Mini Dinky Construction Vehicles
Pre-Mini Dinky History
It is well known that the Mini Dinky series included 6 construction vehicles. For a number of reasons however, there has been much confusion surrounding the history of these models and the following will attempt to set a few facts straight, albeit there is still much that we can not be certain about.
A series of small scale construction vehicle models originated around 1957 as a joint venture between Mercury Models of Italy and a small Canadian company based in Montreal called Mercury Industries. Contrary to much of what has been published, they were two completely independent companies that, by coincidence, both had Mercury in their names. The basics of the agreement was that around two dozen small scale models would be tooled up in Italy by Mercury Models while Mercury Industries would set up a plant in Plattsburgh, NY where they would make duplicate moulds and independently produce near identical models for the North American market with both companies using the name “Lit’l Toys”. Six of these models bear a striking similarity, in the smallest of details, to the six construction vehicles sold as Mini Dinkies from 1967 to around 1969/70.
As it turned out Mercury Industries only produced moulds for 10 Lit’l Toy models however one of the sets of moulds produced in Italy was never sold there and was subsequently shipped to the U.S.A. The total number of Lit’l Toy models cast, painted and assembled in the U.S.A. was therefore 11, using 10 North American made moulds and one Italian made mould. Mercury Industries did however in later years add to the North American range but, likely due to contractual stipulations, they were called Mercury Metal Miniatures. So it began.
In December of 1963 the Plattsburgh plant burned to the ground and at some time in 1964 Mercury Industries decided to get out of the toy business and return to their roots which was promotional jewellery. The moulds for all of the models were subsequently sold to Gibbs Manufacturing in Canton, Ohio, who in turn marketed them all as Gibbs Metal Miniatures. This venture failed to save their declining toy business so in 1967 Gibb’s too got completely out of the toy business and return to their roots which was manufacturing ploughs and other farming machinery.
Meccano Mini Dinky History
Exactly what happened to all the moulds is still a mystery however it is likely not a coincidence that in the fall of that same year Meccano’s Canadian Dinky Toy price list for October 1967 listed 12 Mini Dinky models including 6 construction vehicles that are slightly different but bear a striking likeness to 6 of the former Lit’l Toy range, including the Payloader Shovel that was tooled in Italy but not sold there. Without exception, all but the Caterpillar Grader are marked Mini Dinky on the underside, or, inside the bucket in the case of the Payloader Shovel. Also; all but the International Crawlers have protruding axle ends on the hubs. The six specific Mini Dinky construction vehicle models are as follows.
- Mini Dinky #94 International Bulldozer
- Mini Dinky #95 International Skid Shovel
- Mini Dinky #96 Payloader Shovel
- Mini Dinky #97 Euclid R-40 Dump Truck
- Mini Dinky #98 Michigan Scraper
- Mini Dinky #99 Caterpillar Grader
Whether Meccano bought and modified the moulds or whether they had copies made, the one thing that is a fact is that all Mini Dinkies are marked made in Hong Kong except for the two Formula 1 Racing Cars which were made for Meccano by Best Box in Holland. Around 1969 or '70 Meccano Ltd., not realizing the return on investment that they had hoped for, discontinued the Mini Dinky range and the moulds for the construction vehicles were taken over by Universal Products. This is where part of the collector confusion that exists today stems from because these 6 models were cast, painted, assembled and packaged in Hong Kong for Meccano by Universal all along. In essence Meccano just walked away from the moulds. This accounts for why it is so hard to tell the Mini Dinky models apart from the early Universal made items, except for one big point. With the exception of the Grader, which I have already stated bore no Mini Dinky name, the Mini Dinkies were all clearly marked as such on the underside.
Universal Products History (ex-Mini Dinky)
Upon the change of mould ownership, Universal re-tooled all 6 construction vehicles to remove the Meccano and the Mini Dinky names, except for the Caterpillar Grader. Initially all other markings remained unchanged including the catalogue numbers. For a while, even the hubs, axles and paint schemes where exactly as per the Mini Dinky design. Soon however, no doubt for economic reasons, all six models underwent change after change. One of the earliest change was that of the catalogue numbers as follows.
- #94 became #8104 (International Bulldozer)
- #95 became #8103 (International Skid Shovel)
- #96 became #8105 (Payloader Shovel)
- #97 became #8106 (Euclid R-40 Dump Truck)
- #98 became #8101 (Michigan Scraper)
- #99 became #8102 (Caterpillar Grader)
Over the next 10 years or so many casting changes took place including the removal of the prototype names on the side of the models such as "International", "Michigan" and "Euclid". The one thing that did not change, regardless of which brand name they were being sold as, was the new 8100 series of catalogue numbers which remained the same, with minor exception, until the end in 1982 when some models had the number removed and left blank. In addition to countless casting changes the post Mini Dinky variations include several colour changes, several hub and axles changes and a multitude of different brand names that they were marketed under.
- All pre-Dinky versions will be marked with either the "Mercury" or the "Lit’l Toy" name.
- All Mini Dinkies, except for the Caterpillar Grader, are marked with either "Meccano" or "Mini Dinky".
- All of the wheeled vehicles that do not have axles protruding at the centre of the hub are not Mini Dinky Toys.
Thanks to Peter Zimmermann for this article.