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A Rare Example of Hornby’s First Model Train

7th April 2021.

A rare example of Hornby’s first model train is being auctioned in Tennants Auctioneers’ Toys, Models and Collectables Sale on 16th April, with an estimate of £600-900 (plus buyer’s premium). This example is the Great North Train Set and was made in 1920 or 1921.

In 1901, Frank Hornby, a clerk from Liverpool, founded Meccano Company selling construction kits that taught children the basic principles of mechanical engineering. One of the most popular projects was to make trains, and gradually Meccano began to produce specific train parts, such as chimneys and boilers, to make the Meccano models more realistic, although they were still rather crude.

In 1920 the Meccano Company released a pre-constructed clockwork train set, with much more realistic and accurate parts, which was sold for the first time under a new brand name – Hornby. The model was made with the typical Meccano nut and bolt construction, and the box claimed that the train was built of standardised parts to allow for modification; however, the parts only interchanged with identical parts, albeit in different colours. Subsequent trainsets released by Hornby saw a switch to the ‘slot and tab’ method of construction, employed by other companies on model trains and tin toys, and Hornby no longer sold their trains as ‘kits’.

Also on offer in the sale is Marklin For Bassett-Lowke O Gauge 4-6-0 LMS 5573 Locomotive in red livery (estimate: £700-1,000), and a Scratch/Kit Built 3 1/2" Gauge Live Steam 0-6-0T Locomotive Rob Roy painted with black and red undercoat (estimate: £300-400).  A letter signed by Muhammad Ali to a ‘David’, which relates to an advertising campaign for Birds Eye Quarter Pounder Burgers that Ali starred in in the 1980s is on offer with an estimate of £200-300. The letter, which is written on yellow paper contains a verse by Ali which reads ‘To fly like a butterfly/And sting like a bee/ Sell Quarter Pounders/And be a Champ like me.’


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