Smuggling Lego is the new Smuggling Diamonds
December 29, 2014 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Teeny, tiny, blockity, sellaby, black markety. A new underground currency has hit the market. Lego and Lego sets. Unrelated, go head, suffer a Lego firewalk. I dare you.
posted by headspace (34 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'll stick to regular firewalks, thank you.
posted by TedW at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2014


> For example, Francis says, the Lego 3450 Statue of Liberty sold for just $200 when it hit the market back in 2000. Lady Liberty, if unopened, now sells for as much as $10,000 on Amazon.

I don't understand people. Ten large for an ugly, 2.5 foot statue? Unless we're talking about a collector's market like, say, baseball cards, where the objects themselves have little or no practical value?
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2014


Maybe listed at $10,000 at Amazon, but I suspect that not many (or none) have sold at that price.
posted by parki at 9:49 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well sure, "steal Legos, sell them on eBay" is a sound plan for getting started with. But any Lego thief worth his salt would only use that plan once before throwing it out and coming up with something different on his own.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:04 AM on December 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


That set is actually selling for $1500-2000 on eBay, depending on condition of the box and packaging. My daughter has a large discontinued set from a few birthdays ago sitting under her bed, as of yet unopened. It's fetching 3x the original $150 purchase price right now. It's a tempting investment, but how long until 3d printers turn old lego sets into beanie babies?
posted by bizwank at 10:07 AM on December 29, 2014


It's a tempting investment, but how long until 3d printers turn old lego sets into beanie babies?

Then Lego will just make the printers.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2014


I picture Lennie Brisco being told to clamp down on Lego thieves and letting out an exasperated fuck this, why am I not retired yet sigh.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:20 AM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


It's a tempting investment, but how long until 3d printers turn old lego sets into beanie babies?

Probably longer than you might think. Lego uses a highly precise process to make their brick called Injection Moulding. Due to some of the restrictions/setbacks with 3D printing I don't see them overtaking the Lego Company anytime soon. To be feasible replacement they'd either need to do Injection Moulding, which would require the expensive Molds. Or the copy cats would end up with some sub par quality bricks. Especially since, at the moment there are some issues with the additive 3D printers missing a few centimeters here and there. While not an issue on the normal scale of 3D printed objects, a few missing centimeters on the peg of a Lego brick wouldn't be workable at all.
posted by Twain Device at 10:23 AM on December 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Pretty sure that the only building brick that could possibly have enough mass on a peg to miss even one centimeter is Duplo.

But yeah, our 3D printing tech is going to have to become remarkably better before it can do anything like Lego.
posted by hippybear at 10:33 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's a tempting investment, but how long until 3d printers turn old lego sets into beanie babies?

Yup, Lego bricks are pretty high-tech small tolerance artefacts. And anyone who has played with Lego and encountered some non-Lego blocks will notice that even they may look the same, the fit, snap and grip is often completely different (i.e. worse).
posted by carter at 10:40 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


If you want the experience of building an out-of-print set, but don't want to pay out-of-print prices, you can use a technique I coined "EPIC" building: Existing Pieces, Ignoring Color.

If you have a large collection, you can easily get the instructions, use pieces you already have (contrary to most comment sections, the number of "special" pieces is pretty low) and maybe augment with a Bricklink order. It'll be "ugly", sure, but you get to build it, all the same.

I built the Cafe Corner set ($400 at the time) for about $20 and the Green Grocer ($300 at the time) for $16.

In both cases, had I wanted to do these in the "right" colors, I could still have gone on Bricklink and paid much less than the asking price.
posted by Legomancer at 10:43 AM on December 29, 2014 [30 favorites]


This isn't even getting into the collectible minifigs. Lego's participation in Comic-con giveaways has created demand for rare collectible individual minifigs that can be as high as hundreds of dollars for a single one, leading to the inevitable market for foreign counterfeits.
posted by FJT at 10:49 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Interesting. Apparently Lego sets are also popular with folks involved in "retail arbitrage".
posted by banwa at 10:50 AM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Lego collectors are weirdly obsessive. Six years ago, I posted a picture of a rare set (#4999 — and it wasn't mine, either) on my blog. I still get occasional “are you still selling this, I have $x,000 waiting” comments from apparent humans.

