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From very humble beginnings in ‘The Rifleman’ hotel to being the ‘Greatest Name in Diecast’ to what looks like now may be the end of days. Matchbox has a very interesting history.
1997 saw Mattel Inc. the company that nearly killed “Lesney Products” in 1969 with the release of its “Hot Wheels” cars, make a successful takeover of Tyco Toys. Thus they now owned Matchbox.
Thankfully for collectors and children alike, around the world, they did not do what many thought they would, and that was to no longer produce cars under the “Matchbox” brand. As Mattel now owned its major rival in the diecast toys industry, many thought it would be the end of Matchbox forever.
Thankfully those that held this view were wrong, Mattel initially did have trouble in keeping the two lines distinct from one another, but thankfully now after some false starts and seemingly bad decisions, they seem to have got the mix right.
After some year’s absence, the “Superfast” brand was re-introduced in 2004 to thunderous applause for the quality of the new models. 2006 saw a brief return of the “Models of Yesteryear” range that was discontinued in 2000 and the basic “1-75″ range that had developed into a bizarre range of un-realistic cars was re-invented into a range that anyone would be proud to own, play with & collect.
Sadly that hasnt lasted and after a few very successful years and rising profits, distribution problems saw a new decline in the product. With an increasing use of plastic the range has descended into a cheap imitation of what it once was, the ”greatest name in diecast” is no more than a range of generic plstic toys interspersed with some classically good looking models.
2 October 1992 was the day Tyco Toys took ownership of Universal Toys, and thus now owned the Matchbox brand name amongst others.
On the advice of a trialled system by “Matchbox Collectibles” a division of the company in Australia, they changed the “Models of Yesteryear” range into a mail-order and subscription sales only, targeting adult collectors and loosing forever any remote idea that these are children’s toys. By doing this, they lost many of the collectors that they were targeting, by making the range more thorough and therefore more expensive for someone to collect all released models and its inherent variations
On the other hand they continued the tradition of producing the “1-75 Series” miniatures, both continuing existing cars and of course adding new ones and making them available in the normal way.
24 September 1982 was the day David Yeh owner of “Universal Toys” became the owner of “Matchbox Toys Ltd”, the company formed after the original Lesney Products was sent into receivership.
Although the company name had changed, it took several years before the name of “Lesney Products” was removed from all dies; in fact some carried the name right up till 1985. Most of the original tooling was purchased by Jack Odell, who used it to setup his own die-casting company under the name of “Lledo”.
Within months of the takeover much of the tooling for “Matchbox Toys” had begun to be moved to Macau. 1983 saw the first Matchbox with a “Made in Macau” baseplate. Models of Yesteryear however remained at the Rochford plant until they too moved some 4 years later.
1987 saw Universal Toys acquire the trademark of “Dinky” from Kenner-Parker, thus adding it to the Matchbox stable of brands. Matchbox Toys however was no longer just in the business of die cast toys, they started producing other non die cast toys such as dolls and the like.
By early 1992 the original “Models of Yesteryear” series of 16 models had increased to 66 models, David Yeh had begun to look for a buyer to offload “Matchbox Toys” and by October of that year he had found one in “Tyco Toys”
19 June 1947, was the date in history that two old school friends (Leslie Smith & Rodney Smith) officially formed the company “Lesney Products”. They derived the company name by joining the first three letters of Leslies name to the last three of Rodney’s.
With about 600 British pounds in money, the pair purchased the “Rifleman”, an old unused hotel (pub) at Edmonton in London, and some government surplus die-casting machinery. They were soon joined by Jack Odell (John W Odell), a gentleman that worked along side Rodney at “Diecast & Machine Tools” in London.
In 1948, they started with just the one toy, an Aveling Barford diesel road roller, by 1953 the range had extended to 18 toys; in 1953 Jack Odell began designing small scaled toys, these became so successful that they formed the basis of the 1-75 series, a series that still continues today over 50 years later. By 1959, sales of the small cars now spread from the United Kingdom to the United States, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and countless other places around the world.
So successful was this venture that they branched out into other ranges and related products such as the larger scaled “Kingsize” & “Models of Yesteryear” range. The ‘Models of Yesteryear’ range was first produced in 1956, produced in a much larger scale than previously made models; this meant that they could display a lot finer detail on each model.
