The Matchbox line of miniature diecast vehicles was unofficially launched in 1953 when British toymaker Lesney Products created a 15 3/4-inch-long replica of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation coach. The coach came in either silver or gold, and was pulled by a team of eight white horses and four red-jacketed riders. Lesney’s coronation coach sold well, but a miniature, 4 1/2-inch version sold even better.

Coincidentally, around the same time, Lesney partner Jack Odell had scaled down one of Lesney’s first toys, a road roller, for his daughter Ann, whose school only permitted children to carry toys that were small enough to fit into a matchbox. Ever the engineer, Odell made his daughter a matchbox-compliant cast-brass road roller, which he painted red and green. Naturally, all of Ann’s friends wanted one, too, and by the end of 1953, Lesney had trademarked the name Matchbox as the brand for its new line of 1:75-scale cars and trucks.

The first Matchbox vehicles sold poorly, in part because shopkeepers could make more money off larger toys that sold for higher prices (they were loath to fill their shelves with goods that would generate less revenue). But kids loved Matchbox toys, and they were priced low enough that many children could afford to buy them with their own pocket money. The line’s slow start was soon forgotten—by 1960, Lesney was producing approximately 50-million Matchbox vehicles per year.

Contemporary collectors love these vintage Matchbox toys. Models from the first year included green-and-red cement mixers, road rollers, and dump trucks. The orange milk wagon featured a black horse with white fetlocks and a metal milkman riding up on top. Cars were also offered, from a red-and-white Vauxhall Cresta sedan to an all-white MG Midget TD.

Even though the objects were small, Odell lavished lots of attention on their details. Cars had dashboards, and their wheels looked like real wheels, not just generic discs. Headlamps were spray-painted silver—later, molded plastic would be squeezed into the interiors. Some of Odell’s most ambitious re-creations boasted more than 100 die-cast parts.

The next Matchbox series was called Models of Yesteryear. Launched in 1956, these nostalgic toys included a 1925 Allchin 7-NHP Tractor Engine, whose green body offset its red, spoke wheels. A traditional red London double-decker bus, patterned after one from 1911, was also released in 1956, as was a London Tramcar from 1907. A brown-bodied, white-roofed Leyland Lorry with a "W. R. Jacob" decal on its side came out the following year, and in 1958, Matchbox offered a 1929 green Le Mans Bentley racecar.

The Models of Yesteryear series continued until 1982. Between 1960 and 1974, silver or gold versions of 1911 Model T Fords, 1906 Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts, and 1923 Type 35 Bugat...

Matchbox Major Packs was another series from the 1950s. Slightly larger than the regular 1:75 Matchbox line, these vehicles continued Odell’s interest in heavy machinery and trucks. The inaugural pieces were a yellow Caterpillar Earth Scraper, with silver metal wheels and black plastic tires, and a Bedford Ice Cream Truck, whose light-blue cab pulled an off-white trailer advertising "Wall’s Ice Cream." This series continued until 1966.

For collectors, Matchbox cars in their original boxes are always more highly prized than loose ones. Another wrinkle to watch for is cars made from 1954 to 1960, whose boxes bear the phrase "A Moko Lesney Product." This refers to the business relationship between Lesney and Moko, a company Lesney partnered with to help with Matchbox’s marketing and distribution.

Without a doubt, the greatest challenge to Matchbox’s dominance of the small-die-cast-toy-vehicle market was the 1968 launch of Mattel’s Hot Wheels. It is generally agreed that Matchbox was slow to respond to these faster cars, waiting a full year before introducing its line of miniature Superfast Wheels. In 1970, the Major Packs were retooled as Super Kings, and a line of Speed Kings was sold from 1971 to 1978.

But that was not enough. Lesney went bankrupt in 1982, after which it was run by various business enterprises from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. Ironically, perhaps, it finally became of part of the company that had been its undoing, Mattel, in 1997.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

This gallery of Matchbox model cars and other vehicles from the 1970s is worth cruising if you ever had (or wanted)… [read review or visit site]

1up Diecast Collection

1up Diecast Collection

Daniel Beckett's gallery of over 6000 collectible diecast vintage toy cars from the 1960s through the 1980s. Includ… [read review or visit site]

DFW Elite Toy Museum

DFW Elite Toy Museum

Ron Sturgeon's excellent gallery of fancy model cars and other vehicles. Nice high resolution shots with classy mus… [read review or visit site]

