Category Archives: Dinky Toys

Dinky Toys and H. Hudson Dobson (1891-1975) – Part II

By Terry Hardgrave

Continued from Part I.

Timeline

Henry and Helen Dobson lived out their remaining years in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with Helen passing away in September, 1967, followed by Henry Dobson in September 1975, and thus the end of a long era. Henry Hudson Dobson’s long association with Meccano stretched for nearly 47 years. I also noted that on one of the U.S. Census forms, it asked when he immigrated to the U.S. He answered in 1913…..the same year that Meccano set up an office in the U.S. So here is my overall assumption and summary of his career with Meccano Ltd.:

1913 He is hired by Meccano Ltd. on the pretense of agreeing to immigrate to the U.S. to open up and run an import office, which will be located in New York City. He apparently lives in New York until around 1921, when he relocates, with his family, to Elizabeth, New Jersey.

1917 Henry Dobson enlists in the Royal Flying Corps, in Toronto, Canada, on October 2, 1917

1918 Henry Dobson is discharged from the Royal Flying Corps, to accept a temporary commission in the Royal Air Force, on May 22, 1918. No other information, but WWI is over on November 11, 1918, so would assume he left the service around that time.

1922 Meccano Ltd. has decided to open up an manufacturing facility in the United States for the purpose of fabricating Meccano Construction sets, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Why New Jersey we do not know, as their office was in New York. By then, Henry is married and has started his family, and he has already moved to New Jersey and is involved in the operation there.

1928 Meccano Ltd. made a decision to sell or transfer the U.S. rights to the Meccano sets to the A.C. Gilbert Company, and abandons making the product in the U.S. Henry Dobson has a family to support, so shortly after finds employment as President of the Fleuron Pottery company, in North Tonawanda, New York. It is possible that he is still representing Meccano Ltd. in some lesser capacity.

1931 Henry Dobson applies for Naturalization, in New York, in 1931.

1933 Henry Dobson and his family leave North Tonawanda, New York, and return to Elizabeth, New Jersey, presumably to return working fulltime for Meccano Ltd., who are ready to introduce a new line of toys (Modelled Miniatures, and shortly later, Dinky Toys)

1935 Meccano Ltd. introduces Dinky Toys and they already have an office in New York City, called the Meccano Company of America, Inc. At least by 1933, H. Hudson Dobson has been back working for them, in the office in New York City, which is now importing the new toy lines. In 1937 he sails once again to England to meet with Meccano staff.

1938 or earlier. A decision has been made for Henry Dobson to form the H. Hudson Dobson Company, for the express purpose of being the sole U.S. distributor for Meccano Ltd. and Dinky Toys. It is not clear if Henry Dobson financed this venture himself, or if Meccano Ltd. owned a piece of it. Having a separate import agent will likely allow Meccano a wider distribution of Dinky Toys throughout the U.S. and also with someone who understand the retail marketing there. At some point in time, I am guessing after WWII, H. Hudson Dobson became a corporation.

1941-1945 During these war years, Meccano Ltd., and virtually all other toy manufacturers cease production, and instead, help with producing items vital for the war effort. There will be few toys to even sell. We have no idea what H. Hudson Dobson does during this time frame, or what his ongoing relationship with Meccano Ltd. consisted of.

1938 (or earlier)-1950 H. Hudson Dobson, Inc., is located in New York, New York.

1951-1952 H. Hudson Dobson, Inc., is located in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

1953-1960 H. Hudson Dobson, Inc. is located in Kenilworth, New Jersey.

1946-1959 The post war years were generally very good ones for Meccano Ltd. and H. Hudson Dobson, with sales particularly very good in the mid-1950’s. But by 1959, the market has changed considerably, with increased competition from many other toy manufacturers and Meccano is increasingly unable to adapt, and their market share and profit drops dramatically. Some toy stores in the U.S. are not selling Dinky Toys any longer and selling off their existing stock. Henry Hudson Dobson is now 68 years old, and his Dinky Toys importing business has fallen off the last two years. He sails to Liverpool one last time in January, to discuss winding down his affairs with Meccano Ltd. This will be the last year he is listed on the U.S. catalog, and my last piece of correspondence with H. Hudson Dobson is dated May, 1960.

