Meccano Magazine Advertiser's Index

The Meccano Magazine was started in 1916 (in the middle of World War 1) as a promotion for the Meccano Products. There were no separate adverts in the early issues - they were effectively one big advertisement.

In the September issue of 1922 (page 12) there is an advert for Hornby Trains and Zulu Trains which carries the separate legend "Meccano Ltd, Binns Road, Liverpool". This is the first advert which can truly be claimed not to be part of the text of the magazine.

As the magazine prospered, commercial advertising was accepted. Classified adverts were first announced in January 1923 (page 12), and the first of these appeared in the March issue (page 12), where the advert for Janes & Adams Cycles stands out. In the following issue (April 1923) there is a display advert for Seccotine (p12) - this is given in HCS6 (Hornby Companion Series - see below) as the first commercial advert.

Advertising continued to increase. There was a full page of adverts in both the May and June issues.  In July, coloured covers were used for the first time, and the issues were increased in size. This lead to a large number of adverts being carried - including full page adverts from Force, Gamages, Hobbies Ltd and Lines Bros. These adverts were scattered throughout the magazine, and this continued until 1935. By then the magazine was becoming so thick, that to ease binding difficulties the adverts were placed symmetrically at the front and back of the magazine, so that they could be removed easily without any editorial pages falling out. [The exception to this rule was that the stamp adverts were always kept in the body of the magazine, by the articles on stamps. Also there would sometimes be a two page advertisement in the centre of the magazine].  The result was that with the adverts, the magazines would normally be bound in 6-month volumes (at considerable cost), but without the adverts the magazines would fit into a single binder. Today, of course, magazines without adverts command a much lower price than those with adverts.

When Thomas Skinner took over the publishing (by which time the number of pages per issue had dropped to fewer than half that in 1935), adverts were again spread throughout the magazine, although later developed a front-and-back approach, as did MAP when they took over the publication.

The extent to which advertising funds the magazine can be seen from the editorial of the first MMQ in 1973 (April). The magazine was to have been 16 pages, but because it contained 4 pages of advertising, the page count could be increased by 8, to 24 pages. In other words, each page of advertising paid for one page of editorial as well.

Interesting Adverts

Many adverts - Meccano, Hornby, Dinky Toys - are "obviously" interesting. Others are surprisingly interesting - below is a list of some that are worth searching out.

Force Breakfast Cereal. Contains a number of Meccano models, as well as some interesting puzzles.
Dunlop - General Knowledge Quiz 1954/6
Dunlop - How times have changed 1960/1
Dunlop - "Well! What do you know" series from 1964
Fluxite - Series on soldering
BSA Bicycles - Round the world with BSA
BSA Bicycles - The adventures of Michael - monitor at St Marks
Lines Bros - Frog Models - Secrets of scale model aircraft design
Coronet Cameras - Series on taking better photos (1960-61)

During the MMQ period, Meccano Ltd did not advertise in the Meccano Magazine. Some products were first advertised by AVA International, most by MW Models.

During WWII Meccano Ltd carried only one page of advertising each month. Lines Bros carried 2 or more. Lines (Tri-ang) were extremely important advertisers in Meccano Magazine, and eventually took over the company (1964) - before they, in turn, were taken over by Airfix (1971). The WWII period adverts are unusual because although there were many adverts, there was nothing to advertise - only apologies for products not being available, and promises that production would be resumed as soon as possible.  Many of these adverts have been highlighted, because they show the wartime spirit much better than any history book ever could.

Using the Index

There has never been an advertisers index to the Meccano Magazine before, so there were no guidelines available for producing the index. After a couple of false starts the following procedure was adopted. First a database was created of all of the MM pages. The pages were viewed within the database, and were marked as adverts or editorial pages. The advert pages were then separated out by the number of adverts per page, and also by advert type (so that stamps and classified adverts were noted separately). These adverts were then dealt with in batches - starting with the two page adverts, then the full page adverts and so on. Within each batch, the advert was first assigned to an advertiser, and then all of the adverts for one advertiser were reviewed to supply additional annotation where required. Where two adverts were identical (or nearly so), no annotation was provided to the duplicated advert. This process has been completed for all pages where there are 4 or fewer adverts. Over the coming months the index will be expanded to include those pages with a larger number of (smaller) adverts. Despite the index including only the largest adverts, there are currently over 20,000 entries, covering 800 different advertisers.

The lack of an annotation does not mean that the advert is uninteresting. The early Dinky Toys adverts, for example, each have a large number of models in them. The adverts vary slightly from one to another, but there is no meaningful way to distinguish between the adverts. Some adverts appear superficially similar, but have interesting differences (eg price changes, or commentary in the text). These have sometimes been noted, but not always.  Some adverts are visually very different from their predecessors, but closer inspection reveals that this has been achieved simply by rearranging the pictures within the advert - the adverts are otherwise merely duplicates of what went before. Finally, since this is the first version of the index, no doubt a number of errors have crept in, so a number of adverts which deserve annotation have been overlooked. They will get better treatment in subsequent versions.

As mentioned above, the index was generated within a database application. Although it is not practicable to distribute the index in this form (it has to work on any computer platform, and has to continue to work for the foreseeable future, so has to be as generic as possible) this is the best way to use it. To this end, if you have the appropriate skills, I would suggest that you reverse engineer the  data supplied and load it in to a database, which also allows you to view the pictures. Then, within the database you can browse all the Dinky Toys pages (say) and trace the history of the adverts easily. Once the index has been completed, I hope to be able to supply the data in a more suitable form for loading into a database, and at the same time to provide more detailed instructions about how to design the database.

Searching the Internet

Wikipedia has articles on many of the advertisers. Links have been provided straight to these articles.
The  Museum of Childhood at the Victoria and Albert Museum has an excellent collection of toys. There are many details on their web site:
Using Google - or some other internet search engine - will obviously provide good results. But bear in mind that many of the advertisers were small shops - most of which are now out of business. Larger companies will often have been bought out or consolidated with others, so may well be trading under a different name today. Some brand names are used for several different products - so you need to double-check when you get a successful match.

Meccano Magazine Index © 2009 Timothy Edwards & Stephen Jenkins