Anyone who has collected BRIO for any length of time is familiar with the #33532 Car Wash set. Listed in catalogs from 1986 through 1990, it had two foam rollers that are notorious for disintegrating as they age. It is almost impossible to find a set with the foam rollers intact. Most have large chunks missing from them, with small pieces of foam that flake off at the slightest touch. The foam apparently dried out over time, and the rollers crumbled as a result. I've even seen a set in an unopened box where the rollers had complete come apart, leaving only piles of blue dust inside.
But every now and then you get lucky. I found this one recently, and to my amazement the foam rollers are almost completely intact:
This photo is as bad as I could make it look. There are some depressions in the foam, but very little is missing and the rollers still look cylindrical. This is the most complete I've even seen them in over 15 years of looking.
Back in January of 2015, BRIO AB was acquired by The Ravensburger Group (Ravensburger is most widely known for its extensive line of jigsaw puzzles). At the time, BRIO did not have direct distribution in the United States, instead relying on Schylling Inc. to serve as a middleman. For those of us in the United States, there was nothing good about this arrangement: Schylling chose to import only part of BRIO's product line, updated their catalog annually while BRIO was introducing new products in both the fall and spring, and lagged the European markets by a year or more.
When Ravensburger acquired BRIO I was hopeful that this all of this would change. Ravensburger has had U.S. offices for decades, and could serve as the direct distributor for the BRIO line of toys. Sure enough, this appears to be what has happened: BRIO has been dropped from the 2016 Schylling catalogs, and U.S. retailers are seeing the current generation of BRIO Wooden Railway products. We still lag the European markets, but only by months instead of a full year.
I view this as a significant improvement. I'd rather see the U.S. get new products immediately, of course, but Schylling never was a very good middleman and I am happy to see them out of the picture.
BRIO released a lot of terriffic products over the past couple of years, but their U.S. distributer Schylling has not brought all of them into the U.S. market. Because BRIO had both a spring and fall line of Wooden Railway accessories and Schylling only updates their product lineup annually, it is possible that some of the 2014 products will come to the States in 2015, but there are no guarantees and there are still a number of products that were released in previous years that just weren't picked up by Schylling and may never be.
Some of my favorites are listed below with links to searches on the U.S. sites for Amazon and eBay. Always check shipping charges, especially when dealing with eBay sellers, as some services and the Global Shipping Program especially can be very expensive.
Released back in 2010, you can get this engine in the U.S. with a grey body and orange trim as part of the #33259 Freight Cargo Train set, but if you want it in the more colorful, and arguably more attractive, blue and red then you have to buy it solo. As you might guess, I prefer this variation.
This tanker wagon from 2011 is probably my favorite of the rolling sock in the modern BRIO product line. The wheel base and the load are solid wood, and in the classic BRIO style the load is removeable. It's never been available in the U.S. in any form.
BRIO loves variations. Schylling? Not so much. You can get the container ship in red trim as part of the #33061 Cargo Harbor Set but the Container & Crane Wagon set gives it to you in blue and includes a nifty crane wagon that you can't get elsewhere. The Cargo Harbor set is probably the better bargain now that pricing has come down (it was first relesed back in 2011), but if you want blue this is how you get it. This set was released in 2013.
Simple styling and minimal graphics give this steam engine a classic, elegant appearance. BRIO also manufactured a special 2013 Limited Edition variant in mauve that included a coal tender, sold as #33260, but I prefer this version.
A great addition to BRIO's farm themes which date back to the early 1980's and saw a major update and release in 2012. Though there is more plastic than wood here, the detailing and graphics are very nice.
33306 Airplane Boarding Set
Another example of variations not being picked up by Schylling, there is not really anything in this set from 2014 that can't be found in the #33301 Airport Monorail Set except for the color of the plane. That, and the Airport Monorail set is larger and more expensive even when you factor in international shipping (until recently, it was significantly more expensive). It is arguably the better value, but if like me you don't want those extras or you just want the plane in blue, then #33306 is the way to go. Unfortuantely, it is also a fairly uncommon set and I've not been able to find it on the Amazon market so only an eBay search link is given above.
New in the fall of 2014, this set reminds me of the vintage #33220 Amusement Park and is kind of a throwback to when BRIO was adventurous with accessories in the name of world building. The coaster set is a fully functioning roller coaster with a manually operated elevator to raise the cars to the top of the track. The attention to detail is very nice: the special cars have safety bars, the riders have wrist bands and there's even a sign indicating the minimum safe height for the ride. The set itself might be a little frustrating for younger children because, like all BRIO track, the joints are loose and parts can easily slide around and become misaligned, but with that caveat I think this one is a winner. Combined with the vintage Amusment Park and Merry-Go-Round sets you can make a whole BRIO Theme Park.
Normally I only buy BRIO that's in good condition or better, but there's only so much you can expect from vintage toys and as a general rule the older it is the more compromises you are going to have to make. I think the same can be said about exceptionally rare items, too, even the ones that aren't really that old. Case in point, I recently acquired this #33429 Blue Steam Engine:
Yeah, it's in bad shape. The edges are tattered, some of those paint chips are really gouges in the wood, and even the sticker is worn. But here's the thing: in the 14+ years I've been hunting for BRIO (off and on) I've seen exactly three of these engines, including this one. And none of them have been in what I'd consider to be good shape.
Sometimes condition just doesn't matter. Sometimes you are lucky to find the thing at all.
Only time will tell if this gem will be released in the U.S. Unfortunately, not all of the 2014 BRIO products have made it to this side of the Atlantic. If you can find a retailer that will ship internationally, this one looks worth paying for overseas delivery.