People: it is some small pieces of plastic in a cardboard box. It is designed to make small humans happy by its use and reuse. If you think that owning it at any price will erase some great loss from your childhood, guess what: you'll find out about an even rarer set, and your want will become greater than your heart can stand.
posted by scruss at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


What a nonsensical phenomenon. It's entirely possible to buy bricks piece by piece and very rare for individual elements to get too crazy expensive. I think the most I've ever paid was $15 for a weird-shaped piece of early 90s monorail track. The only trick to reconstituting Lego sets on bricklink is minimizing the shipping cost. And sometimes if you need an obsolete color you end up buying bricks that have been in sunlight and faded. Or, as FJT says, if you feel you need the minifigs too, things can get pricey fast.

I was surprised not to see any mention of international smuggling though. It's crazy how much Lego costs in some countries. We sent some to relatives in Armenia and they freaked out. A $20 set from the states can set you back a week's pay according to them.
posted by town of cats at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


And yeah if 3d printers ever get to a point where they can print out generic Lego at anywhere near Lego tolerances I think it'll be safe to say we can just give up on factories and go all-print.
posted by town of cats at 10:56 AM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's a tempting investment, but how long until 3d printers turn old lego sets into beanie babies?

I guess I should clarify. I have 40+ year old lego pieces that are still being played with (occasionally) and they still perform as new, despite a few bite marks and the occasional crust of melted crayon. I'm very aware of the manufacturing process and the quality it produces. I was thinking more along the lines of, how long until lego replaces their injection molders with highly-precise industrial 3d printers, thus freeing them to reproduce classic sets at a whim without the cost of re-tooling production lines? 10 years? 20? Which science fiction novel should I be looking to for guidance here?
posted by bizwank at 10:57 AM on December 29, 2014


As opposed to true collectibles, whose purpose is simply to have and stare at, Lego sets are a lot of fun to build. The Parisian Restaurant is not only gorgeous, but also has about a dozen different "holy shit, what a clever way to use that piece" moments in it. The official sets end up spreading construction ideas that are then used by Lego fanatics in their own creations.

In other words, if Lego sets end up going the collectibles route, and we get people who hoard them and speculate on their value, then I weep for the future. This isn't an investment to me; I just like putting together plastic bricks. I pay way too much money to the Lego company, they give me the bricks I want, and everyone is happy. If any criminals or collectors are reading this: please, please don't ruin this for me.

Legomancer is right that you can approximate many sets piecemeal on Bricklink, and if the Lego market goes crazyballs in the near future, that may be my refuge. But then a lot of people will have the same idea. The oddball pieces used in Cafe Corner and other modulars are already more expensive than they otherwise would be simply because they're in demand.

(Not to mention the fact that Lego is constantly introducing new pieces, to the extent that there's a whole blog dedicated to cataloguing them. A set that introduces a completely new piece isn't necessarily something that can be replicated through piecemeal piece acquisition.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:08 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


If you think that owning it at any price will erase some great loss from your childhood, guess what: you'll find out about an even rarer set, and your want will become greater than your heart can stand.

All too true. My dream is to reconstruct all the sets I owned in the 90s. I had to use the pieces on some dumb school project as a kid and ended up losing some of them. At least with the Internet now, I can track down the manuals and pieces and put it back together.
posted by FJT at 11:11 AM on December 29, 2014


how long until 3d printers turn old lego sets into beanie babies

I've made a few Lego (tm)-compatible pieces on my 3D printer using design files from Thingiverse and clear/translucent PLA filament. At 5-10 minutes per piece, plus at least another five minutes in post-print clean up and finishing with an x-acto knife, 3D printers aren't going to be pumping out whole sets anytime soon.

