If you are at least a bit like me, then there was a phase when you were a Lego-fan. And then came a phase when you weren’t, which is what we colloquially call our “dark ages”. If you are lucky, you get out of them again and embrace a life again, where Lego has its place in. As it should be.
The only problem is: there has possibly an awful lot of time passed during these dark ages and you have start building up your numbers of bricks from zero again – or do you have to?
With this post I try to show you ways to get a decent Lego-collection together without spending unreasonable amounts of money. Some of my points may contain compromises, but compromises are often the spots, where creativity shines the most!
Your starting point: Digging into the past
Your first address to get some Lego together should be you. Or your parents. Or siblings. Basically anybody who is in possession of your old Lego bricks. This way I got about 95% of mine back (sadly with a number of really cool things missing). Don’t get embarrassed when you ask for them. Lego a much more productive way of spending your free time with than drinking or smoking. And its much more healthy too! But seriously: there are more expensive and silly hobbies really it is just as mature as having a model train or being fan of a football club, if you think about it.
Building up numbers: Flea Markets and Car Boot sales
They can get you a lot of pieces for very little money. Of course, as it is their nature, you can’t really tell what you will end up with:the bricks might be rather recent, or from decades ago. Also their condition may vary quite a lot. But that’s simply something to take into account. Also: even bricks from the 80s and before might actually fit together fine with no decrease in their clutch power. Best to just try a couple to get an idea of the overall condition.
Speaking of condition: some might be dusty or have stickers on them. That is fine. ABS plastic (the stuff Lego is made of) can be quite easily cleaned (I bath them in luke-warm water with dishwashing fluid added). Yellowed bricks can be whiterend again with the use of hydrogen peroxide, but I can’t give advice on that, since I haven’t tried it yet.
Another thing to consider is that you likely won’t get full sets this way, but rather a random and incomplete selection of bricks. What might sound like a problem is actually a huge chance: this randomness can give you input and show you directions to go you haven’t thought of.
So if you are flexible enough to not being dependent on instructions and complete sets and like it a bit “adventurous”, then flea markets and care boot sales are a great opportunity.
Online Second Markets I: Ebay
Ebay offers quite a wide range: new sets, used sets, single pieces and buying bricks in bulk.
The prices for new sets are often just the recommended retail price, which means no advantage for you when buying your Lego there. Also the prices for retired sets are often significantly higher than when they were still in production. Especially retired themes like The Lord of The Rings experienced a quite ridiculous increase in price.
Used sets can be a cheaper alternative. And if they are in good condition and fairly recent there is not really a difference to a new set. Just the packing is usually more mundane of course.
Some seller offer single pieces, like a set of 10 castle windows. While this is for itself a good idea, selection and prices are often inferior to Bricklink. But I will talk about that in a moment.
Bulk however is – like buying them on a flea market – rather hit or miss. With more limited ways of knowing what you are actually get. The seller might have taken all interesting bits and pieces out already (including minifigures). Ideally you get to see a picture of the bricks you are buying and get information on their condition. Remember: if its not on the picture, its likely not there.
Also read the item description carefully. This might sound trivial, but some great offers turn out to be less great, when you actually bought just the instructions for it, or the set without minifigures.
Online Second Markets II: Bricklink
Bricklink is a more safe and curated way than Ebay, but also more time-consuming. It is a platform for seller and buyer, with a rating system and a pretty powerful search: you can for example search for a certain piece across the whole site or filter by country, state/region or seller.
This makes Bricklink a very useful source if you know what you are looking for. Also you might end up with much more than you originally planned to buy. It is also known as Cracklink amongst regular buyers!
Like on Ebay, shipping costs and payment conditions vary with each seller and often it takes a bit to find the store which offers all the items you are looking for and has decent prices. It goes without saying that its usually cheaper to make one bigger order at one store instead of several smaller ones at different stores.
Sounds trivial, but special offers are actually a very effective way to build up your collection. Two things are essential though: patience and flexibility. Patience, because it might take a while until the set you are looking for is on special (often towards the end of its shelf-life) and flexibility, because a lot of other sets from all sorts of different themes might get reduced in the meanwhile!
It really pays off to skim both online and at local stores for reduced Lego sets. The discounts can be surprisingly high and you might end up paying maybe half the price for a set you had an eye on for quite a while.
Are a very useful source for new minifigures and pieces – at a very appealing price point. The Deep Sea Explorers or the new Volcano Explorers are a great example for that. And they fit in so many city-related contexts outside their “native” sub-theme. And don’t be shy to buy a set more than once.
Mix & Match!
One of the fundamental qualities of Lego is that it is a highly flexible, modular play-system (it was actually called “Lego system” for a while). This means you can take a set apart and build something new from the pieces. And combine it with other sets. This sounds trivial, but you should not regard any set or minifigure as “written in stone”. Of course, I can understand that somebody is quite hesitant of taking their gorgeous 300 Euro UCS set apart, but there are plenty of other sets around that are great sources for pieces – and aren’t really a loss of display-value when dissembled.
The bad guys in Nexo Knights, for example are great for putting them into a classical fantasy context with Orcs and Elves – or (think of Darth Maul) Star Wars! I don’t find the Nexo Knights sets particularly great, but they are a useful source for uncommon parts and do well in a sci-fi and fantasy context. Its up to your creativity really what you make of the material you get provided.
Be eclectic and don’t be shy to play with different faces, accessories, hairs and clothes. Or – lets say – completely exchange the crew of a ship with guys from a completely different theme (and adjust the design of the vessel too to fits its new owners). The Lego designers are basically doing the same: Most sets (and whole themes) are often simply reuses of the existing range of pieces. Creativity is often more recombining existing ideas than inventing something completely new.
Have courage to leave gaps
A big money-sink can be the strive for completeness. May it be a certain theme, like Star Wars or the Collectable Minifigures (CMF) – completeness can get you into a serious financial committment. Star Wars is running since 1999 (just imagine the number of X-Wings released since!) and Lego doesn’t seems to want to give up its license anytime soon. And the CMFs are in their 16th series. Thats 352 minifigures, if you manage it to get one each. (not counting the Simpsons or the Disney-special). And to be honest: who needs all that stuff anyway? Noone gives you a medal for collecting all CMFs.
Better you focus on a number of sets you find appealing and which are really an addition to what you already have. Also the display-value is something worth to consider: “How good will set X look on my shelf?” and: “Will it look good enough to justify its price?” Sometimes its better to be picky.
I hope you found this little guide helpful. If you have more ideas, feel free to add them into the comment-section. Happy building!