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A7621 Anchor Construction Set, Borkum DS 20U, made by F Ad Richter & Co, Rudolstadt, Germany, 1904-1963. Click to enlarge.

Anchor construction set by Richter & Co

Anchor building blocks are made of natural materials, chalk and linseed oil, and have the feel of building in real stone. They were developed in Germany by Otto and Gustave Lilienthal in 1875 and sold in 1880 to the German industrialist; Friedrich Ad. Richter, who made and marketed them as Anchor Stone Building Blocks, Anker-Steinbaukasten, in Rudolstadt, near Nuremberg. The purpose of Anchor Blocks was to enable children to construct buildings including fortified churches, castles, and bridges in a traditional German Gothic style, using simplified, basic architectural principles.

The Anchor Stone Building Sets became synonymous with creative and educational play and with a sophisticated system of conversions sets provided a very wide range of building possibilities. It was said to be the world's first systematic toy. Other German companies copied Richter and developed sets with architectural detail particular to their own towns, and the well-known Bing company, had their own version. But it was Richter's Anchor Blocks, recognised by their anchor-shaped trademark, that were the most famous. They were exported to countries in Europe, Britain and America and some sets made there way to Australia.

The Anchor Stone Building Sets achieved considerable popularity throughout the late 19th and mid 20th century. The company survived two World Wars but was closed down by the East German authorities in 1963. It is estimated that between 1880 and 1963 about 5 billion Anchor stones were sold. Richter developed about 400 different construction sets with an approximate total of about 1200 different stone shapes. Manufacture of the sets was revived 30 years later in 1995 and is now produced in Germany by Anker Steinbaukasten GmbH.

The basis for the first children's toy building blocks made of wood was developed in 1840 by Friedrich Froebel, founder of the kindergarten movement. He recognised the value of geometric figures for the education and development of children's minds. Froebel's work encouraged numerous designers and manufacturers to produce construction toys, and alphabet and numerical play, to combine education and play.

Margaret Simpson
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry


Object No.


Object Statement

Anchor Construction Set, Borkum DS 20U, made by F Ad Richter & Co, Rudolstadt, Germany, 1904-1963

Physical Description

The Anchor construction set is stored in a large wooden box with reinforced brass edges and metal handgrips at either side. The sliding-top box lid features a multi-coloured printed paper label with a drawing of an iron girder bridge with supporting towers either side and two piers in the river. River boats and barges travel under the bridge. Printed either side of the image are medallion motifs and large red anchor in a shield. The medallions refer to awards at exhibitions in Paris 1900 and St Louis 1904. The text is printed in German, Dutch, and French and English.

Detailed instruction manuals showed how to build different structures. The set contains Instruction Book No.19 of 26-pages with architecture plans drawn to scale and the 'The Practical Architects Guide' printed in 11 languages; Instruction Book No 13 of 18 pages; Instruction Book No.27 of 16 pages; and a printed lithographic box tray plan. The box is fitted with various cardboard boxes and four wooden trays containing the blocks together with the metal bridge girders, plates and bars.



185 mm


500 mm


390 mm



The blocks have a stone-like appearance and come in colours of buff, blue and light red. The blocks are made of quartz sand, finely-ground chalk and colouring which is then mixed with linseed oil varnish. The mixture is turned into moulds compressed then dried in an oven for about eight days.

The stones were made in two basic sizes, the KK sets (Klein Kaliber or small calibre) of 20 mm lengths and GK sets (BroB Kaliber or large calibre) of 25 mm. The major grouping of the sets is the AF (Alter Folge or Old Series) made between 1884 and 1898 and the NF (Neue Folge or New Series ) made between 1894 and 1963.

Basic boxes contained smooth surfaced cubes, cylinders, rectangular prisms and square pyramid-shaped bricks in red, white and blue which echoed the turrets, arches, pediments and pillars popular in German architecture at the time. More advanced sets included parts for bridge building that incorporated metal parts.

This set was known as number DS 20U and has the password, Borkum, which refers to it being a 'Large Calibre' transition box. The set originally comprised 378 stone, 361 roof stones and 357 metal pieces. It was meant to be used to extend and convert a much larger set, the GK-NF (large calibre, new series) set No. 20 to the full DS (Dach Stein) set No.27 with metal roofs covered with stone tiles. This was the largest set made in the series. By the time the sets got to be this large they were really toys for adults.

According to the Anchor construction set expert, George Hardy, this set would have been used to extend either the No.20 set or the No.34, Lyck, containing 3852 stones. The No. 20U set is rare and about 6 sets are known to survive around the world.



In 1875 Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896) and his brother Gustav (1849-1933) developed, as an alternative to wooden blocks, precisely-shaped blocks made of quartz, sand, powdered chalk and linseed oil varnish. In 1880 the Lilienthal brothers sold their building block formula to the German entrepreneur, Friedrich Ad. Richter (1846-1910), owner of a chemical and pharmaceutical factory in Rudolstadt, Germany. Richter took out a patent on the blocks and began building a factory to produce them, employing artists, illustrators and architects to develop the building plans for the sets. The Richter factory was completed in 1882 and the first boxes sold under the label 'red squirrel'. The first series of four stone building sets was displayed at numerous exhibitions and by 1884 Richter could proudly announce in his catalogue that his sets had won 15 gold medals. In 1890 the number of different stone shapes increased from 175 to 338 and in 1895 the red squirrel trademark was replaced by an anchor (Anker in German) so the famous Anchor Stone Building Sets commenced.

Richter was unusual at the time for his aggressive advertising campaigns and the new toy quickly became very popular. Subsidiary and branch offices were established in Vienna, St Petersburg, London and New York. The sets were immediately popular with both adults and children. The German architect, Walter Gropius, was apparently an advocate for Anchor sets and in his ceaseless drive for sensational recommendations Richter even gathered accolades from the inventor, Thomas Edison and the then United States President Cleveland.

Richter died in 1910 leaving an empire with subsidiaries all over Europe and the United States. After the First World War his company reorganised into two public companies, F. Ad. Richter & Co Chemical Works and F. Ad. Richter & Co Block Factory. After the Second World War, as part of the German Democratic Republic, the production of Anchor Sets continued at a new location in Rudolstadt as a 'People's Owned Enterprise' (VEB Anker-Steinbaukasten). Production of the sets managed to survive both World Wars but production finally finished in 1963 when the East German authorities decided to shut down the factory. Some of the remaining boxes of stones were given away and the rest was disposed of near the plant. In 1979 an international club of Anchor stone enthusiasts, the Club of the Anchor Friends, was founded in Amsterdam in 1979 and devotees of the hobby have even excavated many of the stones from the original site still in good condition.

In 1995 Dr George Plenge, a professor of acoustics and Anker enthusiast, was the driving force behind the Anchor factory reopening and sets were once again produced by a newly-established company, Anker Steinbaukasten GmbH.


Credit Line

Purchased 1981

Acquisition Date

27 April 1981

Cite this Object


Anchor construction set by Richter & Co 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 14 April 2021, <https://ma.as/192337>


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