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What is the rarest LEGO element according to the following criteria:

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Agood example of "part of sets produced not to be sold" would be the green BURP, as it's only been used in that one set which was only given to Vestas employees (not that some didn't make it to the market, of course, and I've seen the green BURP in bulk actions in some rare instances). Barring that, I believe that at some point LEGOland parks did have access to more elements in alternate colours, but that probably doesn't count either since these weren't supposed to be released to the public. –  Joubarc Feb 11 '13 at 8:26
    
@Joubarc Nice example, I have updated the question to include it. (Now I want to go and buy some Green BURPs!) –  mcqwerty Feb 12 '13 at 2:51
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4 Answers

I was just reading about the 8485 Technic Control Center II, where you can make a dinosaur, helicopter, or hovercraft controlled by a big panel, and which I have on hand. According to a reviewer (http://www.eurobricks.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=75864) there are a few rare pieces that were included with this set, which retailed for $219 in 1995. The price of the set and quickly-outdated electronics probably could imply that the set is relatively rare. Some of the parts are pictured here - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mostlytechnic/8158411568/ Red wing plates (x2 Left, x2 Right) that were used in the helicopter build, and one other set. Little white coils for bundling wires together, only used in an earlier Multi Control set and educational sets (probably quickly lost). And a black steering yoke used in the dinosaur build - only ever included in this set. It was released in white in a 1980s car set.

This might be one of the rarest individual parts that's not from a promotional or movie-themed set.

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None of these seem to fetch too high a price - admittedly, that's not necessarily an indication of their rarity, but since the demand isn't particularly high it's still possible to get some relatively easily. Good find, though - and welcome to bricks.se! –  Joubarc Mar 4 at 20:10
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712pb01 Plate, Round Curved 4 x 8 Left with Red Line on Curved Edge Pattern

To be honest, I don't know if this is especially rare. I do know, however, that to find the rarest part we'll need to factor in:

1. Parts that appear in small numbers in very few sets

For example:

  • "White Minifig, Headgear Hair Female Pigtails" piece only appeared in a few sets.
  • The parts unique to the 10179 Millennium Falcon UCS.

Often, rare parts have an unusual design or colour.

2. Of those, sets that had a limited production run

Sets with a limited run might include:

  • Promotional sets (although these rarely have unique parts)
  • Sets that are limited to a single locality

The Millennium Falcon might be a candidate here.

3. Of those, parts that are unlikely to have survived the ravages of time

This might include:

  • Old sets - anything from the 1950s, for example
  • Sets designed for community play, e.g. Educational establishments

All things considered, I imagine that the rarest piece of proper LEGO is from one of the oldest sets: which is why I suggest something like, "712pb01 Plate, Round Curved 4 x 8 Left with Red Line on Curved Edge Pattern" that appeared in a single set in 1958.

Alternatively, (if you care to count them as part of the system) many of the parts from the 1940s Automatic Binding Bricks era will be quite rare by now.

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How could I forget about the white minifig female hair... (although in all fairness I've seen some sold at auctions a few years ago, and these were even provided by LEGO itself) –  Joubarc Feb 13 '13 at 8:21
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I'm not sure whether to consider these real Lego parts or not, but many of the old HO scale vehicles and greenery are incredibly rare. For example, the Jaguar is quite rare in any color, but especially in red and black.

enter image description here

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@jncranton I never thought of the old HO scale vehicles. I suppose we should also consider the Pull-Along Duck from 1935, there can't be many of those still around. –  mcqwerty Feb 12 '13 at 2:43
    
+1 for this - although I feel the question is a bit vague in this respect in that @mcqwerty didn't actually specify what "element" meant ;) –  Zhaph - Ben Duguid Feb 12 '13 at 11:31
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I would tend to say that any part produced for only one set would qualify, especially if said set is priced high. Looking at the inventory of 10179 Millenium Falcon UCS for example, the following candidates come to mind:

Considering the price the set goes for nowadays, and the fact that most people who buy it will probably build it once and leave it so (that is, if they open the box at all), I think the grey boat mast rigging is a very good candidate. There are four people selling some on BrickLink as of february 2013, but a glance at the prices asked comforts me in my reasoning. Even the printed radar dish is cheaper.

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Agreed, I think the mast rigging is a good candidate. I think printed elements are acceptable but since both the radar and the mast rigging are both from the same set, I suppose it doesn't make any difference. Interesting point on the minifig - I would say that since it is made up of parts, then I would say the minifig as a whole doesn't count even though it is only used in that one set. –  mcqwerty Feb 12 '13 at 2:30
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