1969 saw the arrival of the biggest threat to Lesney Products domination of the diecast toy industry, this was the arrival of the “Hot Wheels” cars from Mattel Inc. Lesney Products were forced to quickly redesign their cars for a friction less axle, so by the end of the year “Superfast” cars had been introduced to the market, and by 1971, all of the Matchbox 1-75 Series had been converted to “Superfast” wheels, the impact was so great that the “King Size” was now labelled as “Super Kings”,.
By early 1982, Lesney was now suffering from the effects of a recession in the United Kingdom and had posted an operating loss of $15 million US dollars. The creditors were hounding the company for months, and then on June 11th, they declared Lesney Products bankrupt and sent in the receivers. The receivers “R D Agutter & G T E Red” reformed the company as “Matchbox Toys Ltd” and started looking for a buyer.
The key people:
We have list of the most commonly asked questions from collectors and those that are new to the hobby.
This is a very tough question to answer and is very subjective, what one person considers to be in mint condition may not be what the next person thinks, but as a guide you should consider the following labels :
MINT – Model is in the same condition as it was when it left the factory, this would be hard to achieve on older models
NEAR MINT – One or two tiny chips or box rubs, visible only on very close inspection.
VERY GOOD – Several small chips, scratches, or box rubs, visible on inspection.
GOOD – Several large chips or scratches, highly visible on inspection. Playwear highly evident.
POOR – Most paint missing. Has missing or broken features (Hitch, luggage, tires, etc.). May have been painted by sloppy “budding junior artist”.
Code 1 models are those that were made in their entirety by Matchbox or its associated companies.
Code 2 models are those that have been altered in some way (ie: re-labelling, repainting etc) by a third party with the full permission of Matchbox or its registered owners, this would include the blanks Matchbox produced for companies such as Color Comp & ASAP.
Code 3 models are those that have been altered by a third party without the permission of Matchbox, although some code 3 models are genuinely produced, this also covers the many fakes out there of original code 1 or 2 models
If you have a model that is not listed in the many catalogues or books, then please let us know. Take some clear photo’s (preferably in JPG format) and send them along with as much detail as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org, after verification, your model will be shown and judged by some of the most knowledgeable collectors and hopefully included in future listings, along with appropriate credits.
Many wall cabinets are now available especially design to display collectibles. These are ideal as the models should be displayed out of the dust. It is amazingly difficult to clean a model once it has experienced the ravages of a dusty, smoky atmosphere. Make sure that the models are displayed out of direct sunlight as the ultra violet can cause the plastics to fade, and the paint to change shade in an alarmingly short period of time. Boxes should also be kept out of sunlight. I keep my boxes made up and stored in a cupboard. However, if you are short of space the boxes can be folded flat but you must be careful to prevent creasing.
1) Try to look at the model as carefully as you can. Make sure the lighting is good. Try to avoid buying from dark shops where imperfections cannot easily be seen.
2) If you are looking for mint models avoid chips and scratches
3) Check carefully for any discrete restoration. Repaints or even slight touching up severely affects the value of a model.
4) Sometimes the box may be absolutely fresh and mint but this is because it has been stored in a cupboard for years. The model itself may have been on display in a smoky, dusty room and may have suffered.
5) If you come across a colour scheme you are not expecting check for repaints but more importantly check for fading. Look at areas that would not be exposed to sunlight, for example under the seats. The sun can have an extreme effect on the colour of a model, both the plastic components and the metal body work. For example, the usual green of the Yesteryear Y05-1 Bentley can change from the usual British racing green to an alarming shade of blue!
6) Check that the box being sold with the model is the correct one for that issue. For example, a cream Yesteryear Y03-2 Benz was never sold in a pink and yellow window box. In order to avoid a mistake along these lines you really need to obtain a reference book like the White Book from M.I.C.A. to take with you for reference
7) Unusually coloured plastic components may have been swapped from other models or models from the giftware range. There are some devious traders out there so make sure you know what you are buying
8) If you are really lucky and come across what you suspect is a rare variation check that the model has not been ‘modified’.
9) Watch for damaged boxes. The card ‘Matchboxes’ have a tendency to dry out slightly and only a few opening and closing operations can be enough to separate the end flaps from the rest of the box. Faded boxes are also undesirable.
