Frank Hornby

On the 15th May 1863 a child was born who eventually in his adult life would bring joy and pleasure to thousands of children and adults alike. His name was Frank Hornby. Though Frank died on the 21st September 1936, just two years after the first ‘Dinky toy’ was produced, he had already left his imprint and set the groundwork for more than three decades of giving pleasure to a child, particularly around a birthday and Christmas time. The investment in family life would be enormous as thousands of families, not just in the UK but throughout the world, would share in those special times where parents bonded with their offspring and of course the wider family in aunts, uncles and friends knowing just what to buy and give to please those loved children for their birthday or Christmas.

This joy of course was similarly found in other toys such as Electric train sets, Meccano and other construction sets, soldiers and Scalextric racing car sets but Dinky toys had to be one of the most successful products for a period of 30-40 years.

The Hornby patent

The Hornby patent was first issued in 1901 and the ‘Meccano’ name was registered in 1907 with ‘Meccano France’ following six years later. The factory, known as Binns Road (for obvious reasons the factory was in Binns Road) was opened in Liverpool in 1914.

Regrettably I press on, missing much history, to 1934 when the first Dinky toy was issued. Tootsie toys possibly gave the vision of cast toys to Frank Hornby to provide a similar cast metal model for the children’s toy market and similar models were launched at this time in the early 30’s in Germany, branded ‘Marklin’, and in France ‘Solido’.

There were quality issues that would occur years later with some of these early lead models which caused the cast to expand and crack, which we now refer to as metal fatigue. Other publications would be able to expand on this far better than I can. Due to the second world war in 1939, there was a halt on production as all factories producing various metal components were needed to produce ammunition for the war effort.

Understanding Pre and Post Wars Models

However an interesting point here. There is often much confusion of which model was Pre War and what was Post War. No doubt many components such as casts and wheels were stored away and re introduced in 1945-6 so until new supplies of raw materials were available, therefore the old components would have been used for these post war models. I refer particularly to the 30-36-38 and 39 series models. In 1953-54 all existing catalogue numbers were changed to allow for a fast expanding toy range. At a similar time many of the smaller models had been provided to the retailer in a trade box usually 4-6 models. Individual boxes were introduced and initially many were marked with the old and the new serial numbers which we refer to as a ‘dual number box’ Within a year or so after this the old number was dropped retaining the new number only.

A lasting legacy was born

Dinky Toys monopolised the market for a number of years until a new brand was introduced by Mettoy and Corgi Toys were born in 1956. Three years earlier in 1953 Matchbox released their first 1.75 series miniature and this created serious competition for the Dinky brand. Sales were naturally affected and by the mid 1960’s sales were seriously declining. In 1964 Lines Bros were the first of what would prove to be several buyouts and takeovers of this famous toy company and brand and its popularity would never recover to its former success.

However a lasting legacy was born and the child became an adult and the adult became a collector as many would want to retain and bring back those wonderful childhood memories.

Collecting Dinky Toys

Dr Cecil Gibson wrote an early book in 1966 called The History of British Dinky Toys 1934-64 and this became an important reference to the many collectors that were emerging. In one of Mike Richardson’s book, ‘Collecting Dinky Toys’, first issued in 2001 he refers in his forward that Dr Cecil Gibson founded the first swap meet in Leicester, England, where friends would gather and swap models in his home.

The first public toyfair known as ‘Swapmeet’ was founded in my town of birth Maidenhead in 1971 and became known as the ‘Maidenhead Static Model Club’. The rest is history as they say with such gatherings still being run nearly 50 years later throughout the UK. The largest nowadays in the UK is at Sandown racecourse in Esher, Surrey and in Birmingham at the ‘NEC’ both continuing quarterly meetings.

A few traders have modelled their business on an e-commerce website like my own and this has enabled collectors to buy any day of the week from their armchair through a PC, tablet or mobile phone device. The big question that is always asked is how long will this hobby continue at an active pace between traders and their customers? Who knows! Of course there are not the same amount of collectors as 20 years ago but the market is still very active. Let’s hope the name Dinky Toys continues to excite many of us for years to come.