists). Looking at the dates I think we can reach a reasonable answer: those five colours were the colours of the bricks in production in the moment they started using that logo, so in 1963-65. A bit anti-climatic, maybe?

As I said before, the missing colour was black and black bricks certainly must have debuted between 1960 and 1963 (see the discussion below this wonderful LEGO Color Chart that you might have already seen in Bricks magazine #14 or on this very site). The 1960 year is fixed by a German catalogue that includes everything for sale at the time, and that doesn't include any black bricks. 1963 is fixed by the fact that black bricks made in cellulose acetate (CA) exist (even I have some, as you can see in the next photo) and in Europe, CA stopped being used in 1963 when the company moved to using ABS. LEGO historian Gary Istok says that black actually started being sold in 1961, appearing first in 1962 catalogs.


So in 1963, besides the "colour" transparent (which clearly does not concern us here), you could only find yellow, red, blue, white and black bricks in production. Exactly what we needed.

Let me stress, again, the word "bricks", because at the end of 1962/beginning of 1963 the first small plates were created, in light grey. And I'll also add a "regular" to that "bricks", because 1963 also saw the birth of Modulex bricks, and they had a completely different (and larger) colour palette.

In 1973 the LEGO logo changed again (the word "System" disappeared and the logo started looking very much like the current one) and the link with these colours, after a few cases where they were still used together with the new logo, was gone.


Just the link with the logo was gone, though, because the five colours were then used for many years on catalogs and advertising material (and on a few parts too, as shown above! The flag was sold in three sets released between 1985 and 1991. The torso and tail as well as some other parts and stickers not pictured here come from the 1985 and 1990 airport sets; the logo of which included the colours). And this still happens today, sporadically, even though now the colours are mainly used to give a "vintage" feeling... for example the old logo with the colours is used on the recent LEGO employee 2016 gift set, shown below.


Here's a video I found on YouTube with old LEGO Space commercials; some of them feature the five colours at the end (and sometimes the stripes are animated using 6x bricks).



In the AFOL community, these colours are fondly remembered and often used. For example they're part of the Paredes de Coura Fan Weekend's logo and buildable mascot. And even the logo of my LUG, ItLUG, includes white, red and blue - and not green, as anyone would think appropriate for Italy - for this reason (maybe a bit retconned). And they clearly feature in the Portuguese LUG Comunidade 0937's logo too... I could go on and on!

In closing, I'm not 100% sure that the origin of these five colours is really this, but it seems to be a plausible theory. If anyone has any corrections or any more data... please, let me know!


Shopping on Amazon? Consider using our affiliate links to buy your LEGO sets (or anything); this helps support New Elementary!
USA: Amazon.com Canada: Amazon.ca UK: Amazon.co.uk Deutschland: Amazon.de

15 comments:

  1. On a related note: the shift in color palette over the years is really noticeable. A few years ago, I collected my childhood Lego from my parents. about 35,000 pieces from the early '70s to early '90s. Setting aside transparent parts, it was a sea of red/yellow/blue/white/gray/black. There was a little bit of green (exclusively trees, leaves, and baseplates) and brown (wheels, treasure chests & barrels, a few other pirates parts)--but these were both segregated into special pieces.

    I then sorted and combined with my adult collection, which is post-'92, and heavily favors post-'05. The contrast is really remarkable.

    As much as i love the fun colors I can get now, part of what makes Lego look like Lego to me is those 6 bright, "pure" colors--colors we rarely see in the real world (well, except maybe black). Particularly for City, but also other "everyday" themes, I'd love to see a return to those 6 colors (plus various transparents) dominating the offerings, and reserve the pastels and earth tones and so on for special uses or accents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It might be because I'm a younger fan, but I greatly prefer the current color palette to the older, more limited palette. Some of the sets that excited me the most as a child were sets with unusual colors in them — Bright Violet and Bright Bluish Green in the Technic Cyber-Slam/Competition sets, Rose in Paradisa sets, Bright Orange in the 3047 Halloween bucket, etc. This wasn't a preference specific to LEGO, either — when getting crayons or colored pencils for school, I always preferred having a 24-color variety over a basic 8-color assortment.

      The LEGO color palette did get more than a bit out of control in the early naughts, but after some reining in, it's now settled comfortably at around 60 colors that I think allow for a lot of great creative opportunities. When I look back on sets from my early childhood or earlier, they often seem boring or even downright ugly compared to the more nuanced color palettes of today's Ninjago, Friends, Elves, Creator, and Classic sets.

      Delete
  2. This is really fascinating! I had seen that logo but hadn't associated it with all its uses back in those days (for instance, I had never realized that that aircraft logo was referencing it). I love those sorts of Lego inside references, so thank you for this!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interestingly these colors are also the standard basic colors for subtractive color printing with white being just no color applied. (CMYK)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They're basically the basic primary colors in the Red-Yellow-Blue system, used for instance in watercolors. (In the Red-Green-Blue system, Yellow is a secondary color by mixing Red and Green...)

      /Håkan

      Delete
    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RYB_color_model

      /Håkan

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Could the rainbow logo possibly be related to LGBT? 😐

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not sure if that's trolling, but in that case it looks more similar to the Buddhist flag...

      Since the Orange is replaced with Black, maybe The Lego Group are Anarchist Buddhists?...

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_flag

      /Håkan

      Delete
  6. The colors are actually taken from a painting. Well, a series of paintings, actually. Piet Mondrian, a Dutch painter from around 100 years ago, painted a series of paintings with titles like "Tableau I" and "Composition II" using black lines to mark out rectangles of varying shapes and sizes on a white background, with a few of those rectangles filled in with red, blue, or yellow. So, the color palette was reduced to fit Mondrian's "de Stijl" color scheme, and the logo was probably changed to reflect that soon after the fact.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's actually almost exactly the same as the old Republic of China flag. (with red and yellow swapped)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_China_(1912%E2%80%9349)

    ReplyDelete
  8. The colour scheme also appears in set 41115 Emma's Creative Workshop as the the 'thread' next to the sewing machine.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hmm, I thought I'd posted this already, but it's not here. The color palette for the bricks was reduced to black/white/red/yellow/blue to match the color scheme of Piet Mondrian's de Stijl movement because one of the Christiansens really liked the look of one of his paintings with the black lines forming rectangles on white background, and some rectangles being filled in with one of the primary colors. The logo was almost certainly changed to match the color palette of the bricks, and possibly as a sort of nod to the Mondrian artwork.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right - checked the spam and Blogger had ungraciously assigned it there. Have restored it

      Delete
  10. I just discovered that the colours are the same as used by the Dutch art movement De Stijl. Purple Dave is right.
    BTW: Rumours have it that Lego didn't use green because kids could make army stuff with it. Green only appeared in foliage.

    ReplyDelete