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Rare Early Hornby Train Set Comes to Auction in Hornby's Centenary Year

5th March 2020.

One hundred years after the famed model railway brand Hornby was born, a rare example of its first model train is being auctioned in Tennants Auctioneers’ Toys, Models and Collectables Sale on 10th June, with an estimate of £400-600 (plus buyer’s premium).

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 they 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’.

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The model soon to be auctioned is a rare example of one of these first Hornby train sets. Specialist Kegan Harrison says of the set: ‘It really is in fantastic, original condition. The clockwork key is still in its packet, and the original packing slip, which is dated 11-20, is still with the box. I have never seen an example like this’.

The O-Gauge maroon locomotive is accompanied by a tender and an open wagon, as well as lengths of metal track. The locomotive has ‘MLtdL’ (Meccano Limited Liverpool) decals to sides and ‘Hornby’ stamped on the front.  The wagon is marked MR (Midland Railway) one of the railway companies operating in the UK before the ‘Big Four’ companies (London North East Railway, London, Midland and Scottish, Great Western Railway and Southern Railway)  were created in 1923.


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