Did you play with LEGOs when you were growing up? I always had a huge buckets of random bricks lying around my house and spent many rainy afternoons coming up with lopsided and structurally unsound buildings.
LEGOs are one of those things that—like jigsaw puzzles and board games—I still find relaxing and enjoyable as an adult. Over the past few years, I’ve bought and built multiple Star Wars-themed sets, and I’ve definitely got my eye on the Hogwarts Castle.
This guide is intended to introduce you to the ins and outs of LEGO collecting. I’ll cover some of the most popular collecting areas and provide tips for collecting as a family; discuss LEGO collecting as a viable investment strategy; and show you how to move beyond buying pre-assembled sets and into designing your very own creations.
But first, a short history lesson.
Brief history of LEGO
Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891-1958) made wooden toys and household objects and in 1934, decided to name his company “Lego,” derived from the Danish phrase leg godt (“play well”).
Christiansen started working with plastic after WWII, and in 1949 first began producing interlocking plastic bricks made from cellulose acetate, the forerunners of today’s LEGOs.
It may surprise you to learn that his early plastic bricks were initially met with skepticism and hesitation from the general public. People really liked their traditional wooden toys and were slow to accept these newfangled plastic toys.
Ole Christiansen and his son Godtfred tinkered with the design over the course of the 1950s to improve the bricks and determine the best materials. Beginning in 1964, bricks were made from ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) polymer, which remains in use today. The modern LEGO brick was born!
1968 saw the opening of the first ever Legoland Park, located in Billund. Visitors flocked to this theme park to marvel at miniature villages constructed from LEGOs.
Today, LEGO is a global phenomenon. Since their creation, over 600 billion LEGO parts have been made. New collectors will find themselves in good company, joining the numerous LEGO fans around the planet who eagerly await new sets, avidly track down rare retired ones, and enjoy building countless miniature worlds.
Why collect LEGOs?
People collect LEGOs for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because…
- Playing with them is awesome! LEGOs are toys, after all, and they’re fun for kids (and kids at heart) of all ages.
- You can build cool centerpieces and decorative elements for your home. Completed LEGO sets are aesthetically pleasing, and I love having them out on display.
- LEGO can be combined with other hobbies and interests. For example, tons of people get into collecting LEGOs in the first place because they like Star Wars and enjoy putting together Star Wars-themed sets.
- They can make a wise investment. Some sets increase significantly in value over time, which makes LEGO an appealing brand for flippers and resellers.
Popular collecting areas
In theory, you could probably build almost anything with LEGO. Artists and individual LEGO fans have dreamt up some truly astonishing and unique LEGO creations, using thousands of tiny bricks and their own imaginations.
However, the most common way to begin collecting LEGOs is to purchase pre-assembled sets, which come with instructions and all the bricks you need (plus a few spares). The LEGO brand has developed numerous sets over the decades, encompassing multiple themes and categories appropriate for a variety of ages.
Some themes are especially popular. For example:
There’s a lot of overlap between LEGO fans and Star Wars fans. These two interests pair incredibly well, and you can spend hours and hours creating your very own Star Wars universe, constructing the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star in addition to Sandcrawlers and TIE Fighters.
One of my favorite LEGO sets is Hogwarts Castle. It’s enormous, containing over 6000 pieces, and it’s intricately detailed to capture all the magic of the book series. This set includes the Whomping Willow and Hagrid’s hut, plus numerous figures such as Voldemort, Dolores Umbridge, multiple dementors, and a Hungarian Horntail dragon.
The best-known Disney LEGO set is almost certainly the classic Disney Castle. This enchanting set has over 4000 pieces and includes both a detailed exterior and multiple interior rooms, many of which contain thoughtful touches that reference Disney stories like Cinderella and Snow White. For example, one room contains a spinning wheel, while another includes a golden mirror and a red apple.
Overall, this set is wonderfully elaborate and very fun to build! In addition to the castle, you can find smaller sets such as Ariel’s Underwater Concert, Mulan’s Training Day, and Moana’s Ocean Voyage.
Famous buildings and architecture
People love to reconstruct iconic structures in miniature. You can build your own historic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, Trevi Fountain, and the entire London skyline. Or, you can reproduce architectural gems like Fallingwater and the Villa Savoye.
This is a fun way to remember landmarks you’ve visited on vacation, or simply to build visually appealing display pieces from around the world.
City and town scenes
Besides reproducing specific famous monuments, many LEGO collectors enjoy building entire cities and towns. These scenes are often quite general and aren’t necessarily meant to represent a particular location; rather, they’re idealized model towns with buildings that might be found in any number of places.
These little figurines are full of personality, and many serious collectors go to great lengths to acquire a special minifigure that’s valuable or has caught their eye.
