Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Anchor Stones (Anker Steinbaukasten)

Lots of folks are out looking for that special, distinctive gift for their children, grandchildren, or significant other this time of year. Millions will be spent on toys that will break or be pushed aside shortly after the New Year.

One category of toy that fosters creativity is what I’ll loosely call ‘Construction Sets’. This includes traditional wooden building blocks, Lego ™ style interlocking plastic blocks, Lincoln Log™ sets, Erector™ sets, and the like. They allow the construction of structures limited only by the user’s creativity, and the range of pieces available.

Some of these products appeal to specific age groups, or require differing degrees of manual dexterity. They each also appeal to a certain aesthetic – Lincoln Logs™ and wooden blocks have a rugged build of natural products that can appeal to adults who remember them from their childhood. Interlocking plastic blocks are versatile, inexpensive, and colorful – and always seem to end up in the vacuum at my house. Erector™ sets are for the hard-core future mechanics, engineers, and architects among us.

However, there is a product that combines the best of all of these attributes – Anchor Stones.

The original Anchor Stones (Anker Steinbaukasten) go all the way back to 1879. They are beautiful colored and polished blocks of real stone, which produce beautiful buildings. They are sold in Basic sets of around 100 blocks, and Supplemental sets that can be expanded to build sets of over 2000 stones.

One of the great advantages of Anchor Stones is their versatility. They combine the simplicity and pleasing aesthetics of wooden blocks, the durability and color of interlocking plastic blocks, and the range of building complexity to rival Erector™ style building sets. Moreover, the packaging and set-building properties of Anchor Stone sets can solve the problem of what to buy the recipient next year, and the year after, and after…

While appropriate for the youngest builder, an amazing international community of enthusiasts has grown up around Anchor Stones. There are websites and blogs, mostly from Europe, that illustrate replicas of real buildings constructed with Anchor Stones. Many sites provide plans so that an aspiring Anchor architect can reproduce the results of their colleagues abroad.

From the AnkerStein.Org website

The best Anchor Stones are currently being made by Rudolstädter Anker-Steinbaukasten-Fabrik GmbH & Co. KG, and can be a bit of a challenge to come by in the United States. I like to buy from smaller businesses that are passionate about their hobbies, so the best source I could come by is George Hardy of Virginia, who also maintains a great enthusiast site at AnkerStein.Org. Basic sets are a bit easier to find, at sites such as NiftyCool Toys . The grand-daddy of construction toy sales The Construction Site also carries them.

Timeless, versatile, suitable for all ages. Maybe someone will buy ME some of these for Christmas…

For information on building toys in general, be sure to check out Alan Winston’s BlockPlay blog.



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