Toy steam locomotive, Hornby No.1 locomotive '2710' type 0-4-0, clockwork operated, 0-gauge, metal, made by Meccano Ltd, Liverpool, England, 1921
This toy steam locomotive, made in 1921, is one of the first toy trains built by Meccano Ltd for their 0-gauge range of Hornby toy trains. The Hornby toy trains and accessories are a microcosm of railway social and technological history in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century.
Trains were the first form of modern transport to be reproduced as toys. Wooden pull-along trains were available in Britain from the 1840s, not long after the commercial introduction of full-size railways. By the 1870s the wooden toy train was replaced with tin-plate locomotives, hauling carriages, which were often powered by clockwork or steam. The German toy manufacturers dominated the world market at this time. The First World War broke this monopoly and the rise of patriotism in Britain saw an emphasis on local toy production there.
The scene was set for the English inventor of Meccano, Frank Hornby, to market his 0-gauge trains in 1920. Hornby trains became the most comprehensive ever produced. The series developed into finely-detailed locomotives, as well as commercial vans, wagons and tankers together with a range of accessories including stations, goods sheds, signals, crossings, water tanks and signal boxes. They were exported from the Liverpool factory to many countries including Australia, Canada, Egypt, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa. In Australia, Hornby trains of the four major British railway companies became as familiar to boys as Australian rolling stock.
Two years after Frank Hornby's death in 1936 Meccano Ltd introduced the smaller Hornby Dublo (00-gauge) table top trains which were more affordable and convenient than the 0-gauge. This gauge became the most popular type of toy trains for the next 50 years. From the late 1950s no further effort was devoted to 0-gauge trains and by the 1960s their popularity had diminished. Today model railway production is aimed at adult collectors and is increasingly removed from the traditional children's toy trains. Many of the original collectors have kept and added to their interwar childhood 0-gauge toy train layouts with stations, tunnels, landscapes and rolling stock forming a historical diorama of twentieth century land transport.
Marsh, Hugo, "Miller's Toys & Games Antiques Checklist", Reed International Books Limited, London, 1995
Margaret Simpson, 26 October, 2007
After the First World War Meccano undertook considerable extensions to their Liverpool factory to accommodate the production of their new clockwork toy trains which had been designed between 1915 and 1920. Toy train production began in early 1920 with the engine, tender and trucks put together on the Meccano construction toy principal. It was considered that the whole toy train system could be made up by the boy from standard units and if one of the parts was lost or damaged it could be replaced.
The locomotives were supplied ready made up and for instant use and it was thought that the enjoyment would be in being able to take apart the pieces and rebuild them. In reality few locomotives, tenders and trucks were taken apart and the whole idea had limitations due to the fact that there was only one possible design available in the rebuilding thereby differing from the creative Meccano construction toy where a huge variety of items could be made. During this early period, before the formation of the four big railway companies in Britain in 1923, the Hornby No.1 locomotives came in LNER black, GN green and MR red.
By 1923 all references to taking trains apart disappeared from the advertising literature and Meccano got down to the real business of making toy trains and accessories. The firm went on to update this locomotive and it is said to have produced literally hundreds of versions of the No.1 Locomotive.
Graebe, Chris and Julie, "The Hornby Gauge 0 System", New Cavendish Books, London, 2002
This toy steam locomotive is part of a large collection purchased by the Museum in 1985 from the tin toy collector, Ken Finlayson. As a boy, Finlayson admired steam trains but never owned a train set. As an adult he began collecting Hornby model trains, and his interest spread to other toy trains and tin toys. He increased his collection at auctions, swap meets and market stalls, and through his connections with toy dealers and other serious collectors. Some toys were simply found sitting neglected on the shelves of remote country newsagencies, brand new and never opened.
Finlayson's knowledge and love of toys brought him a collection of nearly 2000 items, including highly collectable tin-plate toys manufactured by respected names such as Carette, Bing, Marklin and Lehmann, as well as a variety of other German, English and Japanese makers. The Finlayson collection contains every type of transport toy - cars, trucks, tractors, fire engines, buses, motorcycles, aeroplanes, ships and trains, as well as novelty toys, robots, kitchen toys and Meccano sets. It represents the type of toys that were available in Australia throughout most of the twentieth century, including ones made here by Boomaroo, Wyn-toy, Cyclops, Ferris and Robilt. These Australian toys were usually built from heavy-gauge pressed steel rather than thin tin plate, making them sturdy enough for rough treatment in Australian backyards and sandpits.