NEW YORK — Dinky Toys are a beloved collectible that were first produced in 1933 by Frank Hornby of Hornby Railways, a British maker of model electric trains. These die-cast zinc cars and vehicles were first known as Hornby Modelled Miniatures and were designed as accessories to the company’s O gauge train line.
In April 1934, they were called Meccano Dinky Toys, but the word Meccano was dropped a year later and the popular Dinky Toys brand continued production until 1971. The Dinky name was also applied to metal builder sets that children could use to make buildings and vehicles. Reportedly, the name’s origin stems from the Scottish word “dinky,” which means neat, dainty or fine.
Dinky toy cars and vehicles were produced in both England and in France, and serious collectors not only look for individual examples of rare models but also sets in their original boxes. Some collect by the brand, type or era of cars while others look for toy cars of only British or French manufacture. And while some collectors may beg to differ, toys should either be played with or bought to be collected — rarely can one have it both ways. The better the condition a Dinky car is in, the higher its value as a collectible. Keeping the original boxes the toys came in increases their value.
Most auctions of Dinky Toys feature groupings of cars sold together that average from a few hundred to a thousand dollars. Less common examples are typically sold individually and can bring several thousand dollars apiece.
As with model trains, Dinky Toys made before World War II are highly desirable. A top-selling example was a circa-1935 Dinky No. 28/2 trade box (A1009), which achieved $11,505 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2019 at M&M Auctions. The trade box includes six Type 2 delivery vans in a rainbow of colors, advertising companies such as Kodak, Crawford’s Biscuits and Dunlop Tires. Having been stored in its box for many years, the set showed some minor distortion on the tires but the paint and graphics were bright with minimal crazing.
Another example of a prewar Dinky toy selling well is a circa 1934-1935 dark green Marsh’s Sausages van that realized $2,700 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020 at Lloyd Ralston Gallery.
While the range of Dinky toy vehicles included more than 1,000 examples of aircraft, ships, military vehicles, trucks and buses, cars were its bread and butter, and the company produced many models and variations in both its English and French factories. A No. 4 set of racing cars made in England featured an Alfa Romeo, a Maserati, Ferrari, a Cooper-Bristol and an H.W.M. An example of this set that retained its original box and had all its rider figures intact sold for $1,298 plus the buyer’s premium at Antico Mondo Auktionen in March 2018. Among the most popular Dinky models were the 38 series of sporting cars and its 39 series of American cars before World War II.
The science of making die-cast toys had come into its own by the 1930s, having been developed during World War I so petite and clear details could be put on small tinplate toys such as Dinky cars. Meccano made many examples of vehicles but also created variations within a particular model. Veteran collectors will look for fine casting detail and differences in color and wheel variations that separate a standard model from unusual issues. A notable example is a Dinky No. 923 Big Bedford Heinz 57 Varieties Sauce bottle delivery van having a red body and chassis with a yellow back and also Supertoy hubs with gray tires and silver trim. One that came with its original box earned $911 plus the buyer’s premium at M&M Auctions in October 2021.
Likely the most fun for children were the sets with multiple cars, which allowed for more play opportunities, Naturally, these are also of interest to collectors, too. A Dinky Supertoys Pullmore car transporter with four cars, gift set 990, offered with its original box sold for $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021 at Matthew Bullock Auctioneers.
Given the large number of models and variations of Dinkys out there, it would be almost impossible to collect them all in a lifetime. Luckily, that also means Dinky Toys deliver enough variety to make it easy and fun to begin a collection, whether it is small and highly curated or large and expansive.