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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 11:31 GMT
UK's 'finest' toy train collection for sale
Anthony Bianco - Christie's
It took 30 years to build up the Hornby train collection

One of the biggest model railway collections in Britain is being sold off via the internet.

Anthony Bianco began collecting Hornby Dublo trains in the 1970s, as part of the research for a book on the products of the famous Meccano company.

Now thousands of items, some valued in the 1000s, have been catalogued and put on display on the web.

One enthusiast has already paid 2,500 for a pre-war electric train set.

Hornby Dublo loco
Pre-war trains were found in attics
Mr Bianco, from West Sussex, said it is one of the finest collections of its type in the world.

He has placed 5,000 photographs of the models on the web pages.

He hopes it will become a permanent point of reference for collectors and historians.

Six figure sum

Frank Hornby, a Liverpool shipping clerk, began selling his Meccano sets and model trains before the First World War.

The Hornby Dublo range of 4mm scale trains started production in 1938 and continued until the Liverpool-based company foundered in 1964.

The Hornby name is still used by a successor company, although most of the models are manufactured in China.

Railway site
Contains 5000 images
900 'lots' on show
Took 6 months to build
Takes up 400mb
Team of collectors worked out prices
Will become resource for historians

An earlier sale of some of the items collected by Mr Bianco, organised by Christie's in 1996, realised "a six figure sum".

The collection is the result of years of patient detective work.

Mr Bianco replied to one advert for 'old toy trains' and went to a house in Croydon.

He said: "An old suitcase was produced - the right hand end was squashed and it all looked rather dilapidated.

"Apparently, the contents had been bought in late 1938, never used and placed in this suitcase in the attic.

Full to gunnels

"A bomb subsequently fell nearby and part of the roof collapsed crushing one end of the suitcase.

"Inside, all wrapped very carefully, were a magnificent Gresley (locomotive) and other pre-war gems in 'glowing' condition."

Signal boxes
One collector paid 2,500 for signal boxes
Research for the book, 'Hornby Dublo Trains' by Michael Foster, took seven years.

It is now regarded as the definitive work on the Hornby range and has just been reprinted.

There is a thriving market for the vintage trains with clubs all over the world.

Toy soldiers

Online auction houses such as Ebay regularly have page after page of Hornby Dublo items for sale from dealers and collectors as far flung as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

The Bianco Collection does not end with Hornby Dublo.

Mr Bianco's self-confessed "obsession" with vintage toys also includes Triang and Trix trains, Dinky toys, Meccano sets, and diecast toy soldiers and farm figures.

He said his personal favourite is probably a 1938 model by Trix of the famous Coronation Scot locomotive.

Mr Bianco said there will be one important bonus now the collection is in storage.

He and his wife will be able to move to a smaller house.

He describes his current home as "full to the gunnels" with his beloved Hornby trains.

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