Minifigures are often included in sets, but you can also acquire them individually or purchase a sealed “mystery bag” from a particular series. These mystery bags contain one of the minifigures from the series, but you won’t know which one until you open it.
Collecting LEGOs with young kids
Many LEGO sets are geared specifically to the tastes and capabilities of younger kids (8 and under). You can search by age category on the official LEGO website—some sets are even designed for children age 1 to 2!
Remember to supervise young kids while they play with their LEGOs—anything with small parts can unfortunately be a choking hazard for a curious toddler. But with some parental guidance, small kids can develop building skills and have a lot of fun with LEGO.
If you get into LEGO collecting with your children, it’s often a good idea to follow their lead a little. What interests them? Are they drawn to castles, superheroes, animals, or trains? When collecting as a family, it’s usually more rewarding to collect for personal enjoyment rather than for investment purposes.
LEGO sets come with age ranges printed clearly on the box, so it’s easy to choose age-appropriate sets for everyone in the family.
Understanding LEGO prices and investing strategy
According to a 2015 Telegraph article, LEGO sets have recently provided a better return on investment than more traditional avenues including gold, bank accounts, and the stock market. On average, a LEGO set kept in superb condition increased in value 12% per year between 2000 and 2015.
It’s no surprise that this news has garnered a lot of attention and inspired even more people to consider investing in LEGO.
If you’re serious about collecting LEGO sets as an investment strategy or with the intention of selling them later, then I highly recommend checking out the website Brick Picker. You’ll need to register and create an account to gain full access, but making an account is free.
This amazingly comprehensive website lets you search for specific LEGO sets, such as set 75095-1: TIE Fighter from 2015, set 10179-1: Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon from 2007 or set 21005-1: Fallingwater from 2009.
You can see at a glance what the retail price is, as well as what the current market rate is for buying the set (both new and used).
Brick Picker makes it easy to trace fluctuations in a LEGO set’s value and also lets you know if you’ve scored a great deal (or gotten ripped off) on Craigslist or eBay. And, if you’re trying to sell some of your LEGOs, Brick Picker will help you set a fair price.
Some sets demonstrate pretty impressive increases in value. Fallingwater is one example; as of April 2019, the set is worth about 2.75x its original retail value. Even a used Fallingwater set is worth substantially more than the retail price.
Similarly, 2007’s Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon has appreciated considerably, now selling for almost 4x its original retail price. A used set is worth over 3x retail price.
As all this should make clear, LEGOs are more than just toys. The high demand for particular sets means that they can also make surprisingly wise investments.
For further advice on collecting LEGOs with an eye to reselling, check out The Ultimate Guide to Collectible LEGO Sets: Identification and Price Guide by Ed and Jeff Maciorowski, the founders of Brick Picker.
This reference guide covers around 2000 sets produced over the past two decades. It encompasses a wide variety of themes, including architecture, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, superheroes, trains, and more.
Note that the guide was published in 2015, and of course LEGO prices do vary—It’s impossible for any published book to provide up-to-the-minute pricing details. So, check the Brick Picker website for more up-to-date values.
Nonetheless, this book is an incredible resource and offers practical advice to the LEGO collectors and investors, explaining why some LEGOs become more valuable over time and which kinds of sets tend to appreciate the most.
For example, limited edition sets, large sets with 1000+ pieces, and sets that include rare individual pieces or minifigures typically do very well.
The Maciorowskis’ book should give you a whole new perspective on what drives the LEGO market and how you can maximize your investment.
They’ve also written a guide entitled The Collectible LEGO Minifigure: Values, Investments, Profits, Fun Facts, Collector Tips, published in 2016.
This book provides an in-depth look at minifigures, the little figurines that often come included with LEGO sets. Minifigures can be customized and given various accessories. They can be generic types (e.g. astronaut, hiker, doctor, pirate) or specific characters (e.g. Hermione Granger, Batman, Yoda).
Some of these minifigures command huge prices on the secondary market, and the Maciorowskis help you understand why.
If you have a fondness for minifigures, or are interested in investing in this area, then I recommend picking up the book!
Selling new vs. used sets
One word of advice for would-be LEGO investors: Sets do lose some value when they are used. An in-demand set in pristine condition is generally worth more than that same set if it’s already been built. So, does that mean serious LEGO investors never get to build anything? Do you have to miss out on all the fun?
Not necessarily. Used sets can retain quite good resale value if you take a few simple steps:
- Keep the box and instructions.
- Don’t lose any pieces.
- Keep everything in good condition.
Personally, I can never resist opening a LEGO set I’ve just bought. For me, the true “value” of LEGOs is in actually building with them!
So, if you’re buying for the purpose of selling later and are absolutely determined to maximize your investment, keep the box closed.
