Saturday 17 March 2018

Treasures: Die-cast die hards

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

Raylle Monte Carlo set
Raylle Monte Carlo set
Corgi Batmobile
The Turbaned Dancer

Eleanor Flegg

Q: How do you tell a pre-war Dinky car from a post-war vehicle?

A: Measure the diameter of the axle. Pre-war axles measure .062 inches. After the Second World War, all the axles on Dinky vehicles measured .078 inches.

The next question is: why would you bother? Serious collectors of Dinky cars love this kind of detail. Obsessing over casting and wheel variations is part of the pleasure of collecting. But even if you're not that nerdy, a pre-war Dinky vehicle in good condition could be an extremely valuable find.

Last month, a set of six pre-war Dinky delivery vans sold at Special Auction Services in the UK for £11,000 (€13,000). Pre-war delivery vans are the holy grail of Dinky collecting, especially when they come in a set and this one came with its original box, which would have doubled its value.

Single vehicles can be valuable too. At the time of writing, a Dinky 28d 1st Type delivery van advertising Oxo is up for auction at Tennants Auctioneers, also in the UK, with a lower estimate of £3,000 (€3,600). The van has the slogan "Beef in Brief" on one side and "Beef at its Best" on the other. Even to the uninitiated, it's a lovely little vehicle. And, as one of the earliest examples of promotional slogans on children's toys, it's also a slice of advertising history. In the same auction, a 28a 1st type Hornby Trains van of the same vintage is estimated to sell between £1,500 (€1,780) and £2,000 (€2,372). The slogan on its side is "Hornby Trains British & Guaranteed".

Hornby Trains and Dinky cars go back a long way. The little vehicles were first designed as accessories to Hornby O-gauge train sets in the 1930s. They were made by the British company Meccano Limited, owned by Frank Hornby. Originally known as Modelled Miniatures, these toys soon became popular in their own right. The early examples are stamped "Meccano Dinky Toys", but in 1935 the branding was abbreviated to Dinky Toys. They were made from die-cast metal - a process where a metal alloy was forced into a mould.

The 1950s was the golden age of Dinky Toys. The little vehicles were immensely popular and other companies soon started to make similar toys. Matchbox was launched by Lesney in 1952 and Corgi by Mettoy Company in 1956. Corgi proved to be Dinky's greatest competitor and the two companies started a "features war" with each attempting to outdo the other in fine detailing. Ultimately, Corgi won the battle. Dinky Toys began to decline in 1965 and the factory ceased production in 1979.

Simpler Dinky cars are slightly more covetable but Corgi toys from the 1950s and 1960s can also be valuable. Whyte's forthcoming Eclectic Collector Auction, which takes place on September 17, includes a dozen lots of die-cast toys. Among them, the Rallye Monte Carlo gift set, with its original packaging, is estimated between €400 and €600. It may well sell for more than this, with some online price guides indicating that such a set could be worth up to €3,300. The set was produced between 1965 and 1966 and includes a Mini Cooper, a Rover 2000 and a Citroen DS19.

In the 1960s, both Dinky and Corgi began to produce cars that tied in with film and television. In 1967, Dinky introduced models from the Thunderbirds puppet series, including Lady Penelope's Fab 1 (No. 100) and Thunderbirds II (No. 101). This July, a model of Lady Penelope's Fab 1, complete with missile and two harpoons, sold at Vectis in the UK for £360.

The following year, Corgi released Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to accompany the film. The car had opening wings to the side of the vehicle and detachable wings, front and back. If you had one in mint condition and its original box, it might now fetch around €380. Do bear in mind that many of these classics were reissued and that a reissue will be worth a fraction of the price of the original model. Corgi released their first Batmobile (Corgi model 267) in time for Christmas 1966. It came with Batman and Robin figures, an extendable chain cutter, a flaming exhaust, and rocket launchers. In mint condition, it's now worth just over €900. A retro version, the Corgi 77301 Batmobile (2004 to 2007) would be worth anything between €1 and €20 depending on condition.

Toy collectors place a huge amount of emphasis on condition, both of the vehicle itself and the packaging. The Corgi 277 Monkeemobile from 1965 (a tie-in with the television series The Monkees) could be worth around €400. That's if the car, its packaging and all four Monkees (little figures that are easily lost) are all intact and in perfect condition. Without the box, the ensemble halves in value. The vehicle alone would be worthy €200 at best. If it were in poor condition, you might only get €20 for it. Which is more than you'd get if you left it at the bottom of the toy box.

For more information, see,,

In the salerooms


The Turbaned Dancer

The auction of the private collection of Dr Bryan G Alton and his wife Winnie takes place at Adam's on September 6.

The sale includes a spectacularly eclectic range of items from Russian icons to Mughal miniatures, but also more conventional highlights: a set of four Irish Georgian silver candlesticks made in Dublin by Michael Cormick and William Townsend (€12,000 to €14,000); a George III inlaid and painted sycamore bowfront cabinet (€15,000 to €20,000); and an 18th century bracket clock by James Aickin of Cork (€3,000 to €4,000).

The sale also includes such curiosities as a 19th century American papier mâché figure of a pilgrim, The Turbaned Dancer, (pictured above)by Paul Philippe, an Art Deco bronze and ivory figure (€3,000 to €5,000); and a 19th century Russian silver-gilt and cloisonné enamel kovsh (a traditional boat-shaped drinking vessel) by the Imperial Russian jewellery firm Khlebnikov of Moscow (€3,000 to €4,000). For full details, see


A two-day Ava Antique & Collectors Fair will be held at the Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle, Co Down, on Sunday and Monday, August 28-29. Expect the usual eclectic selection of dealers with items ranging from jewellery, paintings and prints, coins, porcelain, oil lamps and barometers, to silver, glass, vintage, oriental items and various curiosities.

The fair runs from 11am to 6pm both days and admission is £2, with the ticket valid on both days. For further details, call 00442830267431.


Watches made top prices at Herman & Wilkinson's two-day unreserved jewellery auction, which took place on July 20 and 21.

A Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Superlative Chronometer - a stainless steel-cased watch with gilt and branded crown, a gilt face and the traditional virtually scratch-proof synthetic sapphire crystal anti-reflective cyclops date-dial lens and a stainless steel two tone strap with monogrammed clasp - fetched €4,600; a second example of the Rolex Datejust made €3,700. See


Dolan's Summer Auction of Art & Antiques took place from August 1-2 in Ballyconneely Village, Connemara. The top lots included a painting by William J Leech, Window Sill, which sold for €25,500. Lobster Man, an engaging painting of a fisherman in a traditional cottage by Robert Taylor Carson sold for €7,250, while Sean Keating's charcoal drawing, An Fear On Oilean, fetched €3,500.

Informal Bouquet, a painting of flowers by Mark O'Neill sold for €4,500. As well as these top names, the auctioneers reported much interest in the work of Carina Scott whose Manhattan Skyline sold for €1,600. Scott is a horse breeder as well as an artist and her horses and ponies have competed at the RDS and the French Championships. The White Stallion, a portrait of a Connemara pony by Scott, sold for €1,200. See

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