Lesney Matchbox Toys: Did you keep yours?
Lesney Matchbox toys were made by Lesney Products and Co. Ltd. Lesney was a British manufacturing company founded by Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith: (unrelated, despite the name), in a derelict pub (The Rifleman) in 1947 as an industrial die-casting company.
1953 was most notable for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and, probably less notably, the unofficial launch of the ‘Matchbox’ line of miniature diecast vehicles when British toy maker 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. This was a bit before my time but I would have loved to have owned one!
By the end of 1953, Lesney trademarked the name ‘Matchbox’ as the brand for all 1:75 scale cars and trucks. This was due in no small part to Lesney’s partner, Jack Odell, whose daughter, Ann, was only allowed to take toys to school which were small enough to fit in to a matchbox! Odell, (an engineer), successfully made a matchbox sized road roller out of cast-brass and painted it red and green. I am certain that she was everyone’s friend the day she took it to school, and her poor father must have been inundated with requests to make one for every Tom, Harry and Doris!
Models from the first year included; green-and-red cement mixers, road rollers, dump trucks, and the orange milk float featuring a black horse with white fetlocks and a metal milkman riding up on top. Cars were also offered.
The milk float is my favourite. It is such an icon of a bygone age. In Britain, the horse was replaced by the electric milk float and now you are lucky to see a milkman delivering to your doorstep, as most people now buy cheaper supermarket milk. Anyway, this blog is about Lesney and not milk delivery….
The Matchbox toys were a great success; children loved their small size and could buy them with their pocket-money. By 1960, Lesney was producing 50 million Matchbox vehicles per year!
Contemporary collectors love these vintage toys. Lesney Matchbox toys were noted for their attention to detail. Cars had dashboards, and their wheels looked real. Headlamps were spray-painted silver and, later, molded plastic was fitted into the interiors. Some models contained up to 100 die-cast parts!
In the early years of the series, Lesney used a partner company, “Moko” (itself also named after its founder, Moses Kohnstam), to market/distribute its toys.
Lesney went into receivership in 1982 and the Matchbox brand is now owned by Mattel (the creator of Hot Wheels).
Some original Matchbox, mint condition, models in boxes can fetch in excess of £400 so if you were a child like me, whom kept everything in mint condition, have a rummage through your attic or loft and see if you can find any hidden treasures!
Click on the following link for Lesney products for sale on our website.