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A Little bit of ‘Toy’ History

In 1891 at the Leipzig Toy Fair, Marklin introduced three new train ‘sets’ which were remarkable then, because for the first time a manufacturer had introduced the concept of a ‘Railway’ by matching train to track and accessories. Prior to this, manufacturers had simply sold an engine and maybe some carriages or wagons to accompany it – most had no track to run on and the concept of “Gauge” was unknown. Here for the first time was a company marketing toy train sets and in three different sizes. Marklin called them Gauge I (48mm), Gauge II (54mm) and Gauge III (75mm). It should be noted that these measurements were made from the centre of each rail (and not the inside rail edges).


Other Continental manufacturers quickly followed with their own ranges. Schonner adopted Gauges I, II and III but also added a 67mm gauge, which it called Gauge IIA.


Bing (Marklins greatest rival) followed with the same gauges used by Schonner but designated 75mm track as Gauge IV and 67mm track as Gauge III. Carette had two track gauge sizes it designated as Gauge I (48mm) and Gauge III (initially at 65mm, later at 67mm). So although the toy industry was moving towards standardising their actual track gauges, there was less agreement on what to call these gauges.


In summary, Bing and Carette both had 67mm track they called Gauge III, as did Schonner – although they called it Gauge IIA. Both Marklin and Schonner had 75mm track they called Gauge III but which Bing called Gauge IV. It is perhaps unsurprising that this caused much confusion in Britain at the time, compounded by the use of ‘centre of rail’ track measurements.


During these early days, the Continental manufacturers had naturally produced continental outline locomotives and stock for their home consumers. British railways were quite distinctive in their outline and liveries and required new manufacturing investment and some way to access the British volume market to make a return on that investment.

These routes to the British market appeared in the form of two men. The first (and perhaps best remembered) was Wenman J Bassett-Lowke. Bassett-Lowke had founded his Northampton factory in 1899 and had established a mail-order business, whose catalogue was filled with toys and models. The second man was A.W.Gamage, the owner of Gamages Department Store in London, of which the toy department was an important part of the business. Both men attended the 1900 Paris Toy Exhibition and were impressed with the quality and range of the toys German manufacturers were exhibiting there.


Gamage signed large orders with Marklin, Bing, Carette and Issmayer for their Toy railways which were mainly Continental in outline. By 1906 however, the majority of trains in the Gamage’s catalogue were of British outline, which were sold both in Britain and across the Empire. Marklin’s Gauge 0 and Gauge I products were Gamage’s principle product line being less expensive than the higher quality Bing products. Gamage did initially offer Marklin’s Gauge III (75mm) trains but they were dropped after a short period. Gamages also offered Bing Gauge III trains at this time but referred to them as ‘2½” Gauge’ – perhaps to differentiate them from the Marklin Gauge III products.


Bassett-Lowke’s catalogue was largely focused on Bing locomotives, followed by Carette engines, with Marklin taking a very much smaller proportion of sales. It is interesting to note that in the 1904-5 Bassett-Lowke catalogue, under “Particulars of Rails” the Bing gauge designations are used (Gauges 0,I,II,III and IV) with Gauge III given as being both 67mm and 25/8th (shown as being between rail centres) – although in descriptions of both track and stock for No. 3 Gauge elsewhere it is always referred to as being 2½” gauge.


It should also be observed that although Bassett-Lowke was clearly influential (and especially with respect to "Gauge 3") it was still a relatively new business at this time and Gamages was the larger player in the ‘Toy Train’ marketplace, something that is perhaps forgotten these days.

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