German System of Building Blocks
Anchor Blocks were a German system of building blocks that were popular as a children’s construction toy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, notably in Europe. Dr F. Ad. Richter in Rudolstadt, Germany, began developing and manufacturing the system in 1879. The concept was based on the FROEBEL block system, which significantly impacted Frank Lloyd WRIGHT’s design philosophy.
Anchor blocks were built of a manufactured “stone” that was heavy and exact in form, allowing for massive, complex structures. The blocks were based on a one-inch-wide modular cube that could be broken into smaller units (down to quarter-inch dimensions) and multiplied into larger proportions up to around five inches. Brick red, cream, and slate blue were used to create cylindrical, triangular, pyramidal, and arch-shaped blocks. The blocks were packaged in elegant wooden boxes and sold in sets. The most basic bundle included a book with simple designs for “buildings” ideal for young children. Larger and more sophisticated sets could be added as supplements, each with a book of plans for more complex buildings, progressing to highly complex structures requiring adult-level plan reading and physical coordination.
For many years, such building sets were trendy toys, and many imitations were made in wood and “stone.” Richter founded a New York division and developed his method under the name Union blocks shortly after World War I when anything German was rejected in the United States.
It’s worth noting that Charles and Ray Eames used anchor blocks as props in several of their films and as backgrounds for some of their advertising designs. Anchor block sets in good condition are becoming increasingly rare and valuable collector’s pieces.
Pile, J. F. (1990). Dictionary of 20th-century design. Facts on File.
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