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Contributor Page: Gary Istok

NICHE: LEGO history
STORE: Gary Istok Rare Bricks

Gary is well known as one of the most knowledgeable persons alive on LEGO’s history. His knowledge, especially of the early days of the LEGO Group, is simply amazing!

If you ever have any questions about the history of the LEGO Group or a LEGO piece you cannot identify, Gary will dazzle you with incredibly detailed data, peppered with fascinating and colorful tidbits from the history of our favorite building blocks.

Gary also created a detailed CD, called the Unofficial LEGO Sets/Parts Collector’s Guide, which covers LEGO’s history from 1949 to the 1980s. You can find pictures, sample chapters and pages of the CD, and purchase the CD at his Bricklink Store.

Here is just one sample of the appreciation for Gary’s work:

Today my copy of  “The Unofficial LEGO Sets/Parts Collectors Guide” finally came in the mail and it was definitely worth the wait.

Gary Istok has spent a lot time and effort on this CD, and it shows. There are over 1,000 pages of wonderful LEGO information. So much information that I don’t know if I will ever be able to read it all!

But the nice thing is that you don’t have to. Gary has divided the CD into multiple pdf files with an excellent Table of Contents. It is very easy to find exactly the information you need. This work will be a significant resource in the Lego community for years to come. (from Josh via The Brothers Brick)

Gary’s own journey with LEGO has been very interesting. Here I will let him share with his own words:

“My name is Gerhard (Gary) Roland Istok. I live in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, which is a Great Lakes shoreline suburb of Detroit. From St. Clair Shores, I can see across Lake St. Clair to Canada, which is less than 10 miles away. I was born in Germany in 1953, and came to the USA (Detroit) with my family in 1958.

At Christmas 1960, my uncle in Germany sent me a 700/1 basic LEGO set. This was a full year before LEGO came to the USA. In 1961 my Grandfather bought me 20 small European spare parts packs… everything from “macaroni bricks” to trees and bushes.

I continued building up my LEGO inventory by going to ‘Earl’s Bike Shop” as a kid. This far east side Detroit store (about 10 blocks from home) was where I went whenever I had an extra 50 cents to go buy another spare parts packs (most were only 50c).

In 1962, my aunt asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I gave her a 1961-62 Samsonite LEGO Catalog, and told her that I wanted a 717 Junior Constructor Set, a European gabled house design model.

She didn’t find it in 1962, so I got a bicycle for Christmas from my well-to-do aunt. The next year she kept looking, but was never able to find that specific set. So she bought another set that was labeled “717 Junior Constructor”, but was of a flat roofed modern house. It took another 40 years before I found out (from the folks at TLG LEGO Archives) that the original 717 set was never produced as a gable roofed set.

I went into my “Dark Ages” in 1968, and emerged from it in 1979. That was when I was visiting relatives in Germany. I went to a small town bookstore, and in the back of the store I came across about 30 LEGO parts packs of circa 1960-65. I also came across 2 retailer LEGO Windows/Door boxes, which allowed kids to buy individual LEGO windows and doors from a large box. I purchased the entire lot (over 800 windows/doors) for only $80. That got me back into LEGO, back when there were very few AFOLs.

Whenever I visited any town in Europe or USA/Canada for the next 15 years, I scoured the toy stores wherever I went. I spent thousands of dollars on old LEGO items and sets. My best finds were 35 #760 London Bus sets for $7 each, 25 #455 Lear Jet sets for $2 each, 10 #375 Yellow Castle sets on clearance for $24 each, and 10 #6390 Main Street sets on clearance for $20 each.

In 1985, I created a LEGO display for a Detroit toy store called “Mom’s Toy Attic”. The next year I was in a local newspaper as an anomaly (an adult who plays with LEGO). In 1986 TLG sent a representative to my house to interview me, and within 2 months I got a phone call from Henry Wiencek, author of “World of LEGO Toys”. I am the only AFOL mentioned in that book, on page 30.

Also in 1986, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) sent a camera crew to my house to interview me for “25 Years of LEGO in Canada” on the Canadian news show “The Journal”. There I was interviewed, along with 3 Canadian AFOLs.

Due to the fact that I had over 1/2 million LEGO elements in my exploding collection, I was able to build large constructions before the advent of Bricklink.

In 1998 I joined up with RTL and a little later LUGNET. I became a Bricklink buyer in 2004, and a Bricklink seller in 2007.

In 2004, I started researching and writing The Unofficial LEGO Set/Parts Collectors Guide (now in its’ second version), a 1,500 page guide on old LEGO sets and parts. The collectors guide was released in 2006 (Version 1) and Version 2 came out in September 2008.”

