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”)

Matchbox.de

Matchbox.de

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 Lesney Superfast #24 Team Matchbox Rare Blue & Rarer "5" Label NmibMatchbox Lesney 41 **yellow** Ford Gt Racer **very Rare** W/original Box*** Matchbox Superfast Wheels # 75 Green Ultra Rare Ferrari Berlinetta W/ Box **Matchbox Lesney #22-b2 Vauxhall Cresta Pinkish Cream Body - Gpw - With BoxVintage Matchbox Bp Service Station Mg-1 Big Lot Hot Wheels Redline Matchbox Ect Mustang Impala Maverick Amx1985 Matchbox Robotech Sdf-1 Battle Fortress #850001 - In Box75 Matchbox Superfast Empty Boxes (mostly Lesney Era)Matchbox Lesney Superfast G-3 Racing Specials Superset 1970 & 6 Models Unsealed*** Matchbox Superfast 22 Pontiac Coupe Rare Transitional No Windows With BoxMatchbox Superfast 33 *rare Yellow* Lamborghini Miura *transitional* W/orig BoxLesney Matchbox Superfast Boxed 60 Holden Pick Up HondaVintage Lesney Matchbox Superfast Boxed Honda Motorcycle And TrailerMatchbox Lesney 66 Harley-davidson Motorcycle & Sidecar Vnc W/original Box** Matchbox Lesney Superfast - #64 Mg. 1100. - With Box Rare Green Body **Vintage Matchbox G8 Construction Gift Set1950 Matchbox Lesney #22 1958 Vauxhall Cresta B9 Gray Wheel EnglandVintage Lesney Matchbox Superfast Boxed Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Yellow BaseVintage Lesney Matchbox Series Superb Boxed Fiat 1500Matchbox Adventure 2000 K-2006 Blue Shuttle Launcher Near Mint In Box!Matchbox” Transitional Superfast Sf-22 Pontiac Grand Prix Dark Purple Near MibMatchbox Lesney Moko #43-a1 Hillman Minx Rare Apple Green With Original Box GmwHuge Lot Vintage Matchbox Lesney Lightning Redline Hot Wheels Cars Corgi TomicaMatchbox Robotech Blue Alpha Fighter Mars Base - Scott Bernard Version 1980s Vintage Lesney Matchbox Series Superb Boxed Ford MustangMatchbox Lesney Superfast #26 Volvo Cable Truck Red Base L Box Mib RareMatchbox Lesney England Superfast, No. 11 Mercedes Truck. Rare Dutch Matab Mib** Matchbox Superfast # 25 Ford Cortina Gt - With Box Rare Color TransitionalVintage Matchbox Lesney Lot Of 37 Cars And Trucks With Original Carrying Case Vintage Lesney Matchbox No.50 Kennel Truck (with 4 Dogs) In Box, Excellent 1969Matchbox Lesney #39-b1 Rare Purple Pontiac Convertible With Original BoxVintage Matchbox Superfast 22 Purple Pontiac Coupe Toy Mib W/original BoxVintage 1985 Matchbox Robotech Veritech Fighter Vehicle Rare Nice Shape Matchbox Lesney 50 Ford Kennel Truck Blister Pack Excellent Condition Rare FindMatchbox Lesney #55-b4 Ford Fairlane Police Car With Original Box Vintage Lesney Matchbox Series Superb Boxed Mercury Cougar*** Matchbox Lesney Superfast # 50 Ford Kennel Dark Green W/ Box *****Vintage Lesney Matchbox Series Superb Boxed Dark Silver Rolls Royce Phantom VMatchbox #22b Vauxhall Cresta MibMatchbox Robotech Sdf-1 Battle Fortress 1985 Vintage Collectible Matchbox Lesney 71 Ford Heavy Wreck Truck **very Rare Amber Windows** W/orig BoxMatchbox G-3e Superfast Racing Special Gift Set, W/sf-005a Ver 02, 020a M866Matchbox Lesney Ltd Mg-1c Bp Service Station 1968 No Forecourt & Original BoxVintage Matchbox Series Moko Lesney #33 Ford Zodiac No Box** Lesney Matchbox Vintage Original Collectors Catalogue No GrafitiMatchbox Superfast Tp-14 Mercedes Binz Ambulance #3 & Mercedes 300 Se #46 MibMatchbox Lesney Superfast #14 Mini Ha-ha X 4 Window Shade Variations J Box MibMatchbox Lesney Moko #22-b13 Vauxhall Cresta Copper/turquoise (gpw)Matchbox Lesney Ltd Mg-1c Bp Service Station 1968 For Parts & Original Box2016 Matchbox Mc Gathering '15 Mazda Mx-5 Miata Green/no Trunk Info/1of150/mibMatchbox Lesney Superfast #56 Mercedes 450 Sel Rare Red Interior K Box Mib Vtg. 1966 Mattel Miniature Car Carrying Case With 40 Lesney Matchbox VehiclesMatchbox Superfast 53 Ford Zodiac Mk Iv **rare Apple Green** Vnm W/original BoxVintage Lesney Matchbox Series Moko Loose Lot Bedford Dunlop Evening News NestleVintage Lesney Matchbox Series Morris Minor Blue*** Matchbox Lesney Superfast #71 Esso Wreck Truck W/ Box **Lesney Products 1966 48 Cell "official Matchbox Collector's Case" & 48 Models2016 Matchbox Mc Gathering '15 Mazda Mx-5 Miata Green/with Trunk Info/1of75/mibVintage Matchbox Lesney Models Of Yesteryear Lot Display Case 16 Classic CarsMatchbox Lesney 68 Turquoise Mercedes Benz Coach Vnm *very Rare* W/original Box