When we asked our blog readers what topics they’d like to have more posts on, a number of you asked for Matchbox. So, in response, I’ll post a series on die-cast toy cars. I thought I’d start the toy car story off a bit earlier than Matchbox with the famous pre-War Dinky Toys.
In 1933, Frank Hornby, who incidentally invented Meccano and made Hornby Trains, introduced toy cars to go with his 0-gauge toy railways. The first set, the 22 series, appeared in 1933 under the name ‘Modelled Miniatures’, but from 1934 they were called Dinky Toys. The word dinky means ‘neat, trim, dainty’. In the same year a large range of vehicles, aeroplanes and ships were manufactured and by Christmas 1934 there were over 100 items.
As with all Hornby toy production, the toy vehicles were linked to an ingenious marketing campaign and ‘collecting Meccano Dinky Toys’ was advertised in the ‘Meccano Magazine’ as the new hobby for boys. By 1938 there were over 300 toys in the range.
These realistic toys, depicting transport seen on British roads, on the ocean and in the air, were enthusiastically embraced throughout Britain and the Empire. They were relatively inexpensive to buy and could be easily collected. In only 5 years they went from being accessories for railway layouts to being collectable in their own right.
Many Dinky Toys were destroyed or discarded during the Second World War, in part due to the British Government encouraging children to recycle their metal toys for the War effort, to produce aircraft and tanks. We have a small collection of pre-War Dinky Toys which escaped that fate, owned by a boy in Tasmania in the 1930s, far away from the conflict. Dinky Toys heralded the later post-War explosion of die-cast Matchbox, Corgi and, later, Hot Wheels toy vehicles.
My favourite Dinky products from the 1930s are the streamlined Holland Coachcraft bus made between 1936 and 1940 and the racing car based on an MG Magnette complete with silencer and boat tail rear body work. I also can’t go past the Autogiro, a forerunner of the helicopter, mainly because we have a rare, full-size Autogiro on display in the Museum.
Between 1931 and the brand’s demise in 1980, over one thousand different Dinky models were produced in the UK (excluding variations and the models made in other countries). They included cars, vans, trucks, buses, trains, military and farm vehicles, aircraft, ships and figures. The company established factories in France, Germany, Canada and other parts of the world.
As far as post-War Dinky cars go, I like this Triumph TR2 sports car, produced in the 1950s in the 100 series which included other great British marques, including the MG Midget, Bristol 450, Austin Healey, Aston Martin and Sunbeam Alpine.
Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator