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Matchbox Models By Lesney & Co

March 25, 2017
by the gentle author

It is my pleasure to publish the Matchbox 1966 Collector’s Guide & International Catalogue by Lesney Products & Co Ltd of Hackney Wick (courtesy of Libby Hall). The company was founded by Leslie & Rodney Smith in 1947 , closed in 1982 and the Lesney factory was demolished in 2010.

It all began in 1953, with a miniature diecast model of the Coronation Coach with its team of eight horses. In Coronation year, over a million were sold and this tremendous success was followed by the introduction of the first miniature vehicle models packed in matchboxes. And so the famous Matchbox Series was born.

More than five hundred million Matchbox models have been made since the series was first introduced during 1953, and today over two million Matchbox models are made every week. The life of a new model begins at a design meeting attended by Lesney senior executives. The suitability of a particular vehicle as a Matchbox model is discussed and the manufacturer of the full-sized car is approached for photographs, drawings and other information. Enthusiastic support is received from manufacturers throughout the world and many top secret, exciting new cars are on the Matchbox drawings boards long before they are launched to the world markets.

1.  Once the details of the full-size vehicle have been obtained, many hours of careful work are required in the main drawing office in Hackney.

2. In the pattern shop, highly specialised craftsmen carve large wooden models which form the basic shape from which the miniature will eventually be diecast in millions.

3.  Over a hundred skilled toolmakers are employed making the moulds for Matchbox models from the finest grade of chrome-vinadium steel.

4. There are more than one hundred and fifty automatic diecasting machines at Hackney and all have been designed, built and installed by Lesney engineers.

5. The spray shop uses nearly two thousand gallons of lead-free paint every week, and over two and a half million parts can be stove-enamelled every day.

6. Final assembly takes place over twenty lines, and sometimes several different models and their components come down each line at the same time.

7. Ingenious packing machines pick up the flat boxes, shape them and seal the model at the rate of more than one hundred and twenty items per minute.

8. Ultra-modern, automatic handling and automatic conveyor systems speed the finished models to the transit stores where electronic selection equipment routes each package.

From the highly individual, skilled worker or the enthusiast who produces hand-made samples of new ideas, to the multi-million mass assembly of the finished models by hundreds of workers, this is the remarkable story of Matchbox models. Over three thousand six hundred people play their part in a great team with the highest score in the world – over a hundred million models made and sold per year. Enthusiasts of all ages throughout the world collect and enjoy Matchbox models today and it is a true but amazing fact that if all the models from a year’s work in the Lesney factories were placed nose to tail they would stretch from London to Mexico City – a distance of over six thousand miles!

You may also like to take a look at these other magnificent catalogues

Crowden & Keeves Hardware

Nicholls & Clarke’s Hardware

Allen & Hanburys’ Surgical Appliances

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim McDermott permalink
    March 25, 2017

    I had so many of these models! My friends and I treated them brutally, yet they lasted for years (obviously, the weak links were the wheels and axles). I even made a ‘junk yard’ with the broken ones!

  2. Alex Knisely permalink
    March 25, 2017

    How wonderful. Aged eight, nine years, I spent so much time (and pocket money) with Matchbox… No, in the United States, where I was reared, I had never seen a Tate & Lyle sugar truck. But what did that matter?

    Thank you.

  3. March 25, 2017

    What happened? When did they go out of business?
    What a shame they didn’t hang on, I bet they could thrive again

  4. March 25, 2017

    My brothers used to collect the matchbox cars, and each new model was a must have! Valerie

  5. Greg Tingey permalink
    March 25, 2017

    I’ve cycled past that factory many times …
    But – “Matchbox” were, at least initially, a copy/imitation of an older (Liverpool-based) brand: “Dinky Toys” which were part of the Meccano/Hornby empire.

  6. Dean Armond permalink
    March 25, 2017

    The Hackney Wick factory was a local landmark for many decades!

  7. March 25, 2017

    I had a special box full of them. My brother and I collected them – my favourite was a bus, a London one I think, glamourous for a country child. Now I live within walking distance of the factory site. Respect!

  8. March 25, 2017

    This took me right back to my childhood. The catalogue was a dream for the imagination. The photographs of the production line are a reminder of the industrial base of the UK that has been destroyed just like children playing with small cars has been replaced by mindless computer games.

  9. March 25, 2017

    Instant memories of childhood. I remember the E type Jag and I recall a few years later, when my brother was young, they introduced a new development with ‘super fast’ wheels. You had to pull the car backwards against a surface and then let go and watch it hurtle along the carpet or the pavement.

    Happy days.

  10. March 25, 2017

    Wow, my childhood returns! I had (and have!) so many of them. One of the oldest and my favorite model was the Morris Pick-up Truck (No.60). I still have it in my collection!

    Very nice the catalogues: when the 1966 edition appeared, I was 10 years old …

    Love & Peace

  11. March 25, 2017

    I had quite a few of those cars, etc. I painted some of them, especially the lorries to all be part of the same company. Broken bits ended up as a junkyard. Surprise they went out of business in 1982, thought they were around still longer than that.

  12. Malcolm permalink
    March 26, 2017

    Another in the long and depressing line of British companies that went bankrupt due to the very difficult economic conditions of the 70’s. My cousin worked at Lesney’s making matchbox cars for 20 years. He was a skilled engineer and helped develop the spark eroder which was used to make very small, highly accurate holes in the moulds used for the huge range of models.
    He met his wife there too. Lesney’s – like Bryant and May – had a thriving staff community. They had all kinds of social and sports clubs which fostered a genuine loyalty among the staff. This is all gone now, companies don’t have the same kind of ethos and none have the community spirit that thrived in days gone by. It was a great pity the factory was demolished but we have seen so much of City swept away on a tide of avaricious development.

  13. Clive permalink
    March 27, 2017

    I love this blog!

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