So it appears that sometime in the latter part of 1960 his business relationship with Meccano Ltd. ends, and H. Hudson Dobson, Inc. ceases to exist.

Some Final Thoughts

The big surprise to me, at least, is that apparently he worked for or had an association with Meccano Ltd. for well over twenty years before Dinky Toys were even introduced. He also made fourteen trips by ship and one by airplane, to England, during his lifetime. I do not think many people in the Dinky Toys community had any knowledge of these facts.

Very telling is that Henry Dobson does not make any trips from New York to Liverpool between 1926 and 1937. This is a strong indication that after the Meccano operation closed in New Jersey, he had at best a minimal position with Meccano, and had to augment his income by working elsewhere from 1928 until 1933.

In addition to researching Henry Dobson, I also decided to take another look at the founder of Meccano Ltd., Frank Hornby. In doing so, I was astounded to discover that he also made many sailing trips to New York, starting in 1912 with the last being in 1930. There was another trip scheduled for 1935, but was cancelled, I am sure due to ill health, as he died shortly after. In all, Frank Hornby made sixteen trips to New York, mostly by himself, with his wife on a few, and son Roland on only one.

In preparing this, I was able to track down a descendent of Henry Dobson, a grand nephew, living in the U.S. He and others of his age knew of Henry Dobson and had visited at his home in New Jersey as a child, but knew nothing of the business, other than he had imported Dinky Toys. Sadly, only the one picture of him remains. Henry’s oldest son, Henry Hudson Dobson Jr., appears to have worked in some capacity in his father’s company, from 1951-1960, and later moved to Texas, where he died in 1999. The younger son, James Dobson, was listed in a New Jersey directory in the 1950’s as a salesman for H. Hudson Dobson, Inc. He died in 1975, and did not appear to be much of a factor in the business. Sadly, none of Henry Dobson’s three children are living to help uncover more of this story.

Most of this, the timeline portion, is based on known facts, but what exactly happened and why is based on assumptions that make sense to me. It would be great if others have facts or information to either add to or refute what I have found. Other catalog references or pre-war boxes that can add information to this are most welcome. The Dinky Toys or Meccano archives in Liverpool would be wonderful to research to see if there is any mention of H. Hudson Dobson and his role with Meccano. For a man who spent most of his life associated with the company, there is precious little left to share.

Sources and Acknowledgments

Ancestry.com U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2005

Ancestry.com 1920 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2012

Ancestry.com 1930 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2012

Ancestry.com 1940 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2012

Ancestry.com New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1960. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2010

Ancestry.com 1911 England Census. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011

Ancestry.com U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011

Ancestry.com U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011

usmecanno.com website titled “Meccano in the United States”

Dinky Toys catalogs and original H. Hudson Dobson correspondence from the personal collection of Terry Hardgrave

Fold3.com U.K., Royal Air Force Airmen Records 1918-1940

Fold3.com New York Western-Naturalization Index

Several newspaper clippings discovered on the internet, by Skip Johnson and myself, related to Henry Hudson Dobson……thanks for any and all contributions.


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Dinky Toys and H. Hudson Dobson (1891-1975) – Part I

By Terry Hardgrave

Most American boys who collected Dinky Toys in the 1950’s had seen the name H. Hudson Dobson Inc., either on the front of catalogs, or printed on the side of Dinky Toys boxes. Many probably just assumed that was the name of a company, without any regard of who H. Hudson Dobson really was. There are two H. Hudson Dobson’s…..the company, last located in Kenilworth, New Jersey, and the man it was founded and named for……also H. Hudson Dobson.

Trying to find out much about either the company or the man is somewhat difficult, both due to the passage of time, but also just the fact that scant information survives. For someone who had a history with the parent company, Meccano Ltd., of Liverpool, England, for about 40 years, it is both odd and strange almost nothing of him is even mentioned in books written about Dinky Toys, leaving us to piece together the history from extant records and documents that survive.

