NotesIn 1931 Frank Hornby, the inventor of Meccano and manufacturer of Hornby Trains, introduced a range of pressure lead die-cast figures as accessories for his Hornby 0-gauge train layouts. These were initially called 'Modelled Miniatures No.1' and included six station staff. The next step was to add a range of pocket-sized vehicles and the first appeared in December 1933. This pre-Second World War range of vehicles was released in a numbered series beginning with the 22 series, a boxed set of six vehicles comprising a sports car, sports coupe, truck, delivery van, tractor and tank. Later, each model was allocated an alphabetical suffix e.g. 22a for the Open Sports Cars and were in a scale of 1:43.
In April 1934, the line had acquired the name 'Dinky Toys'. The name is believed to have been suggested by a young friend of one of Frank Hornby's daughters and is probably a diminutive of the Scottish word 'dink', meaning neat or fine. In December 1934 Hornby's "Meccano Magazine" published an article entitled 'Collecting Meccano Dinky Toys: a New and Fascinating Hobby'. The popularity of Dinky toy collecting had begun. Whole series and fleets were made and new models eagerly awaited by collectors while displays and dioramas were suggested in magazines, leaflets and catalogues.
It was not long before lead was replaced with injection-moulded die-cast Mazac (called Zamak in the United States), a magnesium and zinc alloy. The alloy comprised 96 percent zinc with smaller quantities of aluminium, copper and magnesium. Unfortunately, many of the pre-War Mazak toys now suffer from metal fatigue, which is inter-crystalline corrosion, due to poor ingredient control. This condition sees the metal expand, distort and eventually crack and break into many small pieces. After the War the use of zinc in children's toys was prohibited.
The die-casting process at Meccano's Binns Road factory in Liverpool involved forcing molten metal into an accurate die or mould. When the metal cooled and solidified the resulting casting was trimmed, cleaned, enamelled and painted. Exact dies were expensive to produce, but once in production large numbers of toys could be made and the unit cost decreased greatly. The toys were painted in bright and often unrealistic colours with the chassis featuring the names 'Dinky Toys' or 'Meccano Ltd' or sometimes the model name and number as well or instead.
Production of Dinky vehicles began more or less simultaneously in Liverpool and Meccano's French factory in Bobigny. However once France was occupied by Germany in 1940, the French Dinky factory produced work for the German firm, Marklin.
The easiest way to describe the Dinky pre-War production is in order of their series numbers although each series was not actually introduced chronologically. The 22 Series of 1933 was followed by the 23 series in 1934, a colourful range of racing cars with names such as 'Speed of the Wind' and 'Thunderbolt' that continued until 1953. The 24 series comprised seven cars and an ambulance while commercial vehicles including a fire engine formed the 25 series which lasted until 1954. Meccano set up a factory in France which produced French versions of the Dinky sets Nos 22 to 25.
The 26 series was a one-off railcar and 27 was a tram. The 28 series of small delivery vans developed into a group of some 75 vans with charming van-side advertising including 'Fry's Hovis', 'Seccotine', and 'Wakefield Oil'. Some of these names also featured on Hornby's private owner railway wagons and trucks. The 29 series of buses were very popular with children. The series numbers 23 to 29 had all commenced production in 1934.
In June 1935 the series 30 began with four cars, a Chrysler Airflow saloon, Rolls Royce, Daimler and Vauxhall. These were the first to be introduced with the likenesses of specific automobile models. This series changed to commercial vehicles and developed into a large range. The series 31 was the one-off Holland Coachcraft van and No. 32 was a Chrysler Airflow, a four door streamlined American car. Articulated vans, mainly in the liveries of railway companies, comprised the 33 series while the 34 series was the Air Service car.
The 35 series began in 1936 with the small Dublo 1:72 scale cars to go with 00-gauge railway layouts. In 1938 an important range of six luxury British cars and a taxi, by then with drivers, formed the 36 series, and motorcycles the 37 series.
Just before the Second World War began the series 38 group of six British open sports cars appeared, followed by the series 39 comprising six American saloon cars.
The series 42, 43 and 44 were sets representing the police, Royal Automobile Club and Automobile Association respectively, with figures and huts, and appeared in 1935 or 1936. The series 45 to 49 were motoring accessories including a garage, road signs, a service station and petrol pumps and the series 50 and onwards were devoted to ships in the 1:1800 scale. Aircraft came in at series 60 and onwards with some 40 different models produced. An early set of six comprised a Percival Gull, Cierva Autogiro, DH 'Leopard Moth', Imperial Airways Liner, Low Wing Monoplane, and a General Monospar. The aircraft range was very popular as they mirrored the development of aviation. The series 61 included five RAF aircraft, a Singapore flying boat, two Fairey 'Battle' Bombers and two Gloster 'Gladiator' Biplanes; the series 62 was an Armstrong Whitworth Ensign airliner and the 63 the curious Mayo Composite aircraft.
Dinky Toys also made dolls' houses complete with the furniture which was numbered from 100 in the series. From 1937 war toys, including tanks, transport wagons and anti-aircraft guns, were allocated the series of numbers 150 to 160. By the time the War was in full swing only a handful of military-style toys were being produced and released in 1940 and 1941 before Meccano's Liverpool factory ceased toy production altogether for the duration.
Cooke, David, "Dinky Toys", Shire Publications Ltd, Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England, 1999.
Opie, James (ed) "The Collector's Guide to 20th-Century Toys", Bracken Books, London, 1995.
MadeMeccano Ltd 1935-1942