I’m greatly honored to have Gary as the “resident historian” for theBrickBlogger. If you have any questions for Gary, you can ask in the Comment section below (yes, we read and respond to each and every one of them), or email Gary directly.

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Maxx May 29, 2011, 12:39 PM

    I’m a BIG fan of Gary and feel lucky to call myself one of his close followers.
    Although Gary and I don’t always agree, we are both in it for the knowledge about (old) LEGO.
    The best buy a real AFOL could ever do is buy his CD, the only CD you won’t be tired of after December 25th;)

    • admin May 30, 2011, 10:43 AM

      I totally agree with you, Maxx! Gary’s knowledge is invaluable! And his CD is a must for any serious LEGO fan! 🙂

  • JJ August 19, 2011, 3:28 PM

    Hi Gary,

    Peers from MBT saying hello. Hope you remember us.

    M. Pawlak and J. Jackson

  • Gary Istok August 24, 2011, 10:15 PM

    Oh my God… would that be Mary Ann and Joyce?? Old friends from before the AT&T split…. TIRKS… LMOS…. BOSS/BAC??

  • huh? 😕

  • Meneldur son of Garamar May 20, 2013, 3:32 PM

    I’m with you Mouth of Lightning.

  • Daan Schmidt May 31, 2013, 10:56 AM

    Hi Gary,
    Another long lost friend from BOSS/BAC days at Ameritech Services.
    Hope everything is well with you.


  • Sonja Lammi May 18, 2015, 2:08 PM

    I’m trying to get information on how to date Lego plates. I understand the Pat. pending dates, but when did Lego switch to the modern more hollowed out studs on the undersides of plates?

    • admin May 18, 2015, 3:08 PM

      Sonja, I’m forwarding your question to Gary to make sure he sees it. If you don’t hear from him within a week let me know and I have some other means of getting in touch with him. 🙂

  • Gary Istok May 18, 2015, 3:52 PM

    In continental Europe and Britain/Australia the switch from waffle bottom to circle bottom plates happened circa 1963. The LEGO company then sent all of their old waffle bottom plate molds to Samsonite in USA/Canada. There they saw continued use until the molds were worn out, some waffle molds made it as late as 1971-72. Many old Samsonite sets had the old (waffle) and new (circle bottom) plates mixed together in the same sets until 1972. As far as the actual “Pat. Pend. on LEGO plates, these were found on some circle bottom plates on into the 1970s. There was no exact cutoff date for when production of Pat Pend. plates ended. Some were seen in sets as late as 1975, ofte mixed in with plates that either had “Pat. Pend. erased” (just a mound gouged out of the mold where the Pat. Pend used to be, and other new plates had neither Pat. Pend. or Pat. Pend. erased. There are no clear cut years for end dates of most LEGO outdated LEGO parts, and these all show that.

    • admin May 18, 2015, 5:43 PM

      Thanks, Gary for your quick response! Sonja, I hope you find Gary’s information helpful. He is a wealth of knowledge on LEGO’s history. 🙂

  • Brian D'Agostine July 14, 2016, 4:57 PM


    How can I buy your CD? I found a Weebly site but I want to make sure it’s legitimate.



    • admin July 14, 2016, 9:30 PM

      Brian, yes, Gary’s guide is available on weebly either as a DVD or as a download: http://legocollectorsguide.weebly.com/

      • Robert November 27, 2023, 9:43 AM

        I just paid for the download, but nothing happened. I submitted a chargeback through PayPal. User beware – I don’t think it’s possible to download this item any longer.

        • Robert November 27, 2023, 12:20 PM

          Never mind. Gary sent the items in an email after payment.

  • Susan Koeppe Archibald August 20, 2022, 1:14 PM

    Hey Gerard! I remember you from Marquette and in my reflecting of the past I wondered where you ended up. I saw what I believed to be you on a Finney HS blog from 2008. I spend probably too much time looking at old pics and reminiscing the past. I hope you are doing well. There is a FHS reunion planned for Sept 2023. Check it out on Facebook. Hope you receive this!
    Best wishes, Susan

  • Shaun November 29, 2022, 6:17 PM

    Hi I have an old shop display for NEW Lego wheels and turntables including set 314 and mixed wheels small boxes I think it dates to 1962-63 it builds up from cardboard sections is this a common item ?

  • Jonathan Yu January 21, 2023, 10:38 AM

    Hello, I have set 010-3 basic building set, is it rare, on bricklink you said you did research on it, so was it a common set or very rare. Thank you so much.

  • Jonathan Yu January 21, 2023, 10:41 AM

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