Two hundred years ago on August 16, 1819, eighteen persons lost their lives when British yeomanry hacked through a crowd of protesters with their sabers. The event was named the Peterloo Massacre, which Dan Harris has built in lovely LEGO form for our edification on its 200th anniversary. The crowd had gathered to protest the Corn Laws, tariffs on agricultural products that helped powerful British landowners by keeping prices high but hurt common British folks who bought food by…keeping prices high. As an American, I appreciate the sign that says “Taxation without representation is unjust and tyrannical,” as that sentiment was instrumental in our own protest movement against the Crown several decades prior. But unlike the British subjects in the American colonies, the poor folks of Manchester (where the protest happened) did not get to see an increase in liberty; ironically, the massacre of innocent civilians by out-of-line cavalry resulted in more crackdowns on reform (until 1832, when reform laws were passed that finally gave them representation in parliament).
Nothing needs to be changed in Dan’s build, however. The most striking thing about it is the excellent minifigure posing, coupled with an abundance of angry and scared flesh-toned faces. The layering of the figures and the angle of the shot give the impression of a large crowd as well as the panic engendered by a charge of horses and sabers against unarmed civilians. The man laying down in the middle of the front of the build seems to be breaking the fourth wall and entreating the viewer for help, too. As far as the LEGO build goes, the buildings in the back look great with their cheese slope roofs and nicely textured walls. The best part, though? That has to be the Star Wars helmets used backwards for the women’s bonnets; it looks perfect, almost as though it was designed for that purpose rather than for an Imperial pilot. It is perhaps slightly ironic that the women wearing the Imperial helmets are the ones being attacked by uniformed soldiers of the Empire, a reminder to all of us to stand up to those in power in defense of what is right and just.
I love it when two things that I like and know something about come together, like peanut butter and jelly or LEGO and Roman history. Tim Schwalfenberg brings us a slice of the early days of Rome, when they were still constructing the Forum.
Or perhaps it is later in Rome’s history when they were building a second, third, or fourth forum. I suspect it is early, though, since the streets are not yet paved and there is still active construction going on with a wooden crane lifting up a block of marble to add to a second building. If that’s not deep enough, please excuse me while I put on my scholar hat for a moment. It should be pointed out that not everything is completely accurate here: the Romans generally built with brick or concrete and faced the buildings with marble, rather than building the whole thing of marble; and also, Caesar Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome (reigning from 27 BC to AD 14) is said by the historian Suetonius to have said, “I found it of brick, but left it of marble”, since marble was rarely used before Augustus’ day.
However, taking my scholar hat off, this is an impressive build, with lovely columns of clearly Ionic styling. The structure conveys the grandeur that is proper to that mighty republic of the past. The trees are particularly nice, with the whips coiled around in an organic way, and evoke the stone pines of Rome well. The folded minifigure capes do a great job as togas, too; you can see a few senators, perhaps, near the sundial in their white togae candidae. My favorite piece usage, though, is the inverted jumper plates for the ladders. The whole thing is impressive. Augustus would be proud.
Singaporean LEGO builder Jeffrey Kong‘s latest composition is a simple yet moving piece marking the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Incident. Kong’s work, both with the brick and with the public, has inspired me many times, and this time its a combination of the two. The scale he’s chosen has brought out a well crafted yet ominous tank and unknown protester, with the large Chinese character 点, imposing its presence. Translated to “a small amount, a dot or a drop”, this character is censored annually on China’s internet. You can read more on Kong’s Instagram. Every part within this build is a common element, leaving a stark example that you don’t need countless complex combinations to achieve an elegant creation. I find the impressive compositions here relate more to the contrasting colour use and symbolism of what it represents. I do thoroughly enjoy the 2×2 round plate with Rounded Bottom that he’s employed inversely as the tank hatch though.
When it comes to collecting LEGO items, there are plenty of avenues to pursue. While vintage LEGO sets and gear are perhaps the most obvious choices, I prefer collecting LEGO ephemera. I have spent many hours scouting out old catalogs, brochures and instructions. Out of all the ephemera I have, period photographs of children enjoying LEGO sets are among my favorite pieces. Owning a retired set is enjoyable, but images from the past help contextualize LEGO products in a way a set alone cannot do. Photographs provide a window into the past when now-retired LEGO products were new, which is why I am sharing some of my favorite photographs with you!
See more vintage photographs of children and adults enjoying LEGO bricks
It’s hard to believe twenty years have passed since the release of the first official LEGO Star Wars sets. Unofficially, children and adults alike have been building Star Wars-themed models since the first film hit theaters in 1977. While many of these custom builds have been lost to history, some photographs of Star Wars models made their way into LEGO Club magazines like the UK’s Bricks ‘n Pieces and North America’s LEGO Mania Magazine. One of the earliest models I was able to find was this AT-AT walker from The Empire Strikes Back (1980). That movie was only two years old in 1982, which is when twelve year old Philip Dodge had his model featured in the Summer 1982 issue of Bricks ‘n Pieces. While the photography might not have aged well, his AT-AT looks amazing for having been built during the 1980s.
