Chapter 60 - The LEGO Plastics - Cellulose Acetate and ABS.

 

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Comparing Cellulose Acetate LEGO from the 1950s and 1960s to the modern LEGO plastic (ABS) since 1963.

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from 1949 until the 1960 s cellulose acetate was the plastic that most lego elements were made from cellulose acetate was not a stable plastic and over time many lego bricks warped and no longer held their shape this house built from a 1950 lego set shows the warping of the bricks 60.0 the lego plastics cellulose acetate abs 60.1 cellulose acetate the unstable plastic 1949-70 anyone who has old lego from the earliest automatic binding bricks of 1949-56 to the town plan sets of the 1950 s or early 1960 s will know that something isn t exactly right with those pieces when building with them there are often gaps or spaces between the bricks this is due to the plastic lego elements warping over time many of the classic lego windows and doors from that era are also warped 1

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cellulose acetate parts have warped over the decades the 2x14 slotted bricks from 1954-56 left show the curvature that the bricks have undergone in the last 40 years the white garage door top from a 1957 #700 wooden box set shows extreme warping the red and white classic windows also show that even mint examples of lego elements are not immune to warping over time the problem with this early lego is that it was made from cellulose acetate also called cellidor cellulose acetate was a plastic which was found to be unstable in laymen s terms over long periods of being exposed to heat and humidity the lego pieces became warped however cellulose acetate elements stored in a low humidity and moderate temperature environment appear to have minimal warping in 1963 lego elements started switching over to abs a stable plastic this switch however did not happen all at one time it started in 1963 and was not complete in some countries until 1972 when in mint condition cellulose acetate bricks seem to have a shinier finish than abs plastic bricks but it s not so easy to spot the difference between the plastics when the lego bricks in these colors are in worn condition is there an easy way to differentiate between the early cellulose acetate plastic and the later abs plastic well yes and no one way to tell is by color for red yellow blue and green lego elements it is not too difficult for white black gray and clear lego elements it becomes somewhat difficult 2

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from 1950-53 tlg produced a thin 10x20 automatic binding bricks baseplate these plates were often made of the same plastic as the automatic binding brick windows and doors and never warped however other times they were made of cellulose acetate such as the one above and they warped quite a lot one other way to tell is by warping put the brick or plate on a flat smooth surface if they wobble then they are cellulose acetate if they don t wobble then they may be abs plastic this technique doesn t work well with bricks smaller than 2x2 and many times if you look closely at the bottom edges of the bricks you may spot a curve in the brick this visual inspection works better with plates than with bricks if they are curved at all then they are likely cellulose acetate abs bricks keep their shape and won t have this curve identifying cellulose acetate vs abs bricks/plates/windows/doors 1956-72 red cellulose acetate the easiest color to tell the difference is red red cellulose acetate bricks plates and windows/doors have a orange-red color while the abs red bricks have a darker red color however those elements produced from 1955-58 continental europe only are more difficult to tell apart in the early days the quality control of the lego color was not as exact as it was in the 1960 s the red abs bricks from 1963 until the early 1970 s had cadmium in the brick this gave the bricks from that era a darker red color than those produced since the 1970 s red cellulose acetate bricks plates and windows/doors are found in all locations yellow cellulose acetate with the color yellow yellow cellulose acetate bricks and plates have a lemon-chiffon yellow color while the abs yellow bricks have darker yellow color this may also be due to the fact that the cadmium found in yellow abs bricks from 1963 to the early 1970 s gave them the appearance of a yellow-gray shade of yellow there were no yellow cellulose acetate windows or doors sold in any lego sets yellow cellulose acetate bricks are found in all locations yellow cellulose acetate plates have only been found in usa/canada blue cellulose acetate with the color blue blue cellulose acetate bricks and plates had a brighter blue color than those produced in abs plastic there were no blue cellulose acetate windows or doors sold in any lego sets blue cellulose acetate bricks are found in all locations blue cellulose acetate plates are only found in continental europe 3

