HOBBYCO History 1935–2014
Hobbyco has come a long way in 79 years. But to get a true appreciation, it helps to know a little about both the history of hobbies and Hobbyco.
The ancestry of the hobby shop can be traced back to two main sources: toy shops and models. Toy stores have been around for hundreds of years. In 1760, for example, William Hamley opened his first toy store in London selling rag dolls, tin soldiers, hoops and wooden horses. Today, Hamleys in Regent Street, London, is the largest toy store in the world and a major tourist attraction, with more than 5 million visitors each year.
Another famous toy store is FAO Schwarz, which began in New York in 1862 – today, it too is a world-famous tourist attraction. But it wasn’t until the late 1920s and early ’30s that the first hobby shops began to appear.
Models have a much older genesis – as far back as 3000 years! The pharaohs of ancient Egypt had highly detailed model ships included in their tombs to help them on their journey into the afterlife.
More recently, in the 18th and 19th centuries, admiralty or shipyard models were used to explain to prospective admirals, owners and investors what they were getting. Similarly, the first model trains were built by engineering firms to attract investors in new railways.
But although these models were highly desirable, they were far beyond the reach of ordinary folk.
This all changed when a German manufacturer, Marklin, released the components of a train set at the 1892 Leipzig Spring Fair.
The gauges were large going from 1 to 3 and the models were available as steam, electric or clockwork powered.
At the turn of the century, Frank Hornby patented his Mechanics Made Easy”.
He soon renamed the product Meccano in England but because of prior use had to name the system Erector in the USA.
Hornby’s plans for a clockwork train set in 1914 were delayed by World War I and his first smaller “O" gauge clockwork set was not released until 1920.
A still smaller set called Hornby Dublo was released in 1938 – this was to set the stage for model railways worldwide
In addition, the motor vehicle began to make an appearance on roads in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All of these factors created great opportunities for toy manufacturers and model makers.
And so it was that in the early 1920s and ’30s a range of hobby shops began to appear across the world – including the Model Dockyard in Melbourne; and Searles and Walther & Stevensons in Sydney.
rubber-band-powered balsa model kits, bottling its own glue and “dope” (cellulose lacquer), and it stocked a full range of toys and models.
By 1938 the shop was also selling Hornby & Lionel trains and Meccano sets. A young enterprising manager named Frank Murell joined the company – he was to guide and grow the business with a steady hand until his retirement in 1978.
In 1946 the company name was changed to Hobbyco to reflect a broadening range of hobby products.In the early 1950's
The Hobbyco Store at 561 George St was opposite the major retailer Anthony Horderns then considered the hub of all retail in Sydney. No visit to the city whether by tram, rail or bus was complete without a visit to Hobbyco. Over the 40 years at this location, the business grew by taking over the adjacent shop and expanding into the basement which became an Aladdin's cave for the hobby enthusiast.
Hobbyco’s range had expanded to include Dinky diecast model cars and the Matchbox range. Lego was available and Hobbyco was selling the No. 10 Meccano set for £40.
The first Mail Order catalogue was released in 1954 and became a much sought-after publication for the next 40 years. The Hobbyco window displays, under the care of Ken Winfield, became a major drawcard for every aspiring modeller.
In this same decade, plastic construction kits with companies such as Airfix and Revell provided a whole new realm of model making for the young modeller. Free-flight models changed to control line planes with the advent of low-cost fuel motors from Japan.
The transistor technology of the 1960s ushered in a new era of radio control models previously only read about in engineering journals. But it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Japanese company Tamiya pioneered the Radio Control Car Kit – and a whole new segment of hobbies was made available to all.
In 1978 Hobbyco was acquired by conglomerate S. Hoffnungs & Co., to form part of their growing toy retail and wholesale division. They in turn were taken over by a still larger public company, Burns Philp Pty Ltd, and for the next eight years Hobbyco experienced mixed fortunes and two relocations before passing once more into private ownership in 1989.
Another move in 1993 saw Hobbyco occupy its largest space of 750 sq. m (8070 sq. ft) in the Mid City Centre on Pitt Street Mall. Hobbyco’s range expanded to include games, puzzles, diecast cars and aviation models, and a large Radio Control department.
A wholesale operation, Hobbyco Imports, began in 1998, from the expanding exclusive and niche products the company was importing. This continues to be a growth area for the company and today Hobbyco has more than 250 wholesale customers.
The last Hobbyco catalogue was printed in 1999. By this stage it was a 250-page book, with more than 5000 copies distributed through newsagents nationwide. The following year, the Hobbyco website www.hobbyco.com.au was launched and a new era of online mail ordering began.
In 2007, redevelopment of the Mid City Centre meant another relocation into the iconic and stately Queen Victoria Building. Now occupying two floors with internal stairs, and adjacent coffee shops and specialty stores, Hobbyco is in an ideal location for a new generation of hobbyists to discover and explore.
Today Hobbyco provides a generous mix of modern and traditional products. Live steam engines from Wilesco of Germany are much the same as they were 70 years ago; while our model trains include state of the art digital technology to appeal to the more modern consumer. Hornby and Marklin are still pre-eminent. Thomas and Friends continues to draw the interest of young locomotive engineers. We still sell free-flight rubber-band powered flying models as well as the latest remote control flyweight helicopters driven with micro-motors and powered by Li-Po batteries.
Diecast models of Australian cars – a rarity only 15 years ago – are now a major collectors’ category. Meccano and Lego are still thriving, although we sold our last No. 10 Mecanno set in 1993 for $3750.
Hobby Retailer of the Year (2012)
Hobbyco was awarded Hobby Retailer of the Year at the Annual Australian Toy Hobby and Nursery Fair in Melbourne on the 4th of March 2013.
The Fair is the largest Australian industry trade event that exhibits trending products within the toy, hobby and nursery industries. It’s a great event for retailers and traders of toys and hobbies.
Most importantly, we are very thankful to the retailers and subscribers of Toy & Hobby Retailer magazines for voting us as the Hobby Retailer of the Year. As a proud retailer for toys and hobbies, it means a lot to know that our customers are satisfied with our products and service.
Kites, Scalextric digital slot cars, Airfix Airplane and Gundam Anime kits all form part of the wide range for which Hobbyco is known. Games and puzzles, paints and glues, balsa and “dope”…the list is endless and always changing!
We are looking forward to continuing to provide top-quality service to customers young and old in our new venue at the QVB and our two satellite stores at Macarthur Square and Rhodes, as well as via our new and improved website.
We will continue to stock exciting new products as well as the traditional products.
And we will continue to live up to our motto:
HOBBYCO ....for people who take their fun seriously