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]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Matchbox major Pack m6a Pickfords Transporter Red & Blue / Pickford Tempa Matchbox Lesney Racing Car Transporter K-5-b W/ Ferrari F1 Nm/exc+ & Crafted BoxMatchbox Lesney Accessory Pack A-1 Bp Garage Pumps/signs Vnc W/original Box8a Rare 1970 Lesney Matchbox Superfast Transitional "white" #8 Ford Mustang MibMatchbox g-1 Commercial Vehicle Set Box Only —outer Shell (no Insert)Matchbox reg Whls 62b Tv Service Van Cream / Radio Rentals DecalVintage Matchbox Lesney Service Garage For Cars22a 1970 Lesney Matchbox "superfast" Transitional #22 Pontiac Coupe Mib Mint !Matchbox Lesney Interstate Double Freighter M-9-a3 Major Pack Nm+ & Original BoxMatchbox 1961 International Pocket CatelogueMatchbox reg Whls 31b Ford Station Wagon Green-pink / Rare Black Base & SpwMatchbox Lesney Bp Team Racing Car Transporter K5-b King Size Vnm & Original BoxMatchbox reg Whls 50a Commer Pick Up Gray & Red / Knobby Bpw / “d" BoxMatchbox Lesney Guy Warrior Car Transporter K-8-b5 King Exc+ W/4 Cars Exc+ TovnmMatchbox major Pack 2b Bedford Cab & Trailer Orange & Silver /davies Tires Decal1981 Matchbox Chogokin Godaikin Voltron Ii Gb-36 Diecast Japan Robot TransformerMatchbox reg Whls 36b Lambretta Scooter Green / Knobby Bpw Lot Of 16 Vintage Lesney Matchbox Diecast Car Near Mint In BoxVintage Lesney Matchbox 48 Diecast Car Lot 1960's & 1966 Case England AwesomeMatchbox Lesney 4 Tray 48 Cell Lesney Collector's Case 1968 Vnm W/bonus 24 CarsMatchbox 1962 Usa International Pocket CatelogueMatchbox major Pack  m8b Car Transporter Green-blue Cab Orange TrailerMatchbox Lesney Foden Bp Heavy Breakdown Truck K-12-a2 King Nm+ & Original BoxMatchbox king Size k-8a Prime Mover & Tractor Orange / K-3 With Hard TreadsMatchbox Superkings K-21 C Tractor Transporter Nice In Original BoxMatchbox king Size k-6a Allis Chalmers Earth Scraper Orange / Crown BoxVintage Matchbox Series Gift Set G-4 Lesney Grand Prix Set Original BoxMatchbox The Original Michael Stannard Matchbox Loose Leaf Collectors CatalogueMatchbox reg Whls 41b D Type Jaguar Green /41 Decals / Knobby Dk Gpw /open ScoopMatchbox major Pack 2b Bedford Cab & Trailer Orange & Maroon / “lep" Decals Matchbox Lesney Vintage Original Box For No 75a Ford Thunderbird Nmint ConditionHuge Lot Matchbox And Hot Wheels Used Almost 500 Cars Corvette Matchbox reg Whls 34b Volkswagen Caravette Green  / Gpw /  rare “c" Box  Matchbox king Size k-4a International Tractor Red / Green Metal Hubs / Crown BoxVintage Lesney Matchbox 1958 Vauxhall Cresta 2-tone Diecast Car No ReserveMatchbox reg Whls 73a Raf 10 Ton Refueller Tanker Bluish  gray / GpwVery Rare!!! Vintage Matchbox Models Of Yesteryear Moy Display Case W/1966 StampMatchbox Lesney Guy Warrior Car Transporter K-8-b1 King Nm+ W/4 Cars Nm To Nm+ Huge Vintage Lot Of 32 Lesney Matchbox Cars + Collector's Case No 41 1966 Matchbox reg Whls  52b Brm Racer Rare Red / Side “5” Label - Hood Decal Matchbox reg Whls  51c 8 Wheel Tipper Orange / Rare White Grill & Base Vintage Matchbox Lesney Superfast Empty Boxes Ford Gt40 Marzal MercuryMatchbox reg Whls 66a Citroen Ds 19 Yellow / Rare Silver Wheels Matchbox reg Whls 73b Ferrari F1 Racer Red / “73” Decal / Rare Gray ManMatchbox major Pack M-6 Racing Transportergreen / Red HubsMatchbox king Size k-12a Breakdown Wreck Truck Green / Red HubsMatchbox reg Whls  43a Hillman Minx Turquiose & Cream / Gpw /  “b-5" Box 14a 1969 Lesney Matchbox "superfast" Transitional #14 Iso Grifo Mib Rare "f-box"Matchbox reg Whls 69a Nestle's Van Bright Red / Rare Large Fine GpwVintage-1960's-lot Of 8-a Lesney Product-matchbox Series-made England-iobMatchbox reg Whls 39b Pontiac Convertible Yellow / Gpw / Ivory Int / Black BaseMatchbox Superfast No.23 Volkswagen Bay Window T2 Camper Van Qty 4 C.1970Vintage Matchbox Lesney No.34 Volkswagen Split Screen Van Bus Pair C.1957Matchbox Lesney Vintage Original Box For No 55b Ford Fairlane Police Car NmintMatchbox Lesney Br-1 Bronner Sealed 50+ Pc. Build-a-road Set 1967 IssueMatchbox reg Whls 56b Fiat 1500 Rare RedMatchbox Cars Vintage Lot*moko Lesney Matchbox Model #34a Volkswagen Van Excellent!Matchbox reg Whl 47b Commer Ice Cream Truck Rare Metallic Blue / Knobby BpwMatchbox reg Whls 34b Volkswagen Caravette Green  / Bpw /  “e-4" Box

