A rare find? Is this an early pre-release test game of Catan

I have been very fortunate to acquire what is apparently a 1995 pre-launch Catan set used to test and promote Catan before the first commercial set with the Franckh logo was released.

Even better this set is signed by Mr Teuber himself. While he has no doubt been asked to sign tens of thousands of items over the years, this set is unusual as it is dated as being signed in 1995. It could well be one of the first Catan games to be signed.

I have no confirmation what this set was actually made for (eg testing or reviewing), or how many of these early sets were made, or even how widely they were circulated. I do not even know who got to use them. Sadly the previous owner of this set has passed away so I am unable to go back and ask.

UPDATE: November 2022
Originally I was advised that it was likely there would be less than 25 of these prototype sets made. Equally as in this set there are hand-written instructions it may be it was a development set and there would be even fewer copies. For a long time I was very happy with this. However in Klaus Teubers biography he has a quote from Reiner Muller about the game and some sample sets he made. The paragraph reads:

"The Settlers of Catan went into production, I made a few examples out of the proofs that went to the first journalists. I had the pleasure of cutting over one thousand cards by hand. Soon the first opinions arrived, exceeding all our expectations. You do know when you're working on a game whether it's a good game, but how well the game will be received, well, that you cannot know."

If this is one of the sets created by Reiner Muller from Kosmos then that would be amazing. Regardless though, I am confident this is not only the earliest Catan item in my collection but by far the rarest too.

Actual Differences

There are a number of differences between this pre-launch copy and the first release. Mostly you can tell that the item has been made up for play, but even better the instructions still have manual edits in them that were then corrected in the commercially released version.

Differences between this pre-launch copy and the final launch copy include:

Outer Box

The outer box uses the final design used in the production version, however it has been copied and glued to a white box, rather than being screen printed directly to the card.
01 box01
The box artwork is glued to the box, not printed onto it.

01 box02back
The box printing is glued on, rather than printed directly to the box.

Inner Box

The inner box is totally unprinted. It is just plain card. Unlike the production version that is screen printed and has a printed inner fitting too. Interestingly the photocopied instructions in the early set are just two sheets glued together, rather than double sided printing as in the production version.
01 box03inner

Game Numbers

Unlike the final version the alphabet letters on the testing set are hand-written.
05 numbers

Game Hexes

The hexes while printed are not all as squarely cut as the released set. They are also printed on a different grade lower quality card and the design has been glued on top.

The largest army, longest road, and purchase cost cards are also photocopied on a different card stock and lack the gloss finish and quality of the final version.
06 hexes
The test hexes are glued together, use thicker card and are not uniformly cut.
The card thickness (image below) is different between the test set and the final version.

04 cardthickness

Wooden Buildings/Roads

In the early set the buildings are only partially painted. The bottom of the buildings are just plain wood in most cases. The robber is also a much smaller and thinner design than seen in later versions of the game. It looks like a pawn from a chess set, rather than the robber we have come to know.
02 counters


The game instructions in the draft version are photocopied and not yet formatted into the final version. They also have handwritten alterations noted in them and they do not have a number of the final diagrams.
08 instructions01

08 instructions02
The instructions/almanac are photocopied and are a different layout to the final version.

08 instructions03
The first booklet lacks the final diagrams in the published version.

Playing Cards

The playing cards are matt printed and square cut and not always centred, unlike the rounded corners and satin finish of the first release.

 03 cards

NB: What this game was used for has been assumed from the production and feel. I do not have any official verification. If anyone has more information on what this set is and where it came from I would be incredibly grateful for anything you can share.