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    

Matchbox Lesney No 55b Vintage Ford Fairlane Police Car Nmint In BoxLtd Toy Stamp & Lot Of 40 Matchbox Cars With Collector's Case Lot 18Matchbox Lesney Moko No. 11-a1 Green Road Tanker (rare Variation) - 30062 Vintage 60's Lesney Matchbox Car Lot & 1968 Collector's Case Husky TootsietoyMatchbox Superfast #8 Mustang Red/orange Ivory Interior In Orginal BoxMatchbox Lesney Regular Wheels Boxed Rare Field Car ,green Hubs.Kenworth W-925 - Movin" On - Truck - Unbuilt, Sealed Inside - Amt MatchboxWw1 Trench Art Matchbox Holder Dli Badge Durham Infantry Pals Fencehouses 1918Matchbox 13d: Dodge Wreck Truck In Reverse Colors, Near Mint Truck, Fair BoxHuge Collection Matchbox Hot Wheels Rare 1000+ Maisto Johnny Lightning LotMatchbox Holder By Omar Ramsden Arts & Crafts Me Fecit .925 Sterling Silver ShipMib Matchbox Major M-9 Pack Inter-state Double Freighter Semi Diecast Toy TruckLarge Vintage Lot 75+ Vehicle Collection, Matchbox, Tootsie, Corgi, Hot Wheels Lot Of 5 Genuine Vinttage Matchbox Superfast Empty Boxes 31 52 55 56 73 CarsJohnson Matchbox Antenna Matcher Works Great 1kw No Reserve ! Starts At $1.00A Silver Matchbox Holder With Enamelled Naval Flag : London 1935Matchbox Lesney No 5b Vintage Ford Anglia Mint In BoxMatchbox Vintage 1980's Superfast 24 Car Collector's Carry Case With Cars - VgcMatchbox Lesney Major Pack No M2b Vintage Bedford Tractor & York Trailer MibMoko Lesney Matchbox Military Lot With BoxesHuge Vintage Matchbox, Superfast, Models Of Yesteryear And Corgi Boxes LookMatchbox Superfast #44 Refrigerator Truck (rare) BoxedMatchbox A Lesney No.57 Chevrolet Impala With Orig Box, Ex CondVintage Lesney Matchbox Volkswagen Caravette #34 B140Matchbox Superkings K127 Iveco Milk Tanker British Farm Produce Steering 1983Vintage Diecast Toy Lot Matchbox Hot Wheels Motor Max Maisto Cars Tonka Trucks"matchbox" Series Lesney No. 66 Harley-davidson Motorcycle & Sidecar (bronze)Matchbox Moko Lesney London Bus 5 21 Buy Matchbox Label Mw Vnm & Crafted BoxLesney Matchbox #41 Ford Gt40 Rare Yellow Body & Wheels Near Mint UnboxedMatchbox Robotech Veritech Hover TankMatchbox Models Of Yesteryear 1966 Chevelle Ss 396 - Ymc08 - 1:43 ScaleMatchbox 3 Dirt Modified Slot Cars Will Not Work On Tyco Or Afx TrackMatchbox A Moko Lesney No.18 Caterpillar Bulldozer With Orig Box, Ex Cond(j) Lot Of 27 Vintage Hot Wheels & Matchbox Cars W/ Super Rally Case. 1960 & 70sSuperfast No72 Dodge Delivery Truck With Pre Pro Matchbox Labels On Red BackLesney Matchbox #42 Studebaker Station Wagon & Box Super Nice!! Lot Of 4 Genuine Vinttage Matchbox Superfast Empty Boxes 3 8 19 23 Cars + Vw Bus1985 Robotech Matchbox Sdf-1 6" (m2196) Vintage Matchbox Lesney King Size Foden Breakdown Tractor K 12 Near Mint 1963Rare No 23 Lesney - Moko Matchbox Bluebird Dauphine - Light Metallic Green‏Moko Lesney Matchbox Model #16 Scammell Snowplough VnmibMatchbox Moko Lesney No 49a Vintage M3 Personnel Carrier Very Good In Box Lesney Matchbox Superfast Transitional #57 Trailer Caravan Red Over Cream MibMatchbox Superfast Collection - Lot Of 50 Near Mint/mint, With CaseMatchbox Lesney No 41b Vintage D-type Jaguar Nmint ConditionMatchbox Lesney Aveling Barford Road Roller 1 A2 Lt Green Vnm & Crafted BoxMatchbox Lesney 1966 19d 1-75 Orange Lotus Race Car W/box No ReserveMatchbox Lesney Mb 11 B Erf Petrol Tanker 'esso' - GpwMoko Lesney Matchbox Jaguar E Type Grey Tyres VgcVintage 1950s Lot 23 1:64 Diecast Car Truck Matchbox Lesney Gray Wheel #3 W/boxVintage 55+ Lot 1:64 Diecast Car Truck Matchbox Hubley Lesney Tootsietoy CorgiLarge Scale Moko Pre Lesney Matchbox Coronation CoachVintage Lesney Matchbox Mp#9 Interstate Double Freighter B140Matchbox Lesney Mb 3 Cement Mixer - Rare 1st Issue Script Box!Matchbox Superkings K148 Mercedes Benz 1628s/35l Hiab Crane Truck Mint In Box 88Lesney Matchbox 1970's Cascade Game Boxed VgcMatchbox 12b: Land Rover, Grey Plastic Wheels, Near Mint Model, Poor BoxLot Of 5 Genuine Vinttage Matchbox Superfast Empty Boxes 17 37 58 63 71 TrucksMatchbox Superkings K21 Ford Transcontinental Barenmarke &trailer 1979 Mint RareAntique 1918 Ww I Soldiers Field Pack- 1st Aid;gas Mask Kit;matchbox, Mirror