From England to New Jersey

Henry Hudson Dobson was born on April 9, 1891, in Liverpool, England. His father passed away when he was a young boy, and by the 1911 British Census, he is listed as working as a “ledger clerk” for a photography supplier (likely Eastman Kodak, as was later learned). The very next record of him is arriving on a ship in 1913, in New York City, as a “commercial traveler”. This is followed by another arrival in New York City in Sept. 1914, also listed as a traveler, but with a destination of Chicago. Then, a big break, as in August 1916, he again arrives, but this time his occupation is listed as “Secretary”. I was then left to wonder what “Secretary” meant for a young man?

Then another clue came when in June of 1917, he registered for the U.S. military draft, due to World War I. This document asks for much more specific information on each individual, so now he lists his occupation as “Secretary/Treasurer”, and his employer as “Meccano Incorporated”. So now we know he has been working for Meccano Ltd. since at least 1916, and Secretary or Secretary/Treasurer is normally an officer position within a company…..interesting!

A brief interlude from his employment at Meccano Ltd., was his enlistment in the Royal Flying Corps, in Toronto, Canada, on October 2, 1917. He was then discharged on May 22, 1918, to accept a commission in the Royal Air Force. No other information was found on his service, and World War I ended on November 11, 1918, so would assume he left the service around that time.

In the 1920 U.S. Census, he is listed as living in New York City, single, and working as a “Sales Manager for Toys”. Shortly after this, he marries Helen Fowler, an American born woman, working as a secretary….did he marry someone from their office? Then, in short order, he starts a family, with son Henry Hudson Dobson Jr. born in 1921, followed by daughter Marian Barbara Dobson in 1923, and finally son James Dobson, born in 1935. All of the children were born in New Jersey, so he has moved from New York, to New Jersey by 1921.

Meccano and the Start of Dinky Toys

In the meantime, I have found out that the Meccano Company of America Inc. was formed in 1913, in New York, but not producing anything, just an office and warehouse that also imported Meccano Construction sets (Meccano Construction sets are very similar in design and purpose to the American Erector Sets). Then in 1922, Meccano set up a factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for the express purpose of manufacturing Meccano construction sets in America. So it now appears that H. Hudson Dobson was initially involved with the New York office, then likely was instrumental in setting up and managing the factory in New Jersey, and this also explains his move from New York to New Jersey. Around 1928, Frank Hornby (founder and owner of Meccano Ltd.) made a decision to sell or transfer the American production rights for Meccano to A.C. Gilbert (the American manufacturer of Erector Sets, and later, American Flyer trains), so that plant was not used by Meccano after that, but Gilbert did for some time, then moved his operation to Connecticut.

This likely explains why the 1930 U.S. Census shows H. Hudson Dobson as President of a pottery works named Fleuron Pottery, located in Tonawanda, New York. A newspaper article from North Tonawanda in 1933 states that his family is now moving back to New Jersey, where apparently he is once again either working for or representing Meccano Ltd. During this period from 1928 to 1933, there were no Dinky Toys yet, and Meccano construction sets were no longer being manufactured there, so apparently, he had to temporarily find employment elsewhere. In 1937, he again sails to England, now listed as Toy Manufacturer. Since Dinky Toys were introduced around 1934-1935, it would be natural for him to manage the imports to the U.S.

The first recorded instance of there being an H. Hudson Dobson Co., is in the 1938 Meccano catalog, where that name is shown on the front cover, but my assumption is he was back with Meccano Ltd around 1933, as new products were being rapidly developed, and they would need his services again. So I am also guessing that around that time, he ceased being just an employee of Meccano, and started his distribution company, H. Hudson Dobson, based in New York City. A newspaper article from May, 1939, states that, as a member of the Volunteer Speaker’s Committee of the New York World’s Fair, he will speak before the Rochester Ad Club, his topic “The World’s Fair—Its inner significance”. This article also states that he was educated at Stonyhurst College, in Blackburn, England, and had previous business experience with Eastman Kodak Company in London, and Meccano Ltd. in Liverpool, and had served in the Royal Air Corp in England.

