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.
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Model car collecting: an introduction to 1:64 scaleAutoblog (blog), February 9th
Vintage 1:64 cars are still easy to find and can be a good investment for collectors of all ages. Original Matchbox Lesney vehicles are highly collectible and can date back to the early 1950s. Detail and quality were impressive for those years and in...Read more
Toy assortment set to spark nostalgia in young and oldThe Press, February 3rd
The Toy Collector has realised his dream of owning a showroom to display his grand collection of toys. The eclectic exhibit will stir ... Soldiers and matchbox were the toys he accumulated as a child, and both remain as his favourites. The 59-year-old...Read more
History Unravelled in Collector's HobbyThe New Indian Express, February 2nd
The urge to be do something different and unique made Rohit Kashyap, a corporate trainer, take to phillumeny — the hobby of collecting matchboxes, holders and labels. Hailing from Jhansi, Rohit settled in Chennai four years ago. When did he develop an ...Read more
How a sharecropper's son with a third-grade education changed the definition ...PBS NewsHour, January 29th
“I hook up a matchbox to two hoppergrasses, tie threads around their neck. I wanted to have my own mules and wagon. Called it 'the green horses.'” He often worked with found materials ... The collector Bill Arnett met Dial in 1987 and spent the next...Read more
911: Minichamps VS HotWheels customThe Daily Star, January 27th
Hot-Wheels and Matchbox are the starting point for any petrolhead's road to ruins. It's like a one taka candy that appeases a child's sweet tooth only to lead to a full blown craving. What you see here are two 1:64 cars on two ends of the wallets...Read more
Thornton Dial, Pioneering Artist Who Channeled Everyday Materials Into ...ARTnews, January 25th
Living in rural Alabama, Dial made work throughout his life, but received wider notice only in his late 50s, when the artist Lonnie Holley tipped off the collector Bill Arnett to his work, sparking a friendship and business arrangement that would be...Read more
The six stages of playing 'Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector'The Martlet, January 21st
Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is a mobile game where you buy toys for virtual cats, who in turn leave you fish, which you then use to buy more toys. None of this is real, but for somebody like myself whose every friend seems to have a living, breathing...Read more
Matchbox Collectorwnep.com, February 23rd
Back then, Mike Stevens met a collector in Northumberland County who had more than a few of our favorite things. Filed in: On The PA Road. Topics: back down the pennsylvania road, On The Pennsylvania Road. Suggest a correction. ×. Suggest A ...Read more