Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Once upon a time......

......I bought a lot of 4 used 2001-2003 Harry Potter sets from eBay. I've had a number of bad experiences buying Harry Potter sets from eBay; maybe it's the fact that they tend to have been originally owned by a predominantly younger, less careful demographic, but the boxes have generally been 'tired' at best, and pieces are invariably missing, regardless of whether the sets are described as 'complete' or not. On this occasion, I was delighted to land the sets for a very good price, and waited with bated breath for them to arrive. To my amazement, 3 of the sets were complete, and the boxes were in pretty good condition. I wasn't so lucky with the fourth, however - Set 4720 Knockturn Alley. Again the box was in a surprisingly good state, but there were pieces missing. Lots of them. About 80, to be precise, which is around 40% of the total.... A brief and cordial e-mail exchange with the seller ensued, and it yielded an appropriate partial refund which was offered unprompted. And so it was that I began my quest to replace the missing pieces....

As ever, if you need to replace missing pieces then you pay Bricklink a visit, and all your wishes will be granted. If you take a look at the inventory for the set, however, you'll maybe see why it wasn't quite as simple as usual on this occasion - this set contains more than its fair share of sand blue pieces, which being one of the more uncommon colours produced by LEGO over the years, can be harder than average to track down. Anyway, to cut a long story slightly shorter, partly as a result of the need to track down some uncommon pieces, but also partly because I just dragged my feet, it took me 18 months to track down all the missing parts. Finally the job is complete, however, so it's time to build....

You can see a picture of the box above. It's smaller than the box for 2010's Harry Potter Set 4737 Quidditch Match despite containing significantly more pieces. So clearly there's been some LEGO box inflation since 2003 to go with the price inflation.... As well as a picture of the finished set, the front of the box also features a photo of an oh-so-young-looking Daniel Radcliffe wearing his Hogwarts uniform. I was pleasantly surprised to see a photo of an alternative build on the back of the box - I thought they'd stopped doing that long before 2003, but clearly not.

The instruction booklet is unremarkable, featuring identical artwork to the front of the box minus the youthful face of Daniel Radcliffe. The are 34 pages of building instructions plus a couple of pages of adverts, including one for the PC CD-ROM game Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Some of the colours in the printed building instructions look distinctly odd - dark grey pieces look light grey in the instructions, for instance, and black looks like dark grey. It threw me slightly to start with, although I eventually got used to it.

You can see a selection of pieces from the set below (click to enlarge). None of those pesky sand blue pieces are available in more than 2 or 3 sets, and the sand blue 1 x 1 plate can only be found in this set, which is also the case for the trans-green goblet and the 1 x 2 tile with the "spooky green hand" printed on it. That "brain in a jar" piece has only ever been available in this and one other set, and the same goes for the 1 x 1 bricks with the eyes printed on them.

The set contains two minifigures - Harry Potter and Lucius Malfoy - which obviously pre-date the appearance of flesh-coloured heads in the licensed sets. In contrast to his smart appearance on the front of the box, Harry is wearing a crumped sand green top. Villainous or not, at least Lucius had the decency to get dressed up for his appearance in this set, and his tie, waistcoat and jacket are pretty dapper. Neither figure has any back printing, though. Both figures are unique to this set, although their prices on Bricklink seem surprisingly reasonable considering, so minifig collectors need not despair.

At a mere 209 pieces the build is predictably quick. After assembling the minifigures the next task is to build the chimney section (pics below - click to enlarge). This has a rudimentary play feature to allow Harry to travel through the "floo network" - lift the dark grey 4x8 plate on the front, pop Harry inside and then pull the dark blue handle on the front whereupon the floor slides out from underneath Harry and he tumbles out the chute at the back. Hardly rocket science, but I'm sure the kids love it....

Chimney - front
Chimney - back
The other part of the build is the shop itself. From the front this is dominated by a large bay window on the right, though which you can see the elusive trans-green goblet and other treasures, and an arched doorway flanked by flames and a couple of owls on the left.

From the back (below) you can see inside the shop, where a glowing neon spider lurks in wait on the roof, and spooky artefacts and potions sit on the shelves. The bay window and doorway pivot on a hinge allowing some basic reconfiguration.

You can see the various elements of the finished build below, complete with Harry, and Lucius with a dodgy looking potion.

Although I've seen all the Harry Potter movies, I have to confess that I wasn't familiar with Knockturn Alley. According to Wikipedia, turns out that it's "a dark and seedy alleyway" leading off from Diagon Alley, and that many of the shops in Knockturn Alley are devoted to the Dark Arts, the largest of these shops being Borgin and Burkes which sells "sinister and dangerous objects". I guess that explains the spooky green hand and brain in a jar, then.... As you probably know, 2010's Set 10217 Diagon Alley included a version of Borgin and Burkes (pictured below), and it's pretty evident that the Knockturn Alley set is basically Borgin and Burkes under a different name. The two versions share the "chimney with floo network" play feature, the bay window shopfront, and the Lucius Malfoy minifigure, but the similarities end there with the modern version being a massive improvement on its predecessor.

Set 4720 Knockturn Alley contains 209 pieces and would have set you back an expensive £19.99 / $20.00 when it was released in 2003. Standouts for me are the colour scheme featuring sand blue and dark blue, a number of unique pieces, and 2 minifigures which were never available in any other set. You'll pay at least £30-£40 (or the dollar equivalent) on Bricklink for a used, boxed example now, and truth be told, unless you're a Harry Potter collector I reckon you'd be better off saving your money for the spectacular Set 10217 Diagon Alley which, while more expensive, contains a far superior version of Borgin and Burkes plus Ollivander's Wand Shop, Gringotts Bank and 10 excellent minifigures.


  1. An interesting read, glad that was one of the ones I picked up MISB in 2005, (for £10!). Of course at that point I wouldn't have classed myself as a collector, so I opened it, and was none too careful with the box too... :-(. I'm glad to have 10217 too, as you pointed out, it does look kind of pathetic next to the 2011 version. You haven't mentioned what the other 3 were, I assumed the point of the article was to rub in the fact that I'm missing a Hogwarts Express :-). I'm still missing the hand of glory (spooky green hand) as it was missing from my MISB set and Customer Service had run out by 2005. Just FYI, they actually did alternate builds on the 2004 and 2005 HP sets too, it was the 2007 Castle when they stopped.

  2. i'm with matthew... would love to hear/see what the other 3 sets from this lot are. i don't have very many of the earlier HP sets.

  3. Anonymous16/2/12

    Lovely! Wish I had that set. The minifig is of Lucius Malfoy, though, not Draco. Thus the dapper suit. :) I'm looking forward to your reviews of the other 3 sets!

  4. The evolution from set design of the early 2000s to the early 2010s is nothing short of amazing and the Harry Potter line illustrates it better than most. Back in the day, this was a really good set: lots of pieces, robust design, unique minifigs... and yet, as you note, it doesn't hold up to the Harry Potter sets we've had in the last few years.

    I still have a fondness for the original run Harry Potter sets, though, if only because they had yellow figs. I still don't care for flesh-toned figs and these pre-flesh licensed figs give a powerful kick of "what might have been."

  5. Ha i have stacks of sand blue! well at least 1kg of it i aquired when building the b wing you should have asked!

  6. Richard Selby19/2/12

    Such a lacklustre looking set, I've got to wonder, why on earth did you go to such effort?

  7. If you need me to explain that then you probably wouldn't understand anyway !