Otherwise, if you’re buying with the aim of building, displaying, and possibly also reselling: Go ahead and open your sets!
Have fun constructing imaginative new worlds, and display your handiwork proudly on your mantelpiece. Just keep track of every single piece (including the box and instructions) if you think you may sell someday.
Most expensive LEGO sets
- 10196-1: Grand Carousel: This set boasts 3000+ pieces and 9 minifigures, and its value has multiplied since its 2009 debut. It even has motors that enable the carousel to move and play music!
- 10189-1: Taj Mahal: This 5922-piece set has more than doubled in value since it arrived in 2008 with a $300 sticker price.
- 10179-1: Ultimate Collector’ Millennium Falcon: This amazing set contains 5197 pieces and 5 minifigures. It’s one of my absolute favorites, and I’m not alone—high demand for this 2007 set has driven its value up nearly fourfold.
- Gold: This simple minifigure is worth a whopping amount since only 5000 were ever made.
Creating your own LEGO designs
As I mentioned briefly up above, some fans take their love of LEGO to whole new heights and develop their very own designs. Contemporary artists have produced truly stunning masterpieces using LEGOs.
Many people love the freedom and flexibility of designing their own creations. To do this, you’ll be buying bricks and minifigures individually according to your personal needs.
So, how can you get started designing your own pieces?
- Get familiar with all the different types and configurations of LEGOs. The guide here is very helpful, explaining basic LEGO terminology and the many different pieces available, from bricks and plates to tiles, panels, slopes, and technic pieces.
- Decide what you want to build. Maybe a scene from your favorite novel? A realistic sculpture of your dog? A completely customized castle? There are virtually no limits.
- Start experimenting with building simple shapes and structures. Check out the guide here for some tips on making sturdy structures and bracing with beams. If you’re trying to create any sort of building such as a house or castle, you’ll need to build simple structures like walls and roofs; it will help if you’re already familiar with similar designs. For instance, before you build your own castle, you might try your hand at the Disney castle or Hogwarts castle.
- Design digitally with LeoCAD. This tool is amazing, especially if you have more complex designs in mind! LeoCAD allows you to create virtual LEGO models. You simply select the parts you need and drag them into place. With a little practice, you’ll be virtually assembling your LEGO creations in no time. Once you’ve figured out a design, you’ll know exactly which pieces you need and how to put them together. Plus, this program is free!
I’ve already mentioned Brick Picker up above, but in this section, I’ll list some additional websites that LEGO collectors will find helpful.
- Bricker: This searchable database includes LEGOs and LEGO-compatible sets, providing their specs and compiling internet reviews, often available in multiple languages.
- Rebrickable: The clever concept behind this site: You can use the sets and bricks you already own to build new and additional sets. Rebrickable is all about creative repurposing and getting the most out of your bricks. You can also view numerous MOCs (My Own Creations), unique designs dreamt up by LEGO fans like you and buy the instructions if one catches your eye.
- Brickset: This site makes it easy to browse sets, find discounts, read set reviews, and find out about new developments.
- Brickipedia: This is the LEGO Wiki, and it’s full of information on all things LEGO. For devoted LEGO aficionados, it’s all too easy to get lost down a Brickipedia rabbit hole.
- Bricklink: Sift through thousands of LEGO sets and parts, find rare items in the large marketplace, and connect with fellow LEGO fans in the Bricklink community.
The LEGO world
Beyond collecting and building LEGOs, there are further ways to appreciate the particular aesthetic and creative construction of the LEGO world.
The Lego Movie franchise is a prime example. The original Lego Movie came out in 2014 and was a smashing success, leading to the development of related video games, a theme park ride, and further films.
My personal favorite Lego film? Probably The Lego Batman Movie, which is quirky and hilarious, a true standout in the genre of superhero movies.
Finally, consider participating in LEGO fan conventions such as BrickUniverse, where you can meet professional LEGO artists, participate in building events, and explore vendors’ offerings.
There’s also Brickworld, which hosts multiple expositions per year with its largest annual exposition and LEGO fan convention occurring in Schaumburg, Illinois.
This huge convention lets fans attend workshops and enter contests and games—such as this one called “Dirty Buildster,” in which contestants each receive a random bag of LEGOs and compete to come up with the best creation. Convention participants can also join in the Boat Race and test the seaworthiness of their LEGO boat designs.
Whether you collect LEGOs just for fun, or for both fun and profit, there’s no doubt that Ole Kirk Christiansen did something truly remarkable when he came up with these little plastic toys.
I hope this guide has helped you get off to a successful start with your LEGO collection. Are there any sets you’re dying to buy? Do you think you’ll try your hand at designing your own pieces?