The Show Room

The Show Room

This gallery at Dave's Show Rod Rally features model show rods from 1960 to 2001. Favorites include the 1958 Thunde… [read review or visit site]

VW Toys and Models

VW Toys and Models

A comprehensive site completely dedicated to miniature Volkswagen vehicles. Browse hundreds of toys by country, man… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Early Lesney Matchbox Dealer Round Rotating 80 Car 55 Cent Store DisplayMatchbox Superfast No45b Bmw 3.0 Csl - Extremely Rare Error Model (white-green)Matchbox Superfast No74b Toe Joe - Extremely Rare Brazilian Issue (dark Blue)Huge Vintage 1980s Voltron Robotech Lot Castle Lions Commander Box Matchbox LjnMatchbox Superfast No5a Lotus Europa - Black "jps"/ V-rare Silver Painted BaseMatchbox Superfast No7c Vw Golf - Silver/ Very Rare Blue Interior (rare Box)Matchbox Superfast No9c Ford Escort Rs2000 - White "dunlop"/ V-rare Red InteriorVintage 1960s Rotating Matchbox Car Store Display~80 Car Lighted Display~55 CentMatchbox Superfast No37b Soopa Coopa - Rare Orange "jaffa Mobile" Promo (moc!)Matchbox G-1-c-2 Service Station Set (1968)Matchbox Lesney Bp Service Station Set G-1-c2 W/13d,32c,56b Nm+ &original CartonMatchbox Superfast No32b Maserati Bora - Very Rare Silver Painted BaseMatchbox Superfast No3a Mercedes Ambulance - Rare Chrome Hubs (military Issue)Matchbox Superfast No60c Holden Ute Pick-up - Rare "paris Dakar"Matchbox Superfast No51b Citroen Sm - Rare "yamaha" (with Bike Trailer)Matchbox James Bond 007 Licence To Kill Gift Set Tanker Lorry Aircraft Copter Vintage Original 1970's Matchbox Tank Model Kits - 27 Unstarted - VariousMatchbox Lesney Moko No. 25-c3 Petrol Tanker Matchbox Superfast No41a Ford Gt 40 - Rare "wildcat Head" Label (rare Box)Matchbox Superkings Ferrari Race Car Transporter With 2 F1 Racing CarsMatchbox Superfast No5a Lotus Europa - Rare Plain Black/ Dotdash WheelsRobotech Collector Series Sdf-1 Battle Fortress Matchbox 1985 Mint Nrfb Vintage Matchbox King Size Lesney Dodge Tractor Twin Tipper Trailers No. K-16Matchbox Superfast No5a Lotus Europa - Very Rare "rallye Monte Carlo" Promo Vintage Matchbox King Size Lesney Scammell 6x6 Tractor & Trailer No.8 LaingLesney Matchbox King Size K-4 Gmc Tractor Trailer Freuhauf Truck 1/43 EnglandMatchbox Lesney Volkswagen Vw Caravette Camper 34 B2 Gpw Nm & Crafted BoxLesney Matchbox~vintage Lot Of 60~ Cars Trucks Trailers Military BusesMatchbox Lesney Original Superfast #22 Pontiac Coupe Black Bottom W/orginial BoxMichael J. Stannard's "matchbox 1-75 Series 1953-1969 Collectors Catalogue" NewMatchbox Superfast No50a Ford Kennel Truck - Rare Apple Green/ Chrome GrilleMatchbox Superfast No12d Citroen Cx Estate - Yellow/ Extremely Rare Silver BaseMatchbox Superfast No9b Amx Javelin - Lime/ 5spoke Wheels/ Rare Orange Interior# Lesney Matchbox Superkings K17 Scammell Crusader Gentransco Lorry Boxed Yello 1984 Voltron Lion Force Lot With Figures, Matchbox 14"Matchbox Lesney Moko No. 31-b8 Ford Fairlane Station Wagon # Lesney Matchbox Superkings K-21 Ford Transcontinental Truck Lorry Boxed 2015 Matchbox Toy Fair Fire TruckMatchbox King Size K-17 Ford Tractor & Dyson Low-loader With Case TractorMatchbox Lesney Ford Kennel Truck Mb 50 C1 White Clear 4 Dogs Vnm & Crafted BoxMatchbox Super Kings K-16 Dodge Tractor With Twin TippersLesney Matchbox #33a-10 Ford Zodiac Mkii Sedan - GpwBigfoot Usa-1 Akii Matchbox Monster Trucks Grave Digger Trailer & Bigfoot CardsMatchbox Superfast No59b Mercury Police Car - All White/ Rare Green Roof LightsDinky Toy Shop Display Sign Cast Metal Double Sided 1960s Corgi Spot On MatchboxMatchbox Moko Lesney Volkswagen Vw Microvan 34 A1 Mw Nm & Crafted BoxMatchbox Superfast No1d Dodge Challenger "revin Rebel" - Rare White Roof (moc!)Script Box For 1954 Moko Lesney Matchbox No.4 'massey Harris Tractor'-see PhotosHot Wheels & Matchbox Lot 73 Vw Bug Bus Beetle Myers Manx Etc ClassicsLtd Toy Stamp & Vintage Lot Of 24 Matchbox Lesney Diecast Cars Vehicles (a)Matchbox Superfast No4d 57 Chevy Bel Air - Very Rare All 5crown Wheels (error)Matchbox 1960 27c Cadillac Sixty Special & 31b Ford Fairlane Station WagonLesney Matchbox Accessory Pack A-1 Bp Gas Garage Pumps And Sign 01 No.1 DiecastTyrone Malone's "papa Truck" Kenworth Aerodyne Matchbox Model Kit 1/25 2009 Matchbox Pre Toy Fair Austin Mini VanMatchbox Superfast No42c Mercedes Truck - Rare Purple Windows/ White "mayflower"Matchbox Superfast No5c Us Mail Truck Jeep - Rare Plain Yellow/ White "no5" BaseMatchbox Lesney Original Superfast #59 Ford Fire Chief Car With Orginial BoxLot Of 79 Old Vintage Matchbox Lesney Diecast Toy Cars Trucks Busses Motorcycle Lot Of Nine Early Matchbox