Recent News: Matchbox Cars

Source: Google News

Hoard of cars has become a 'monster'
Otago Daily Times, August 23rd

Allen Mill knows the make and model of each of his 6500 Matchbox cars and the year they were released. And the collector knows where each car is placed in custom-built cabinets in his shed. ''It's an obsession that's a bit over the top. I have run out...Read more

Two new Real Housewives spice up Melbourne
Sydney Morning Herald, August 20th

With names made for a revival of 1980s shoulder-pad soap Dynasty, Gamble Breaux and Pettifleur Berenger are the new cast members of the Real Housewives of Melbourne. They replace Andrea Moss, who quit the popular Foxtel drama after the ...Read more

'America's Toy Scout' scours U.S. for vintage toys
WLS-TV, August 13th

If you've raised kids, you probably have toys left in the attic or the basement: vintage toys you just can't buy anymore, old toys covered with dust and filled with memories. ... "The difference is they played with toys: the Tonka toys, the Matchbox...Read more

Rebuilt 1970 Cadillac ambulance revives memories
Chicago Daily Herald, August 11th

Wailing sirens, flashing lights and cool vintage iron could be seen and heard recently in North Aurora, signaling the return of the annual Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show. This event is now in its 17th year and is the largest of its type in the...Read more

Toy collector still a boy at heart
Marlborough Express, August 10th

In the shadows of a garage, teenage mutant ninja turtles scale shelves lined with matchbox cars, a taiha-wielding Santa commandeers a pirate ship, and fighter jets swoop down from the ceiling. Upstairs Kevin Heyward and his handlebar moustache tend to ...Read more

Step back in time, celebrate boomers' fave toys at Norton Museum
Palm Beach Post, August 9th

The exhibit takes a playful look at the major toys of the post World War II era – the miniature car, epitomized by Matchbox and Hot Wheels; and the “teenage doll,” the most famous of which is Barbie. The show aims to fascinate audiences of all ages...Read more

One Loudoun adds another restaurant
Loudoun Times-Mirror, August 5th

In another move to bolster its standing as an entertainment and dining destination, One Loudoun has announced it will add Copperwood Tavern to its crowded 2015 slate. In addition to Copperwood Tavern, One Loudoun has Matchbox Vintage Pizza Bistro, ...Read more

This Month In South Florida
The Pineapple Newspaper, August 1st

Many are in conjunction with the West Palm Beach museum's summer exhibition, Wheels and Heels: The Big Noise Around Little Toys — a broad, playful look at the enduring influence of the Barbie doll and Matchbox car. Art After Dark, sponsored by the ...Read more