No one can accurately answer this, as the price or value of a model is subject to the normal laws of supply and demand. I guess the true answer is that your model is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. Some collectors will pay a premium to get the one model they are searching for, while others may not be that interested and hence pay a lower price. As a guide though, there are really just two main factors that will govern the price, they are:
1) The rarity of the chosen model
2) The condition of the model and its box.
The highest prices are afforded to those models that are in mint boxed condition. That is the models must emerge from their boxes as fresh as the day they were manufactured and the boxes must be pristine and free from fading. Any deviation from this ideal will drastically reduce the value. Unlike some die-cast models, refurbishing a model by touching up chips etc. is a definite no-no and renders a model virtually worthless.
If the model no longer has its original box then the value may be reduced by as much as 50% that of a boxed example. Of course there are some exemptions to this, particularly rare examples, for some standard early models this can mean that the box is worth over AU$100.
Guide books such as the MICA White Book, Charlie Mack’s or John Ramsay’s price guide give an indication of dealer ‘values’ i.e. the amount of money required to purchase the model from a dealer. The values given are for mint boxed examples only. These are values that probably should be used for insurance purposes.
There will also be some regional variations in the cost of a model. For example only a few first series Yesteryear models were originally exported from the UK and therefore tend to be scarcer in the American and Australian markets and hence in those areas you may pay a slightly higher price.
You could try your attic! If that fails then you really must visit a dealer or a swap meet. Main dealers often exhibit at swap meets but so do many collectors. Swap meets are a great place to find that illusive model and to talk to fellow enthusiasts. There are several large swap meets in most countries several times a year.
The occasional model can be found for sale at local markets but these tend to be in poor condition and for sale at a high price. I have found car boot sales totally disappointing when it comes to finding Yesteryears but you might be lucky!
Also there is always MICA; they produce a bimonthly magazine with a classified advertisement section that is free for members. Many Yesteryears can be seen for sale here and you might just find exactly what you have been looking for. You may also find models for sale from collectors and dealers advertising on the internet at sites such as eBay, Vectis or on various Matchbox forum sites.
Probably the widest source is the Internet; Follow some of the WWW links that are provided on this website or visit our Facebook page and ask the thousands of collectors from around the world.
Another very good place to get information is by talking to other collectors and dealers at swap meets and toy fairs. Have a wander around several swap meets to see what is available or join a local Matchbox collectors club or the Matchbox International Collectors Association (M.I.C.A.).
Failing that there have been many very informative books published over the years by the likes of Charlie Mack, MICA and many others
This is obviously entirely up to you! The choice is endless, you can collect only ‘Models of Yesteryear’, ‘Skybusters’, ‘KingSize’, ‘1-75 Miniatures’ range or any other category or combination that you like.
Some people specialise in just one range, the following lists some areas you may like to investigate:
* Models issued in ‘Matchboxes’
* Models issued before 1970 (before the introduction of ‘Superfast’ wheels)
* Models issued before 1982 (before the take over by Universal Matchbox)
* Models produced from 1970 onwards (after the introduction of ‘Superfast’ wheels)
* Preproduction models
* Commercial vehicles
* Giftware items
* Code 2 models
As an example, if you decide to collect ‘Models of Yesteryear’ there have been a vast number of items produced from 1956 to the present day that you might wish to obtain. Therefore, to make things more manageable and easier on the pocket, a lot of collectors tend to specialise in one particular area. Specialising also enables some expertise to be built up on your chosen field. For example, I restrict my ‘serious’ collecting to all ‘Models of Yesteryear’ and only ‘1-75’ miniatures from 1970 onwards. Someone else may wish to collect all commercial vehicles whereas fire engines may attract another collector. Many collectors try to collect as many different items as possible, whereas others are interested in minor casting variations of the same model. Another collector may wish to collect all newly released models, although so many are being released now by Matchbox that even the purchasing of new models can soon add up.
At the end of the day, the real answer I guess is that you should collect whatever makes you happy, only you can decide !!!
SInce their inception there have been many ranges introduced under the Matchbox banner. Many already know that Matchbox is synonymous with small scale diecast replicas such as those from the 1-75 range, but there were other ranges as well like
- Models of Yesteryear
- Miniatures (1-75 range)
- Matchbox Collectibles
- Real Working Rigs
Here is where you can learn about those ranges
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