Check out more LEGO Star Wars models from the pages of LEGO’s club magazines.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama has become a BrickHeadz character, complete with a stately looking LEGO rendition of the Oval Office. Irish builder jarekwally built this display for a local LEGO event called Brick Obama, named after the Barack Obama Plaza shopping center where the event was held. Why is there a shopping center in Ireland named after Obama? As it turns out, the former president’s great-great-grandfather once lived in the Irish village of Moneygall. I learned something new!
Have a closer look at this brick-built Oval Office.
Sure, those Romans were tough enough when massed in their Legions. But catch them isolated from the main army? In a small group? On a lonely stretch of forest road? Let’s see how tough they are then. That appears to be what Jesse van den Oetelaar is asking in this LEGO scene depicting a trio of unsuspecting Legionaries about to walk into a Barbarian ambush. The irregular base and the greenery are the stars of the show here, with an impressive mix of shrubbery and foliage providing cover for the Barbarian assailants. It’s worth a close look at some of the techniques involved, and the mix of earthy colours deployed — this is a great example of how to build realistic undergrowth in LEGO.
Do you have any 2×4 bricks in wild colors with unusual letters on their studs? If you do, you just might have a treasure from LEGO’s historic quest to improve the quality of its bricks back in the late 1950s-1960s. German LEGO fan Beryll Roehl (aka Fantastic Brick) enjoys collecting and artfully photographing such test bricks. We found Beryll’s pictures so impressive and intriguing that we reached out to her for an interview. Get ready for a fascinating and colorful journey into the wonderful world of test bricks!
TBB: Hi Beryll, and welcome to the Brothers Brick! Can you tell our readers little bit about yourself?
Beryll: Sure! I grew up in the late 1960s, so I come from the generation that built LEGO models with the few types of basic building blocks that were available. I currently live in small village in northern Germany with my three adult sons…and their LEGO bricks! Careerwise, I studied mathematics and art and currently work for a school in the special education sector.
TBB: Could you tell us why you collect test bricks and how you became interested in collecting them?
Read more about the intriguing world of collecting LEGO test bricks
It is not intuitive, but this little article and the whole internet is really a direct consequence of the first press. German builder Michael Jasper recreates this monumental part of his national (and global) history in a build that can fit in one’s hand, and yet packs more detail than many larger builds.
There are not many names that have been so consistently present at the peak of the crop in the online LEGO community over the past decades, but Michael Jasper is surely one of them. Known for using exotic parts in unique ways, he does not disappoint this time either. Can you find the brown 2×2 magnet holder tile and the brown bar with side studs? The cutest detail for me though, is how the bed holding the “letters” slides between two panel pieces. But Michael does not stop there! The tiny press actually has moving parts, as seen in the little story below!
Back in April 1999, it would have been hard to imagine what LEGO Star Wars sets might look like in twenty years, but it would have been even harder to predict how the LEGO fan community would evolve over the next two decades. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the LEGO Star Wars theme, I also wanted to take a moment to reflect on how LEGO Star Wars has affected my life, along with the lives of countless other LEGO fans all over the world.
Read more of what it’s been like to be part of the LEGO Star Wars fan community for 20 years
Where were you when the LEGO Star Wars theme launched twenty years ago? For me, it began with the January 1999 LEGO Shop-at-Home catalog. The front cover promised “LEGO Star Wars action” on pages 6 and 7, and it did not disappoint! My eyes widened at the sight of LEGO versions of the X-Wing and TIE-Fighter. As soon as the sets hit store shelves, I gathered my allowance money and purchased the Landspeeder as my very first LEGO Star Wars set. Now as an adult, I find the story behind the beginnings of LEGO’s first licensed theme just as exciting.
The foundations for LEGO Star Wars arguably existed long before the launch. Space exploration was a big topic of interest in the 1960s and 70s, giving rise to hit space-themed TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. In 1977, Star Wars was released and became a blockbuster hit. During this period, LEGO too began embracing the space age and released the first Classic Space sets in 1979. Instead of lightsaber battles and dogfights, the initial emphasis of LEGO was on exploration. Conflict would eventually make its way into LEGO space sets with the introduction of the thieving Blacktron I faction in 1987. The relationship between these defined “good guys” and bad guys” was relatively tame, keeping in line with founder Ole Kirk Christiansen’s commitment to not make “war toys.”
Keep reading about the historic launch of LEGO Star Wars
It’s hard to believe, but trains are now more than 200 years old, going back to the early 1800s for the most rudimentary steam-powered rail engines. This model by Nikolaus Löwe shows one of the first such engines constructed, which hails from 1815 and was known as the “Steam Elephant” due to its large trunk-like smokestack mounted on the front. Nikolaus has done an excellent job recreating the lattice of ironwork with bars and clips surrounding the boiler. Interestingly, he’s chosen to photograph it on a brass model track, which although not LEGO does look mighty nice.