04/02/2019
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Dinky: Best of British

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The first Dinky Toys you ever owned as a child are usually the ones that you grow up with the fondest memories of. My first Dinky Toys arrived courtesy of my uncle Philip who pulled on his first pair of drainpipe trousers and became a Teddy Boy in 1958. Deciding this was the time to offload all his Dinky Toys and Hornby model railway equipment to his young nephew (me) I inherited a box full of goodies. They included a few battered Foden eight wheelers, a dozen or more cars and a couple of Guy lorries most of which were eventually repainted with Airfix paints! Oh dear what did I do? Can I ever be forgiven? 

For the remainder of my younger years I accepted the fact that second hand Dinkies was to be my lot, most of them being bought at the local village jumble sales to which I was regularly dragged to by my mother. Come rain or shine (it seemed mostly rain!) off we went, standing outside that village hall for what seemed an eternity and enduring the mad crush, as all those old ladies piled in to grab the bargains… it was a sight to behold. The only highlight of this Saturday afternoon ritual was the toy table that always gleaned an interesting array of previously loved recently discarded diecasts. It was just a question of how many I could lay my hands on for the one shilling (5p) pocket money that my dad gave me every Saturday morning. No doubt I unknowingly ignored the real gems on those tables, selecting instead the 1960s tractors, sports cars and military vehicles, while ignoring the more old fashioned looking offerings from my uncle’s late 1940s era. Nobody thought any of these toys would ever be worth anything back in the 1960s – they were simply playthings.

By this time the word Dinky had become synonymous with small metal toys in the same way that all vacuum cleaners were called Hoovers. ‘He’s playing with his Dinkies’ simply meant that you were playing with your toys – whatever make they happened to be! I loved my second hand Dinkies and only ever had a handful of brand new ones due to the high cost compared to cheaper offerings from Benbros, Crescent, Lone Star and the likes. But Dinky Toys were the best and how I used to drool over the latest new arrivals displayed tantalisingly in the toy shop window, wondering if I would ever get chance to own any of them myself? The chances were always slim but I never gave up hope.

It was the arrival of swapmeets in the 1970s that really gave secret toy lovers like me the chance to realise some of those lost childhood dreams. The first swapmeets held in Britain were truly amazing events as anyone in their late fifties and over will verify. You simply never knew what would be brought into the hall in those days. Thousands of Dinky Toys still lay undiscovered in the dusty stockrooms of shops, while others had long since been consigned to dark attics where they were re-discovered by their owners, many with children of their own, often bemused by the fact that these old toys had suddenly become collectors’ items.

I attended my first swapmeet around forty years ago at a small village hall in the midlands on a wet and windy November night. Until then I’d been a secret Dinky collector lurking around street corner junk shops in search of those toys you never had as a kid but still so desperately wanted as an adult. It was not the type of thing you bragged about in those days though as it wasn’t as cool as collecting records, coins, stamps or football programmes, which is what most lads did then. But that first swapmeet gave me a completely new outlook on toy collecting and the realisation that I was not the only one interested in the subject came as quite relief... I was normal after all and there were actually a few model clubs dotted around the country, I later discovered. I remember having five pounds to spend that evening which bought a bag full of unboxed Dinky Supertoys in nice condition priced between 50p and £1.00 each. Good boxed examples were available for less than a fiver a throw so over the next few years I built up a great collection for sums of money that a young student could afford. Yes, those certainly were the days!

With the advent of swapmeets and the earlier publication of Cecil Gibson’s excellent book ‘The History of British Dinky Toys’ toy collecting became an accepted and recognised hobby. Dinky Toys were still on sale in toy shops in those days, of course, and I remember stock piling quite a few of the last examples when it was announced that the famous Binns Road factory in Liverpool was to close its gates for the last time in 1979.

It was the end of an era which had begun back in 1933 when Frank Hornby released that first small boxed set of six diecast vehicles designed primarily to compliment Hornby’s huge range of O gauge railway equipment. These toys are known as the 22 series and were initially marketed under the name ‘Modelled Miniatures’ and ‘Meccano Miniatures’ prior to the change to the more catchy ‘DINKY TOYS’. The adjective “Dinky” originated in Scotland and is described in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as ‘pretty, neat and of engaging appearance’ which seemed to suit them perfectly.

Advertised within the pages of Meccano Magazine the first Modelled Miniatures sold well so the range was extended to include more cars vans, trucks and a range of ships. By the time the first Dinky Toys colour catalogue was published in 1934 the range had grown to 150 models. Sadly Frank Hornby never lived to see Dinky Toys reach to the height of their popularity as he died in 1936.

The outbreak of the Second World War eventually brought production to an end with the last Dinky models being made in 1941. By then Dinky had cleverly launched the hugely popular ‘Mechanised Army’ sets which quickly caught the imagination of small boys excited by all the military activity during the build up to the war. Shops were still allowed to sell their existing stocks of Dinky Toys until 1943 when a total ban on metal sales finally came into force. The Binns Road factory was then turned over to war duties until toy making resumed in 1945.

This post-war era saw Dinky enter its halcyon years with the launch of the Supertoys range in August 1947. These larger more detailed models with terrific play value and individual boxes, sent Dinky soaring to the top of the toy league where it remained for the next decade or so.

By the end of the 1950s, however, Dinky had a dangerous rival to contend with. Corgi Toys had been launched by Mettoy Playcraft Ltd in 1956 and the kids were going mad for them. Corgi brought in new innovations such as independent suspension, moving parts and real windows and it was equally slick when it came to packaging and advertising its attractive new models too. Suddenly Dinky Toys began to look a bit dated and Meccano had to work hard to keep up with Corgi. Dinky Toys passed into the ownership of Lines Brothers in 1964 and when it hit financial trouble the brand was sold to Airfix who despite trading difficulties, continued to release some excellent Dinky models until its final demise in the late 1970s. Those of us who grew up with Dinky Toys will never forget what wonderful playthings they were.

Dinky attic find makes the headlines

Dinky Toys made national news in 1996 when a boxed set of 24 series pre-war motor cars was discovered in the attic of a house in Scotland after the new owners moved in. The boxed set of seven 24 series Motor Cars and a truck (which replaced an ambulance) dated from 1934 and were in excellent condition having been stored inside a large tin trunk. What a find they turned out to be, making a massive £7,250 when sold by Vectis at The Civic Hall, Guildford. Amazing when you consider their original price was only 3/11d.

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