From 1940 through 1959, he will make seven trips by ship and one by airplane, to visit Liverpool, England, presumably to visit Meccano Ltd. and discuss or plan business operations. On one of those trips, in 1956, he took his wife along, but normally he traveled alone, and was gone 4-6 weeks each time. His very last recorded trip to England was in January, 1959, and by then, Meccano was already beginning to experience sales problems with all of their products, including Dinky Toys, Hornby model trains, and the Meccano Construction sets, which ultimately led to their demise only a few years later. At this time, Henry Dobson was about 68 years old, and for those times, an old man indeed. We can only guess that this trip was likely about him winding down his business with Meccano and retiring, but there is no written record of what actually transpired as to closing his business.

There are surviving letters from his firm dated in mid to late 1960, so my guess is that H. Hudson Dobson, Inc., ceased to exist by the end of 1960. Further proof of this is the fact that the 1959 U.S. Dinky Toys catalog was the last one listing him as the distributor. Just a few years later, in 1963, the A.C. Gilbert Company is briefly listed as the new distributor. But we do not really know exactly when the business was closed, or the exact reason. Another newspaper clipping concerning his oldest son, H. Hudson Dobson, Jr., mentions that he “ran” his dad’s company from 1951-1960, which leads one to wonder why this son did not continue the company, even if his father was ready to retire. A possible reason was that H. Hudson Dobson, Inc., with declining Dinky Toys sales, really was not doing that well by the end of 1960, and closing it the only option. One another note, we also do not really know the exact relationship between Henry Dobson and Meccano Ltd. It is very possible that Meccano Ltd. owned part of H. Hudson Dobson, Inc., meaning decisions could have come from Liverpool, England and not just New Jersey.

Please continue reading the rest of the story  in Part II.


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Britain’s Toy Car Wars: A Book Review

By Karl Schnelle

Giles Chapman has written a book on his childhood toy cars combined with a fascinating history of ‘the big three’ in the Golden Era of British Toy Cars. The three British toy car companies are the obvious ones listed on the cover (below), and the Golden Age was the 1960’s, as the author calls it. Mr. Chapman is a well-published author, so he brings a good perspective.

This new book is the same format as his previous books like 100 cars that Britain can be proud of and  My Dad had one of those.  His books are known for a sound coverage of the subjects and some well chosen and presented pictures. Chapman has written over 40 books and is a well known motoring journalist and author in the UK; he has now turned his attention from real cars to model cars.

Britain’s Toy Car Wars might be the first book that tries to tie the big three together in a historical and toy collector context. Many books have been written about the copious output of each company, so do not expect a review of their entire toy car production. I was expecting some side-by-side comparisons and timelines of who did what when, or who came out first with a certain feature and how did the others react. There is some of that, but mostly it is the author’s reminiscing about his childhood toys and then explaining the background of the company that produced them. In fact, many of the nice photos are of play-worn cars, which reinforces the readers’ nostalgia for their childhood.

If you are a specialist collector of Dinky, or Matchbox, or Corgi, then you will get a better understanding of the other two companies.  As a kid, I collected all three and have read a lot about their history since then.  So I did not learn a lot of new information about them, but several interesting facts did pop out from Chapman’s research.

I had realized that Meccano was much older and more conservative in their approach to selling Dinky Toys, but I did not know that Dinkys were sold in only 6000 approved stores while Matchbox and Corgi were everywhere, in more than 20,000 shops.  Chapman portrays Smith and Odell as the ‘young guns’: they disrupted Meccano’s domination with Dinkys by selling pocket toys at a much cheaper price, available all over Britain at the time.

There has been a lot written about Hornby, Smith, and Odell, but this book also includes some history of the people at Mettoy.    Van Cleemput is already well-known and is covered here.  However, I learned a lot about the Ullmann and the Katz families and their involvement with the success of Corgi Toys.  In fact, Giles Chapman wrote Arthur Katz’ obituary for the Independent (1999).

