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    

1982 Vintage Matchbox Vehicle Voltron - Never Opened. Mint. Misb. Dairugger XvMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.50 Kennel Truck Dogs On Sprue Lime - MibVintage Lesney Matchbox Display Case 1960s 1970s Lesney Matchbox Toy Cars Job Lot 14 Cars Plus Catalogue Which Has Been MarkedMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.23 Vw Volkswagen Camper Van - NmibVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw / Series Mf1 Fire StationMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast Original Empty Box No.29 Fire Pumper TruckMatchbox Lesney Accessory Pack A-2 Articulated 4-car Transport Nos Original Box.Rare Matchbox No 39 Pontiac Convertible Lesney NrVintage Lesney Matchbox Rw / Series Moko Vauxhall Cresta Deep Gold - A Beauty!!Vintage 1950-60's Corgi/ Dinky/ Tootsie/ Matchbox Toys: Tinplate/ Vw/ Crane Etc!Matchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.38 Honda Motorcycle With Trailer - NmibMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.50 Kennel Truck - NmibMatchbox Superfast No46a Mercedes 300 Se - Rare Silver / Dotdash Wheels Exib!Vintage Lesney Matchbox Superfast Ford MustangVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw / Series Vw Volkswagen CamperVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Moko Erf Tanker Esso Gold TrimVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Superfast Ford Zodiac Iv Lime GreenMatchbox Moko Lesney Ford Zodiac Mkii 33 A10 Tan Org Spw Sc17 Vnm & Crafted BoxMatchbox Lesney Vauxhall Cresta 22 B14 Copper 9x24 Spw Sc22 Vnm & Crafted BoxVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Superfast X4 Clipper Soopa Coopa Carabo Whoosh PusVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Moko Removals LorryMatchbox Lesney Rare Muir Hill Dumper 2 C2 Muir Hill Decal Scu Vnm & Crafted Box'60's Lot Of 63 Lesney Vintage Matchbox Cars Vehicles Two Carrying Cases VariousMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.13 Dodge Bp Wreck Truck - MibVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw / Series Triumph T110 Motorcycle W/ SidecarMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.12 Safari Land Rover - MibMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.59 Ford Galaxie Fire Chief Car - NmibVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Moko Ford Prefect GpwVintage Matchbox Lesney Moko Gray Wheel Car Lot Of 12Job Lot Matchbox Superfast Accessories: Motorcycles / Containers / Boat Etc!Vintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Moko Script Box No 1 Aveling Barford Road RollerVintage Lesney Matchbox Rw / Series Moko Ford Zodiac Two Tone ExcellentMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.67 Vw Volkswagen 1500 Tl - NmibVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed King Size K2 Kw Dart Dump TruckMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.3 Porsche 911 Turbo - MibLesney Matchbox Boxed Superfast Era G Type Box Alvis Stalwart Yellow WheelsMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.15 Vw Volkswagen Beetle Rally Car - NmibVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Superfast Ford Gt Racing Car F1 Type BoxVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw/ Series Austin Taxi Gpw“matchbox” Transitional Superfast Sf-67 Volkswagen 1600tl Red Body NmibLot Of Vintage Toy Cars - Lesney Midgetoy Tootsie Toy Hot Wheels Matchbox PlanesVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw / Series Bp Exploration Alvis StalwartOldsmobile Vista Cruiser Slot Car New Custom Afx Orange Surf Wagon MatchboxVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw / Series Factory Hole In Base Erf Petrol TankerMatchbox Superfast Land Rover Defender 110 In Rare Orange With Expedition TamposVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw / Series Light Blue Base Chevrolet Impala ExcVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw / Series Raf Pressure Refueller GpwVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Moko Bedford Dunlop VanMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.6 Ford Pick Up - MibVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Moko Script Box No 5 Double Decker BusMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.9 Boat And Trailer - MibVintage Lesney Matchbox Rw / Series Moko Aston Martin Db2 GpwVintage Lesney Matchbox Boxed Rw/ Series Jaguar E Type. “matchbox” Transitional Superfast Sf-64 Mg 1100 Light Metallic Blue Mint BoxedVintage Lesney Matchbox Superfast Ford Escort Rs 2000 Red InteriorMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.57 Trailer Caravan - ExcibMatchbox Lesney Vintage Superfast No.62 Chevrolet Corvette - Excib% 1960's Matchbox Volkswagen Camper & Trailer Caravan In Original Boxes L-18Matchbox Superfast No42c Mercedes Truck - Rare Yellow / Green "mayflower" Mib!