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white cellulose acetate white is a difficult color to differentiate between cellulose acetate and abs however mint cellulose acetate white bricks plates and windows/doors have a shinier finish than the abs counterparts and after over 40 years mint white cellulose acetate elements have kept their whiteness better than old 1960 s abs bricks which appear to be more susceptible to yellowing by ultraviolet sunlight white cellulose acetate bricks plates windows/doors are found in all locations black cellulose acetate with the color black it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between the color in cellulose acetate and abs plastic the best way to tell besides warping is with mint elements if they are very shiny then they are cellulose acetate if they are dull then they are abs plastic there were no black cellulose acetate windows or doors sold in any lego sets black cellulose acetate bricks and plates are found in all locations gray cellulose acetate because gray elements besides small plates were only produced starting in the mid 1970 s the only cellulose acetate gray elements that were produced were 1x1 1x2 2x2 2x3 2x4 and 8x11 plates the large 8x11 gray plate was only found in continental european architectural system parts packs #518 521 in clear plastic boxes the box bottoms are the 8x11 gray plates the gray cellulose acetate plates are also shinier than the abs plates but they are still difficult to differentiate them the best way to tell the difference is by the signs of warping there were no gray cellulose acetate windows or doors sold in any lego sets gray cellulose acetate bricks and plates are found in all locations clear cellulose acetate clear cellulose acetate bricks are difficult to differentiate from abs plates both varieties turn a champagne color if exposed to periods of ultraviolet sunlight the best way to differentiate clear bricks and plates is to check for warping in the 1970 s tlg put a more bluish tint into clear elements so clear bricks and plates since the 1970 s are easy to differentiate from older elements clear cellulose acetate bricks and plates are found in all locations green cellulose acetate green cellulose acetate bricks are only found in 1956-58 danish individual parts sales these were hollow bottom bricks in sizes 1x2 2x2 2x3 and 2x4 and had the 1950 s style open o lego font on the brick studs green cellulose acetate was also found in usa and canada and only in 1x1 1x2 2x2 2x3 and 2x4 plates these were produced from 196366 in green plate parts packs #518 521 from 1967 until the late 1970 s no green lego bricks or plates were produced anywhere and green cellulose acetate plates always show the samsonite style lego logo on the plate studs this has a fatter slightly smaller font size with the o in lego as a script-like open o all modern font style green plates were made of abs also the cellulose acetate green plates have a slightly lighter color than abs plates there were no green cellulose acetate windows or doors sold in any lego sets green cellulose acetate bricks and plates are only found in the locations mentioned above lego waffle bottom early circle bottom plates lego waffle bottom and early circle bottom plates did not seem to have the same problem of warping that befell the other lego elements this appears to be due to the fact that the lego plates of 1955-63 were made of a composite plastic that contained other plastic materials besides cellulose acetate this appears to have stopped these 2x8 4x8 4x8 curved and 6x8 plates from warping what that other additive to the cellulose acetate is has not been revealed by lego when the 1x1 1x2 2x2 2x3 and 2x4 small plates were first introduced in 1963 they were made of pure cellulose acetate and these plates do warp but the earlier larger plates are all warp resistant although they have a tendency to turn yellow or even slightly orange 4

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lego windows/doors 1949-56 another group of lego item that did not show warping was the 1949-55 windows and doors for slotted bricks these also appear to be made of an unidentified composite material since they too did not warp but it appears that at some point around 1955 some of the windows/doors for the slotted bricks changed plastic to regular cellulose acetate the shorter classic style windows/doors without glass for slotted bricks are known in both the composite plastic and pure cellulose acetate in 1956 with the advent of the regular classic lego windows/doors for non-slotted bricks all windows/doors were made of cellulose acetate and they tended to show signs of warping these were produced until 1963 when they were all made of abs plastic 60.2 problems with cellulose acetate lego sets any collector of old 1950 s and early 1960 s lego sets encounters a problem when trying to build the lego model when built they will more than likely show gaps between the bricks and windows/doors most of the cellulose acetate lego has warped over the last 50 plus years the only way to get around this dilemma is to build the set using modern abs parts for the bricks plates windows and doors this is not too difficult to do with most early lego elements since they usually exist in abundance in later abs parts cellulose acetate specialty elements prone to warping 1955-65 classic windows/doors esso gas pumps 1x6 1x8 named beams 3 piece garage kit garage doors 1:87 vw vans bedford trucks vw showroom plastic window some parts like the vw showroom window the esso gas pumps and the 1:87 scale cars are almost impossible to find without at least some warping but these are usually not too bad and can still be used although if the vw showroom is too warped the rest of the showroom can not be built around it the 1:87 metal wheel lego trucks usually show a bowing or sagging in the middle of the chassis this is usually true even for mint examples 5

