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” Transitional Superfast Sf-22 Pontiac Grand Prix Error No Windows MibVintage Matchbox Car, Store Display Case,very Good Condition,no Abuse.Matchbox Lesney1969 Display Set, G35 W/5 Boxed Models, 38c, 39c, 40c, 47c, 51cMatchbox ,2016, 14th Gathering Of Friends Convention Mazda MiataMatchbox Robotech Sdf-1 Battle Fortress Collectors SeriesMatchbox Superfast No. 60 Holden Pick Up Truck With MotorcyclesMatchbox Moko Lesney # 46 Morris Minor Vgc / Vgc Original BoxVintage Robotech Tactical Battle Pod Matchbox 1985 W/ Box ZentraediMatchbox Superfast Mb 29 Racing Mini X10 Job LotMatchbox Voltron I, All Parts In Mint Working Condition, Instructions Included. Vintage 1958 Lesney Moko Matchbox #47a Trojan Van 'brooke Bond Tea "b" Type BoxMatchbox Lesney Superfast No. 22 Pontiac Gp Sports Coupe Dark Purple Mb22c 1970Lot Of Vintage Lesney Matchbox Toy Diecast Vehicles Ha102Matchbox Lesney #46-b9 - Pickfords Removal Van - Rare Beales Bealsons - MibLesney Matchbox No. 46. Morris Minor 1000Vintage Matchbox Lesney Volkswagen Camper And Thames Estate Car *with Box*1/72 Aircraft Scale Model Kit - Matchbox Lesney Pk-606 Pb4y-2 Privateer Ry3Vintage Lesney Matchbox #39 Pontiac Convertible Regular Wheels Near Mint 1962Matchbox King Size No. K5 Bp Racing Car Transporter 1967 Nice Rare Original Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Off Brands Military Lot Of 48 Diecast Cars With Case MintVintage 1954 Lesney Moko Matchbox #4a Massey Harris Tractor "b" Type Box Vintage Matchbox Superfast # 23 Volkswagon Camper Original Blister PackMatchbox Lesney Mb 17 Austin Metropolitan Taxi - Rare Spw“matchbox” Transitional Superfast Sf-57 Land Rover Fire Truck Mint BoxedMatchbox Vhtf, 1997 Land Rover Defender 110, 75 Chevy Stepside, Audi R8Matchbox Lesney 68 Turquoise Mercedes Benz Coach Vnc *very Rare* W/original Box“matchbox” Transitional Superfast Sf-64 Mg 1100 Metallic Blue Mint BoxedAll Size Spares Tyres Box Lot Parts Restore.dinky-corgi-matchbox-solido DiecastMatchbox Cars Display Case“matchbox” Transitional Superfast Sf-48 Dodge Dump Truck Four Spoke Wheels NrmtMatchbox Superfast #67 Volkswagon 16 Tl *transitional Model* Blister Pack**vhtfMatchbox Moko Lesney # 34 Volkswagon Inernational Express Van, M / Vgc BoxRare 1974 Matchbox Mobile Action Command Mac Rescue Emergency Medical Unit MintVintage 1961 Lesney Matchbox Major #m1b "bp" Autotanker (leyland) "d" Type BoxLot Of 18 Vintage Lesney Matchbox Diecast Cars Trucks Mostly In BoxesVintage Lesney Matchbox 48 Sports Boat & Trailer Regular Wheels Mint In Box 1961Matchbox Lesney No 46a Vintage Morris Minor 1000 Very Good ConditionMatchbox Lesney # 46 Pickfords Gpw, Nm / Gc BoxMatchbox Models Of Yesteryear Code 2 Chevrolet 3100 Pick Up Truck & Austin 7 VanRare Matchbox Mobile Action Command Mac Rescue Military Recon Unit Mint MibHot Wheels Matchbox Huge All Vw Bus Bug Kool Kombi Delivery Van Transporter LotLot Of 4 X Matchbox Lesney Regular Wheels, #42, #23, #31 And #37Matchbox Models Of Yesteryear Code 2 Ford T Van In Bullards Beers LiveryOld Vintage Hot Wheels & Matchbox Lesney Diecast Cars & Trucks Lot Of 11Vintage Matchbox Lesney King Size Car Auction Collection Major Pack No. 8Vintage Matchbox Grand Prix Race Track Lesney Old Car Toy 60's Set Roadway R-4Vintage Hot Wheels Matchbox Topper Tinkertoy Car Die Cast LotMatchbox Lesney Mb 66 Greyhound Coach - Clear WindowsVintage 1960's,70's Hot Wheels Redlines /matchbox Two Cases Booklets Lot45 Vintage Matchbox Die Cast Cars & Carrying Case Lot Truck Racers Tractors Car3 Vtg Matchbox/lesney Car Carry Cases+38 Cars+14 HotwheelsHot Wheels, Matchbox, Muscle Machines Military Lot Of 22 Diecast Cars MintVintage 1955 Lesney Moko Matchbox #12a Land Rover "b" Type Box Matchbox Lesney No 65a Vintage Jaguar 3.4 Litre Saloon Nmint ConditionMixed Vintage Lot Of 31 Matchbox Series Lesney Diecast Race Cars Bus & TrucksMatchbox K-31 Coca-cola Peterbilt Refrigeration Truck (in Box)Matchbox Lesney #61 Alvis Stalwart Blister Pack...rare Find..see My OthersMatchbox 50 Kennel Truck With Dogs And Box1/72 Aircraft Lot, Airfix,mpc,matchbox: C-47,f-4b,skyray,f-86d,dominie,mystereVintage Matchbox Lesney Major Pack # 8 Mobilgas Petrol Tanker Truck With Box