If you would like the read about all three companies and their high-level rivalries, please read this book.  The author writes in a very engaging style and brings both the history and nostalgia into the story.


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More about Plastic Military Models from Politoys

By Robin Godwin

 

My quest to acquire all the Politoys plastic military range has resulted in new information, for me at least. I recently purchased #18, Auto Anfibio (DUKW) from a Mexican vendor. Well actually it’s made by McGregor, that unlikely sounding Mexican company that received many of the old Politoys dies. I’ve never seen a full listing of McGregor production and, until this listing, did not know that the early plastic military dies had also gone to Mexico (even Paolo Rampini does not list them). I don’t have the Politoys version to compare, but the wheels are obviously McGregor originals, and not from Politoys tooling. This is a real shame, as it transforms a reasonably accurate model into a very toylike version, sitting way too high. Usually McGregor added their name to the base and replaced “Made in Italy” with “Hecho en Mexico” but this model has merely had the die ground out a bit to obscure “… in Italy”. It appears also that the die was changed to remove the separately attached spare wheel/tire that was carried on the rear deck of the Politoy. Perhaps the very wide McGregor wheels were unsuitable for this application.

One of the original points in this ongoing series of articles on plastic military vehicles (that started 20 years ago in MAR 109, March 1997) was to compare the Politoys models with the originals from which they were apparently copied. In the very first article, I admitted that I did not know from which original this DUKW had been copied, even though I owned the superb French Dinky #825. A couple of subsequent letters to the editor led to the consensus that it was indeed copied from the French Dinky. But a side-by-side comparison shows that everything about the two models is different (see photos), so I believe this model was not copied from the Dinky, even though release dates are compatible. It should be noted that all the Politoys copies have some subtle differences from the originals (including scale), but these two DUKWs simply do not look to be related. Since these Politoys date from the early 1960s, I’ll have to redouble my search for a contemporary model that may have provided the inspiration.

 

2769 McGregor top, and Dinky bottom. The Politoys spare wheel/tire would have sat at the top rear – another difference from the Dinky

2770 McGregor top, with missing prop at rear. Note die modification to obscure “… in Italy”

2772 French Dinky #825 from 1963. Not, in my opinion, the inspiration for the Politoy

2771 The McGregor. Not sure when this actually dates from, but the Politoy original is thought to have been issued in 1964, as #18 in a series of only 19 vehicles

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Happy New Year 2017… With a Dinky Snow Plough

By Chris Sweetman

Dinky Toys Supertoys 958 Guy Warrior Snow Plough 

Dinky Toys released their Guy Warrior Snow Plough in January 1961 under their Supertoys brand, and it remained in their range until 1966. In the July 1964 catalogue it was in the M Group price category and retailed at 13/- in the UK. Price categories were introduced by Lines Brothers after their take-over of the Meccano Group on Valentine’s Day 1964 to simplify price structure and make it easy for both dealers and customers alike. M could be short for miscellaneous as all models in this group were different prices.

What one got for 13/- was an impressive model complete with windows, an elevating plough unit which raised and lowered by means of two ‘hydraulic’ units and a drop down tailgate on the low-sided rear bed. To provide an indication that this was an emergency or safety vehicle, the model was provided with a blue plastic roof mounted ‘light’ and came in a spectacular colourway of yellow and black, the standard colours of natural warning worn by wasps! The plough unit was available in either black/yellow or silver grey. The former is more the likely version that you can find. Although no scale is quoted in any Dinky Toys catalogues it is likely to be 1:48th scale as this was a popular one for the Supertoys range. Marked on the baseplate: dinky supertoys snow plough made in england meccano ltd.

 

History of the Real Deal

In 1954 Guy entered the heavy vehicle market with the “Invincible” and the “Warrior” appeared in 1957. 1958 saw the introduction of the of the Mark II versions of these vehicles. The “Warrior” was available in either 8 or 10 ton chassis and was suitable for use as a truck, tipper, pantechnicon, and a tractor unit. The cab was a Motor Panels design and the top part could be removed to allow access to the engine and other mechanical units for easier servicing. This cab design was still available on the Otter chassis in 1966 but had been replaced by a modern design for the “Warrior” which featured a wraparound windscreen also made by Motor Panels.

