Matchbox, a popular toy brand introduced by Lesney Products in 1953 but is now owned by Mattel, Inc, has always been a perpetual favourite among vintage toy car collectors, with its large varieties of diecast toy vehicles, plastic model kits and action figurines.
Collectors were fascinated by the intricate details that went into the making of the original Matchbox cars, which had dashboards, wheels which looked real, and headlamps which were painted silver. In particular, the Matchbox series called Models of Yesteryear that was launched in 1956 was a hot favourite, especially Matchbox models of yesteryear such as a 1925 Allchin tractor engine car, a red London double-decker bus, a Leyland lorry and a 1929 Le Mans Bentley race car.
Another series that was launched around the same time and was very popular was the Matchbox Major Packs, which are slightly bigger than the regular 1:75 Matchbox range, containing all types of heavy machinery and trucks models such as a yellow Caterpillar Earth Scraper and a Bedford Ice Cream truck. Now the question is, how then, do we determine the collectibility of these valuable Matchbox cars?
How to Determine the Collectibility of Valuable Matchbox Cars
The collectibility of these rare, valuable Matchbox cars is determined mainly by five factors.
The age of the Matchbox toy vehicles is a vital factor in determining the value of the cars. For example, a model produced in standard quantities in the 1950s will be rarer and more valuable today than one produced in similar quantities in the 1980s.
- Rarity and Variations
Some Matchbox toys are intentionally produced in limited quantities to allow a high initial sales price and/or force the value to remain high on the collectors market – such toys were deemed as rare in the collectors’ eyes. However, sometimes this was also not intentional, as for instance, a model could be less popular.
Variations refer to changes in production models such as changes in the materials used, in the dies, or the color scheme. For example, a particular model car can be fitted with different types of wheels – plastic or metal during their series, and a given wheel type might be more valuable than the rest. Moulds or dies are changed sometimes due to weaknesses in the final diecast product or due to difficulties in production caused by the die, and hence the numbers of toys being produced are often less. As for color changes, as a collector you must check the change in color of the model’s entire car body, including the baseplate, interior and windows, and not just the body.
As per other collectibles, the condition of the model determines its value – the better the condition, the higher its value. Usually, we refer to the conditions as mint, excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. Obviously, if your Matchbox toy vehicle has chipped paint and broken parts, it would not be more valuable than one in mint condition.
To every collector, Matchbox cars collectibles in their original boxes are always more valuable than those that had no boxes. A mint-in-box model can, in some cases, be worth up to 100% more than the mint model without a box, given that all other factors remain the same.
Some boxes that were produced in lower quantities were even more prized. For instance, the first seven 1-75 valuable Matchbox cars made were packaged in boxes that bore the phrase “A Moko Lesney Product”, signifying the business relationship between Lesney and Moko, a company that Lesney partnered with. These boxes are now extremely valuable.
The popularity of the model also affects its value. For example, if there are two models that were produced in similar quantities, and one model is more popular than the other, the popular one would sell much better, and its value would be much higher. However, this would also mean that more often than not, the less popular ones would be the ones that were found in mint conditions, and not the popular ones, which would most likely be played with rigorously. As such, the value of the popular model would rise, as it would be very difficult to find one in mint condition in the market any more.
Matchbox collectors’ clubs have sprung up all around the world – the major ones such as Matchbox Club, Matchbox Forum, Bay Area Matchbox Collectors Association, Regular Wheels, Matchbox USA, etc. have published books or established websites that describe the various Matchbox ranges and their estimated price values. There is no real consensus on the actual monetary value of Matchbox toy models, as it remains a collectors market, and as such, prices depend greatly on how much a collector is willing to pay for one.
The Most Valuable Matchbox Cars Ever
Matchbox has manufactured many die-cast miniatures which are now considered to be very valuable by collectors. Here is a brief breakdown of the most expensive, most rare and also most valuable Matchbox cars ever.
1953 Aveling Barford Road Roller
Some time from 1947 to 1953, Leslie and Rodney Smith, the producers of large, die-cast miniature toys in London, hired tool and die maker Jack O’Dell to make a toy that would be acceptable by his daughter’s school and that would also “fit inside a matchbox”. Hence, O’Dell scaled down the company’s popular road roller and the rest is history.
The 1953 Aveling Road Roller, which is now considered as one of the most valuable and collectible Matchbox vehicle ever, was released as part of a three-model set, the other two being a dump truck and a cement mixer.
Though it was released as part of a three-model set in 1953 (the other two miniatures were a dump truck and cement mixer), the Aveling Barford Road Roller is considered the first and, not surprisingly, one of the most collectible Matchbox vehicles ever.
The 1967 model of the Matchbox 27D Mercedes-Benz 230SL in apple green colour became one of the most valuable Matchbox vehicle to have been ever sold when it netted an astonishing $6,765 auction price in 1999.
The sea-green colour Matchbox car Opel Diplomat was priced at just 48 cents in 1966, but today, it is worth at least $9,000.
Collector Charlie Mack stumbled upon a brown “No.30” crane truck at a neighbour’s garage sale and he bought it for $10, selling it 3 years later for $10,000. Another collector Jim Gallegoes, who owned more than 150,000 die-cast miniature cars valued at more than $1.4 million, was reported to have purchased a brown No.30 crane in 2004 for a whopping $13,000.
The circa 1965 “reverse colour” Dodge Wrecker, a die-cast truck that has been described as the “Holy Grail” of Matchbox collectibles, was sold for $8,499 after a ferocious round of bidding.
Photos courtesy of VintageToys.com and HistoricVehicle
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