Last month I penned a few lines about the enduring and collectible die cast model motor vehicles produced by Meccano Limited under the Dinky imprimatur. This I threatened to follow up with an article about the die cast model aircraft the firm also made from the 1930s.
I was given my first example as a Christmas present from an aunt – of which in those days I had Bertie Woosterish quantities – in the shape of a model 73c Vickers Viking, a rather portly looking twin engined medium airliner. I had just been taken to see (and had been enthralled by) a film called The Night my Number Came up, about an aircraft or similar size, (actually a Douglas DC3) getting lost and crashing onto a Himalayan mountain valley, so the dear old Viking had to go through a good few re-enactments with its nine year old owner.
The other attraction, as I got older, was that before the war, Dinky produced models of types that were virtually extinct, even in the 1950s, and which I deemed much more worthy of acquisition than a modern (then!) boxed 734 Supermarine Swift (about £20/25 with box) or 70a Avro York (about £15-20 unboxed). My interest was quickened when, in 1954 we moved to a house not so very far from Croydon airport, then used exclusively for club flying and where numerous pre-war types could be spotted pottering across the sky from our garden. My first pre-war acquisition was a nice blue 62k Airspeed Envoy – modelled on the King’s personal transport (about £350 retail in box, but £40-50 unboxed and played with, like mine), and things continued, via pocket money and visits to junk shops, until I was sent away to school at ten and finally nose-dived (if you will forgive the pun) when I transferred schools at thirteen.
My most prized possession was a Dinky model 63a/b Mayo Composite – essentially an Empire flying boat called Maia which carried a small mail carrying floatplane called Mercury on its back, and which in real life took off from its host when the latter had to stop for re-fuelling. Being long deleted by Dinky, I found the bottom part second hand but had to wait eighteen months before a rather strange general store in Tain, in the far North of Scotland (where we were staying with friends), astoundingly happened to have Mercury, new, and left unbought on an obscure shelf for twenty years! I have no idea how it became parted from its other half, as both came together in a blue box.
The whole thing boxed would set you back £350-450 today, and even without box, like mine, £80-120. Yet one autumn day a year or so later I couldn’t find it, and hunted high and low for this prized possession, including every inch of our fairly large garden; my mother thought I’d developed an unhealthy interest in horticulture! Some years later it emerged that mama, who each year sent toys to the local orphanage, had found it in an unlikely place, assumed whilst I was away at school, that I had tired of it, and consigned it to the orphans. One I particularly loved was the DH 91 Albatross, a pre-war wooden four-engined airliner of great beauty which I had never seen in the flesh (none survived the war) and managed to acquire in blue, along with a DH88 Comet racer in silver.
The series began in 1934 and ran through the war to some extent, some of the military types being dubbed ‘two seat fighter’ and ‘heavy bomber’ to confuse enemy spies. A Messerschmitt 110, masquerading as ‘twin engine fighter’ with props missing went through a general sale at Bamfords for £10 recently. My model 62a Spitfire was boxed and sold specially to raise money for the wartime Spitfire fund – not to be confused with a much more authentic looking Spitfire which was issued as a revival in the later 1970s. By the time I got mine (having been born a little too late) there was no box – not that I’d have kept it! The last models were issued around 1973 with no. 731, a Jaguar fighter with – unheard of in a Dinky – a retractable undercarriage (mint in box about £40).
The most expensive examples which I have come across include an Avro Vulcan estimated at £500-700 and a pre-war model 60e Dewoitine D.500 open cockpit fighter (one of the range only sold in France) good condition but no box, a snip at £600. Coming closer to our times, even a 1960s Sud Caravelle in Air France livery is likely to set you back £120.
Buying in auction would be the best bet for anyone intending to collect these miniature masterpieces in decent condition. For instance, a second issue Dinky 60 set of six was sold for £800 against an estimate of £1,000 to 1,300, for which you got, in pristine condition, a 60a Armstrong Whitworth Argosy (coyly called ‘Imperial Airways airliner’), 60b DH 85 Leopard Moth, 60c Percival Gull, 60d ‘Low wing Monoplane’ (a Boeing P-26?), 60e General Aircraft Monospar and 60f Cierva C.30 autogiro – all rare and early examples, and no metal fatigue, no knocks, about £130 per plane, which is actually not bad for any of these.
Likewise, a box of mixed period (including ‘revival’ (post 1973) ones, all well played with, sold at Bamfords recently for £22. Indeed, Spitfires and Hurricanes in silver rather than camouflage and small post war fighters like Gloster Meteor IIIs and P-33 Shooting Stars (which lacked the fragile red tin propellors of the former pair) can be had almost for pence if you look around. And the attraction is that you get some completely forgotten aircraft types, like the Bristol 173 twin rotor helicopter of 1952 (£30-40), which never really got into serious production, perhaps because on its initial flight on 3 January 1952, it was found it tended to fly backwards!
After 1973 the firm, taken over as described last month, made more modern types with glazed cockpits/windows, retractable undercarriages and other refinements. They also produced Thunderbirds craft and other TV spin-offs. To me, they are less interesting but, with their (often elaborate) boxes, they can still set you back a few bob, nevertheless!