Despite searching the internet and looking at my books, I still haven’t found any images of a Guy Snow Plough.

www.historywebsite.co.uk/Museum/Transport/commercial/Guy/Warrior.htm


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Another Model of the Oak Ridge Quad

By Robin Godwin

Harvey Goranson’s great post on the real Quad Tractor, Trailer and 25-Pounder Gun, with his reference to the Dinky #697 set, reminded me that I recently acquired the plastic Politoys copy of the Dinky model. The Politoys is derived from the Dinky, and appears to be to the exact same scale (Dinky used 1:59 for military vehicles, but Politoys calls these plastic vehicles 1:41 scale, clearly inaccurate). Some modifications are evident in the Politoys versions, most likely concessions with the use of plastic, such as pin and hole/hole couplings (with separate pins that can get lost, or broken, like one of mine) to attach the three pieces together. The pin is actually a friction fit into the “top hole” (see pictures). Dinky used a steel “tongue” and die cast metal hole couplings, which would not have had sufficient strength in plastic. Politoys added some detail, such as bolt head/rivet fasteners on the gun chassis. For some reason other than just using plastic, they also made the Quad Tractor front windows considerably larger, which effectively lowered the hood (bonnet) line. My Politoys Quad has two square metal slugs attached to the inside base of the model, which gives it some heft; they definitely look factory installed, but I don’t know for sure.

My Dinky vehicles are separates; the #688 Quad is a later version than Harvey’s, with interior windows and plastic wheels. The #687 25-Pounder is also a later issue with plastic wheels. The Politoys also comes with wheel variations – a patterned wheel and smooth disc wheels, but I’m not sure which came first. While Dinky sold theirs as a set alongside separate models, the Politoys was only ever sold as a set, #6 in their Veicoli Militari form the early ’60s.

Image 1#1 Same 1:59 Dinky scale evident

Image 2#2 Plastic pins are press fit into top holes, and hook through bottom holes. Note patterned wheels

Image 3#3 Larger windows and lower bonnet line on the Politoys

Image 4#4 Coupling details for the Politoys. The pin for the trailer is broken at the 90 degree point. Previous owner of this model added some black paint to the gun for detail, which I’m a bit afraid to try and remove

Image 5#5 Additional detail in the Politoys casting

Image 6#6 Metal weights visible in wheel arches

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An Old Dinky Toy Comes Alive in Oak Ridge

By Harvey Goranson

 

In 1957 Dinky Toys issued No. 697, the 25-pounder field gun set, consisting of a field artillery tractor (FAT), a munitions trailer, and the 25-pounder field gun. Dinky also released the pieces separately (686 gun, 687 trailer, 688 FAT). Here’s mine:

Dinky_697_Morris_and_trailers_pic2_smallDinky_697_Morris_and_trailers_pic1_small

Imagine my surprise when I spotted this at the Secret City Festival’s WW2 display/re-enactment in Oak Ridge, TN USA:

Morris_Quad_and_field_gun_set.small[1]Morris_Quad_small
Production of the Morris Commercial C8 FAT, known as the “Quad”, began in October 1939 and continued until war’s end. It had 4-wheel drive and was designed from the outset to tow the limber and gun, or two limbers.

Morris_Quad_interior_small

If the Dinky had an interior, this is what it would look like. The Quad could carry a six-person gun crew, plus two dozen rounds of 25-pounder ammo.

Quad_Munitions_Trailer_small

The ring on top of the limber is a traversing ring to enable the field gun to be rotated 360 degrees.  Dinky left this detail off.

25-pounder_field_gun_small

Here’s the gun itself, and as evidence they got the correct artillery piece, see the detail below:

25-pounder_field_gun_data_small

“Saddle. 25 Pr.”

From what I can tell, I think both the Dinky and the real thing are the Quad Mk. II version (1940-41).


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