I can see it as an option for a rare/lost piece that you absolutely need to finish a build, but it's not worth the effort otherwise. "Hey look, I printed a Lego! (that only took me half an hour)".
posted by mrbill at 12:47 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I want that old moon launcher set again, the one with the huge wheels and the rocket and the articulated arm thing...

who am I kidding I want all the Lego
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:59 PM on December 29, 2014


Legomancer, I thought you just had a clever name. I had no idea you were awesome.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:02 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


After seeing the price of the Lord of the Rings Lego sets that my grandson wanted for Giftmas, I considered larceny myself.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 2:12 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow, and i thought it was still iphones.

shows how hip-and-with-it i am, i guess.
posted by emptythought at 6:33 PM on December 29, 2014


It pains me to see my children receive Lego sets that they promptly dismantle with pieces scattered into the graveyard of parts. I have containers of Lego pieces and have no idea how to organize them or reconstitute sets, such as, LOTR, Star Wars and other obscure sets that came to us in mixed lots.
posted by jadepearl at 8:29 PM on December 29, 2014


I briefly looked at applying to Lego last year when I was considering my next job move. (Motivation: Mindstorms.) Turns out they're mainly looking for people to use SAP, the enterprise software developed by the exec Lego thief mentioned in the article. Makes ya wonder...
posted by kaibutsu at 10:58 PM on December 29, 2014


A PALLET OF HOLDING!
posted by clavdivs at 12:51 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


jadepearl, many sets have scanned instructions online. A few sites to try:

Building Instructions at LEGO.com

Brickset (a more friendly front end for the LEGO.com database)

Brick Instructions

Peeron is a great resource for parts lists.

Bricklink isn't user-friendly, but it's the resource for second-hand Lego, and some shops there sell instruction books.
posted by Legomancer at 4:56 AM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Legomancer, thank you. Out of curiosity, is there a method to identify odd bits back to their sets? The dream would be taking a snap and then getting the part identified. I have bins of odd bits that are not bricks. I have debated advertising on Craigslist for Lego otaku to categorize and organize the bins.
posted by jadepearl at 6:21 AM on December 30, 2014


Out of curiosity, is there a method to identify odd bits back to their sets?

You can do that on Bricklink.com. Finding the part in a long, long list of parts is the trouble here. But when found, you get a list of all the sets it's been in.
As for having it identified by taking a picture of it, the Eurobrick forums can be very helpfull and even Reddits /r/lego can be usefull.
posted by Sourisnoire at 11:28 AM on December 30, 2014


I hope this does not constitute threadjacking, but would it be considered tacky to set up a site with pictures, link to a spreadsheet and post to the forums to have people identify odd bits? Truth be told, I totally understood Lord Business's position in the Lego Movie.
posted by jadepearl at 4:41 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, considering that once Emmitt discovered his True Creativity in The Lego Movie, he was able to see every single part and each was identified by Lego catalog number, I'm not sure that Lego itself would consider that tacky...
posted by hippybear at 2:47 AM on December 31, 2014


Which science fiction novel should I be looking to for guidance here?

The Peripheral, which has semi-sentient shapeshifting Lego, as well as a lot of interesting 3D printing.
posted by BrashTech at 5:54 AM on December 31, 2014


It pains me to see my children receive Lego sets that they promptly dismantle

But that is the fun!

My kids call me when they are building something and need "4 more pieces like this". Thousands of hours of misspent youth gave me a pattern recognition skill that allows me to stir through a tub of Lego and spot the desired piece in an instant.
This means it is pretty straight forward to reassemble old sets and new sets with just the downloaded printed instructions too.

But I'd rather build a Benny style spaceship most of the time.
posted by bystander at 10:31 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


« Older Virginia's Express Lanes Are Operational   |   "It was just a combination of tragedy and fun I... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments