Pre-war and wartime 1924 - 1941
Hornby Trains was established in 1920 and in 1923 a range of tinplate accessories (station items, ticket machines, luggage, milk churns etc.) was launched and then the whole Hornby range was branded Hornby Series around 1924. In 1931 (in fact following the lead from the French factory) a range of hollow-cast and, later, diecast toys was introduced to meet a demand for figures to populate train sets and provide a greater range of accessories. Set 1 or Hornby Series Modelled Miniatures was announced in the UK in 1931, this was a set of Station Staff. These were followed in early 1932 with other sets of figures; Farmyard Aninals, Passengers, Engineering Staff and Hotel and Train Staff. In 1932 and 1933 the range was extended and towards the end of 1933 the Modelled Miniatures consisted of accessory figures to go with Hornby O gauge Railways and a series of smaller trains on simple wheels for the junior customer not yet old enough for the full-sized O gauge train sets. These did not need tracks and were initially at least cast in lead alloy.
1933 saw the turning point when, following from a lead taken by Tootsie Toys in the USA, Meccano Limited added the 22 Series of 6 vehicles. These were also initially sold as Modelled Miniatures. These were the initial cars in the range that was to become Dinky Toys. The exact date is uncertain but mock ups were seen Meccano Magazine as early as April 1933, and various references to them exist predating the announcement in Meccano Magazine of the series in December 1933.
Evidently these were popular and seem to be the trigger to have a re-launch of the range in April 1934, were the whole range was rebranded Meccano Dinky Toys. This branding lasted until 1935 when the brand was shortened to Dinky Toys.
1934 saw an explosion in the range, new series of cars, vans etc. and a new set of figures, the Set 6 Shepherd Set. By October 1934 Meccano were advertising 150 Varieties of Dinky Toys, by June 1935 200 Varieties, By August 1936, 250 varieties and finally in April 1938 300 varieties.
The range grew to include many vehicles, aeroplanes, ships and in 1936 a Dinky Toys Series for girls was introduced the Dolly Varden Dolls' House, with four rooms of diecast furniture to fill the rooms. The Dolls' House was made of leather board and very few have survived.
The furniture is also hard to find as Dinky Toys had switched most of the production to a zinc/aluminium alloy Mazac (or Zamac in the US). This alloy provides a better and more detailed casting than was possible with the lead alloy but also relies on accurate proportions of the metal elements to maintain stability. Unfortunately poor quality control in the foundry and metal shortages in the war years caused impurities to be present in many batches of the alloy. Even small proportions of impurities have lead to the development of inter-granular corrosion particularly when the toys are exposed to humid conditions. This is commonly referred to as "metal fatigue". It is not truly fatigue but an effect of the realignment of crystals in the metal matrix causing various nasty effects, blistering, cracking, growth and eventual disintegration. This affects many pre-war Dinky Toys and those made during the war, many military sets for example, suffered badly.
Pre-war items are scarce not only because of the damage caused by “fatigue” but also because many were scrapped for the war effort.
Production of Dinky Toys ceased in 1941 and the factory at Binns Road was given over to war production. In 1942 Meccano was prohibited from selling items that were still in stock.
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