Hornby ceased manufacture of their O Guage railway system in 1969, so whether you have any recollection of it in toy shops depends on how old you are. I’m just vintage enough to recall getting a basic starter set as a youngster. These were sold in grand oversize boxes with paintings of the locomotives on. Designed to impress and suggest value for money (Hornby was not a cheap toy) they bore little resemblance to the actual tinplate tank engine inside. The real beauty of the Hornby railway was that it could be expanded to a degree limited only by your pocket-money or the size of the living room floor.
In contrast to their starter sets hoever, Hornby wasted little money on packaging their O Gauge accessories. These were all sold in the same utilitarian card boxes, devoid of any illustrations or text except for the content information printed on the end panel for the benefit of the shop owner. The boxes were sturdy, stapled rather than glued, and printed letterpress. In England. The thinking was that most children already knew what they wanted; extra track, rolling stock, signals, etc. thanks to the regularly updated colour catalogues which Hornby issued.
Such basic packaging was already very old fashioned by the sixties when all other toys were sold in quite flash boxes with enticing illustrations, and harked back to a pre-war ethos. It’s a moot point whether the range would have lasted any longer even if they had upgraded the boxes. The tinplate models were already looking very dated and couldn’t compete with the more detailed and accurate smaller HO guage which Hornby and others had developed.
Yet it’s the generic Hornby look on these old boxes which appeals to me and I have picked up a few bits and pieces over the years just to be able to stack them up on a shelf. Each box end carries the Hornby logo and also a catalogue reference number. Quite often shop keepers also pencilled on the retail price of the item. With the rolling stock, one box sufficed for a number of different wagon designs, and in this case Hornby added a sticker showing the exact details.
Hornby, as the boxes indicate, was owned by Meccanno, and the brand is still going strong today albeit with production shunted off to China and mostly aimed at an adult collectors market.