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60.3 switch to abs plastic 1963-70 in 1963 tlg started the switch from cellulose acetate to abs plastic this changeover actually took 8 years to complete switch to abs plastic in continental europe/britain/australia 1963-64 when tlg switched to abs plastic in europe starting in 1963 it happened very quickly some previously packaged sets may have been released in 1964 or 1965 with all cellulose acetate elements but mainly the switchover happened fairly rapidly few lego sets from continental europe britain or australia have both cellulose acetate and abs plastic elements switch to abs plastic in usa/canada samsonite 1963-70 samsonite the licensee for lego in the usa and canada produced sets with cellulose acetate for a longer period than those found in continental europe britain and australia in the usa cellulose acetate was still showing up in sets as late as 1970 for white blue black clear and gray lego the switch to abs plastic happened around 1963 between 1963 and 1970 it is nearly impossible to find any samsonite basic lego set without both cellulose acetate and abs elements in the case of red and yellow there must have been a lot of cellulose acetate still warehoused by samsonite in those colors the switch for red happened gradually with some bricks in cellulose acetate while others were abs most if not all yellow bricks and plates were made of cellulose acetate until the supply was finally exhausted by 1970 samsonite never refilled their stock of yellow plastic with abs that year from 1971 until the last usa samsonite lego sets were sold in 1973 the only yellow elements found in usa sets were yellow abs gears shown here are a mint abs plastic window left and a warped but mint cellulose acetate window right although cellulose acetate has a problem with warping the parts tend to hold their whiteness much better than the later abs parts which tend to yellow over time sunlight appears to have a much greater effect on abs than on cellulose acetate 6

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60.4 problems with abs plastic 1963-80 acrylnitrile butadiene styrene is the actual name for abs plastic it was first introduced into lego parts in 1963 although abs does not warp like cellulose acetate does it does have a few drawbacks the biggest complaint about abs plastic is that the pieces are more prone to yellowing than cellulose acetate in fact when brand new white cellulose acetate has a whiter color to it than white abs white abs lego elements for obvious reasons seem to be the most prone to yellow over time blue and gray lego elements also have a tendency to yellow over time and clear 1960 s lego elements also yellow they turn a champagne-like color 1970 s and later clear elements have a blue tint added to the clear color so yellowing on those bricks would have a different tint black yellow and red pieces don t show yellowing and newer colors such as green orange pink dark pink light blue etc are still too new to see what changes will happen to their colors over the decades because of the effect of yellowing and fading due to ultraviolet sunlight all the lego elements in the legoland parks need to be replaced from time to time this same effect but at a much slower rate also happens to the abs lego elements in personal collections that receive direct or indirect sunlight to prevent color damage or yellowing of lego over long periods of time keep all lego bricks out of bright sunlight the best place to store them is in a dark but dry basement or a room with minimum sunlight exposure an attic is not a good storage site because of summertime heat that builds up in most attics this heat could also negatively affect lego pieces over many years of exposure yellowing or fading is a problem with all modern synthetic materials not just abs lego so it is always advisable to avoid excess heat and sunlight when storing lego cadmium in abs lego elements one change to abs happened in the early 1970 s from 1963-72 all yellow and red abs lego elements had the element cadmium in them this element was useful for producing the red and yellow abs plastic but with the worry of discarded lego with cadmium in it leeching into landfills tlg removed cadmium from all its elements that year the only noticeable difference is that post 1973 red and yellow abs lego elements had a somewhat brighter color than the older 1963-72 red and yellow abs lego elements since 1973 no other major changes have occurred to abs plastic lego elements except for color changes 7

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chapter 60 corporate credits lego is a registered trademark of the lego group samsonite is a registered trademark of samsonite corp cellulose acetate and cellidor are registered trademarks of the bayer corporation chapter 60 image credits eric strand texas usa gerhard istok michigan usa 8

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