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The Hampstead Dinky Collection

Getting, having, holding. A collector speaks

What is it about model toy vehicles that makes them so alluring, so collectible? It's hard to say. I can recall the first time I went to a swap meet and realised that these things were not just toys but were icons of the past. My past. Items which were now collected and treasured, not just as toys but as pieces of history.
My first meet was held in a small room above The Clachan public house off Carnaby Street in Soho, London. The year was 1970. There was a small crowd there, but they were all dedicated to collecting, driven by a desire to find something missing without necessarily knowing exactly what it was they were looking for. The room above The Clachan was chosen as a central base in London where we could buy, sell and swap models, depending on what we collected. The room is now used as a restaurant I believe.

The next meet I attended was in the village of Cuffley in Herts, this time held in the village hall. But I recall we often had to wait until the local ladies' knitting circle had finished their 'do' before we could go in. With brows knitted we waited. But it was worth the wait. Bigger and better attended than the Clachan (the news was spreading). I met more people, bought more models, learned more.
Through word of mouth I discovered that other swap meets and collectors fairs existed. Ally Pally, Sandown Park, Windsor, Brentwood. I eagerly visited them all and made contact with other collectors and sellers. My knowledge grew, My collection grew, even if I didn't mean for it to get as big as it did. My first memorable find was the Dinky 28G Taxi, in the rare grey and black colour combination. The seller didn't know how unusual it was and I bought it for a good price.

I had enjoyed a love of toy cars, buses and lorries since I was a boy. My dad bought me a small train set when I was very young. But it was when I was old enough to go to the shops myself that it really started. My meagre pocket money was enough to buy couple of models a week, if I was lucky. Mainly Dinky toys bought from our local corner shop Mr Perkins' sweetshop cum tobacconist cum toyshop. Over the next 7 or 8 years it built up into quite a collection, not kept in mint condition, played with on the floor, in the back garden with my pals (after all, that's what toys were for). But cherished and kept safely to play with again and again.
I lost this early collection when I was 16. My well-meaning mum gave them to my younger cousin thinking I was too old for them. I came home from school one day and they were all gone. I was devastated. A few years later I was married and with two young sons, both of whom had discovered the wonders of Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox model vehicles. They used to play 'roads' indoors where they made complex layouts on the carpet using pens and old matchsticks with wooden building blocks and empty boxes in place of houses and shops. The older boy liked buses and commercial vehicles best, creating complicated one way systems and traffic jams, while the younger one preferred shops with car parks and housing estates with narrow roads. Both made relevant engine noises and gear-box noises when they played. Generally I just looked on, moist-eyed. But I liked to relive my youth and see it from their level. Sometimes I joined in, when they let me, spreading myself out on the floor to play with a bus or a car. Before long I developed ‘car players elbow’ as we called it, but it was worth the suffering.
I think it was having my toy cars taken away from me at a tender age and seeing my sons playing that made me want to buy them all back. A nagging feeling that somehow, one day I had to find them again.  I needed to own them once more. Originally I wanted to buy back just the Dinky models I had lost but I quickly discovered a whole world of model toys that I knew nothing about. Spot On, Marklin, Tootsietoy, French Dinky (oo la la!) and later tinplate including Minic, Burnett, Mettoy and other exotic beasts.

I always tried to find the best condition copies of what I liked. If I later found one in better condition then that would replace the other one which I would sell, or sometimes exchange for something else. They weren't called swap meets for nothing!

 I no longer play with my finds in the back garden as I did as a boy (too messy) or got down on the floor to play 'roads' (too uncomfortable). I just love collecting them and learning something new every day. I even persuaded my other half to share my interest but she was not that good on details. Even now she thinks the founder of Hornby Toys was called Frank Dinky. I no longer bother to correct her.