Recent News: Matchbox Cars

Source: Google News

Homemade Gifts in Mason Jars
The Daily Meal, December 17th

These small DIY snow globes evoke the 1950s with Christmas trees fastened atop vintage matchbox cars. Using a 16-ounce Ball Collection Elite Jar, faux snow, and holiday colored twine, you can transform an empty glass into a seasonal holiday scene...Read more

Writer Anissa Ljanta's city break
New Zealand Herald, December 17th

They are upcycled from vintage pillowcases and the blog posts on them went viral on Pinterest. I just about fell off my ... [In Wellington] I definitely want to check out Matchbox Studios and Yvonne Todd's photography exhibition at City Gallery. We'll...Read more

R&S Toys and Novelties opens shop in Grand Junction
Glenwood Springs Post Independent, December 16th

R&S has dozens of vintage cars and tracks to choose from this holiday season. R&S also sells a variety of comic books, from Superman to Batman and more. Novelty items are additionally available, like rubber ducks, 3-D images and pogs. Items from Big ...Read more

Ask An Expert: DIY Gift Ideas
The Daily Meal, December 16th

Do-it-yourselfer extraordinaire Shelley Wilson loves cruising craft stores, thrift shops, garage sales and antique fairs for supplies. She says you can make easy, inexpensive and unique presents with “re-purposed buttons, toy soldiers, old maps, fabric...Read more

Our Awesome List Of Latino-Inspired Holiday Gifts, December 15th

to Mayan legend, if you tell the worry dolls your troubles and place them under your pillow at night, the dolls will take your worry from you. Hello carefree mornings! The matchbox-size kit comes with the prayer and two dolls wrapped in Guatemalan...Read more

Santa Claus Forced To Adapt To New Challenges
Seminole Sentinel, December 10th

Boys retained their fixation on things automotive and longed for the coveted new Matchbox Cars, while many girls, having gotten used to Hollywood's idea of beauty on the silver screen, traded in baby for Barbie. The impossibly ... With Science Fiction...Read more

Book about diaries certainly is dear
The Register-Guard, December 7th

He notes that his love of collecting things carried throughout his life as he owned a used book store and then an antique store. ... “The Matchbox Diary” is great motivation for expanding one's definition of “diary” as well as inspiration for keeping a...Read more

Slate Belt man accused of selling nearly $5000 in stolen antiques to business, November 24th

Bangor police say in court records that Amerman stole the items from the home where he was living and sold them to Bangor Coins & Collectibles, 32 Broadway, between September and November. The victims share the same last ... According to records, the...Read more