Toy railway tank wagon, Hornby milk tank wagon 'United Dairies', 0-gauge, metal, Meccano Ltd, Liverpool, England, 1929-1933
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 propulsion. 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.
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 in Britain. 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 towers and signal boxes. They were exported from the Liverpool factory to all corners of the British Empire 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 distant from the traditional children's toy railways. Many of the original collectors have kept and added to their interwar childhood 0-gauge toy railway layouts with stations, tunnels, landscapes and rolling stock forming an historical diorama of twentieth century land transport.
The United Dairies milk tank wagon is one of the special items of freight rolling stock made by Meccano Ltd from 1929 for their 0-gauge Hornby toy railways. It was one of the first attempts by the firm to reproduce particular features of the full-size 2000 to 3000 gallon United Dairies milk tank wagons which had been introduced in Britain in October 1927 by the Great Western (GW) and London Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railways. The wagon is significant because it illustrates the move from milk carried in individual milk churns in a milk traffic van to bulk milk. It also illustrates the firm's conviction to make the latest advances in British railway rolling stock for children thereby adding considerable contemporary realism to layouts. The Hornby toy trains and accessories made by Meccano Ltd are a microcosm of railway social and technological history in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century.
Marsh, Hugo, Miller's Toys & Games Antiques Checklist, Reed International Books Limited, London, 1995
Margaret Simpson, 14 August, 2007
In March 1929 Meccano Ltd's popular boy's hobby magazine "Meccano Magazine", devoted to both Hornby trains and Meccano construction toys, reported that the firm would be making a model of a glass-line milk tank wagon and coloured in accordance with the full-size United Dairies railway wagons then in operation in Britain. Design of the Hornby wagon began in August 1928 and it was first catalogued in 1929. This wagon was complex and expensive to produce and cost 5s 6d at the time.
The first Hornby milk tank wagons featured the open axel guard base and were painted in blue-grey with a white tank but in 1931 this changed to a white tank and blue vase with closed in axle guard. The colour changed to a lighter blue in 1933 and from 1934 the ladder was fixed directly to the central inlet. Another later change was the removal of the end drain cocks. The United Dairies milk tank wagon appears to have finished in about 1937 and replaced by the Nestlé's milk tank wagon introduced in 1936.
Graebe, Chris and Julie, The Hornby Gauge 0 System, New Cavendish Books, London, 2002
This toy railway milk tank wagon 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.