Odd as it may seem, the date of the first appearance of Hornby trains is uncertain. Some creditable authorities believe that they were available before 1914, or in limited numbers in 1915, in Gauge O clockwork, and were available during World War I, though these claims have never been adequately verified.
Frank Hornby was born in Liverpool in 1863 and invented 'Mechanics Made Easy'. In 1901, he obtained a British patent. The 'Meccano' trade name was adopted a few years later, and produced a construction system of metal strips with perforations for easy nut-and-bolt assembly. Despite the fact that it is uncertain when the trains first became available, it is certain that, by 1920, Hornby clockwork trains were catalogued under the name 'Hornby Trains', and electric-powered trains first appeared in 1925.
The first trains set consisted of a small Gauge O 0-4-0 clockwork locomotive, numbered 2710, with a tender and an open wagon. In 1938, 'Hornby Dublo' (i.e., Double 'O', Gauge 'OO') range of toy trains, both clockwork and electric, set a higher standard of truth-to-prototype with a relatively accurate Gauge 'O' model of the Southern Railway 'Schools Class' locomotive 'Eton' and shortly followed by the firm's most celebrated model, the 'Princess Elizabeth'.
Hornby trademark appeared up until 1940, when all construction of trains was halted with the beginning of WWII. Production of the toy trains resumed in 1946, though in the immediate post-War years, a general shortage of raw materials interfered with the high demand of Hornby Dublo. Hence, new trains items were not introduced until the early 1950s. 'In 1953 the old railway company colors were discontinued, and all models thereafter appeared in British Railways livery.'
By the late 1950s, when construction of plastic toys begun, sales began to decline, and in 1965, the company was taken over by Triang (Lines Brothers), who incorporated some items from the Dublo line into its catalogue.
What's it worth? Take a look at this Hornby price guide: sold listings for a value indication.