Recent News: Matchbox Cars

Source: Google News

So much to see at Circular Head Show
The Advocate, November 30th

"There will also be a large collection of Matchbox/die cast toys, while radio-controlled and wooden model trucks will be displayed by Jason Blake and Damien Smith." Live entertainment includes four time Country Music Association of Australia nominee...Read more

Battered old car was much loved
New Zealand Herald, November 29th

Many New Zealanders subscribed to it to get their regular fix of things Meccano," he explains. Dinky cars were more expensive than Matchbox toys, which were far more common in New Zealand. He says careworn models ... "We recently bought a collection of...Read more

Help Me Hank Ultimate Toy Test
WDIV Detroit, November 24th

The Hot Wheels version definitely had the edge in popularity with our junior toy testers, but some of the children did find something to love about the Matchbox version. The testers ... Some of the testers liked the bright colors of these tiny...Read more

York toy show is among largest in the country
FlipSidePA, November 23rd

But there are plenty of new action figures, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. Pro tip: There will be lots of Star Wars stuff available. “There are lots of dealers with older toys from the 50s on,” Skelly said. “But also a lot of newer things, it's such a...Read more

I'm a nuclear Armageddon survivor: Ask me anything
Ars Technica UK, November 18th

No consumer drone comes as standard with radiation detectors, but Geiger counter kits as small as a matchbox are available and, if you have the requisite electronics skills, can be simply interfaced to a telemetry transmitter. The whole setup will be...Read more

The quirky wedding guide
Wonder Woman, November 16th

Ditch the mundane this wedding season and add a bit of zanniness with vintage props or personalized photobooth signs. Picture courtesy: Tradition marries contemporary is the flavour of the wedding ... Whether you want a...Read more

Toys, tools and artefacts: Riverland collections and the stories behind them
ABC Local, November 11th

fun," the Waikerie-based toy collector said. "This is my second childhood. We can afford to get them now so we buy them." Mr Wohlfeil has more than 3,000 antique toys, including Matchbox, Lesney and Dinky toys, and commemorative British royal...Read more

'St. Louis Modern' showcases designers who changed the look of the world, November 8th

The next room includes items from the home of Famous-Barr president and art collector Morton D. May, designed by Samuel Marx, with andirons, a side table and a delightful table with a spinning wooden platform for books and magazines beneath its glass...Read more