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Matchbox Models By Lesney & Company

April 9, 2021
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

15 Responses leave one →
  1. David Gooding permalink
    April 9, 2021

    Matchbox models!
    So many good memories of these innovative toys.

  2. April 9, 2021

    I never collected toy cars, trucks, tanks or caravans as a young girl. But my brother was passionate about Matchbox toys and got them as birthday presents from about 1956 on. He still loved cars and trucks as an adult 🙂

  3. Robert Moye permalink
    April 9, 2021

    Astrid Proll, former member of the Baader Meinhof Gang, worked at the Lesney factory for a year in the 1970s while on the run.

  4. April 9, 2021

    Very nice, that was exactly my MATCHBOX time! Oh, how I loved those little cars. I still have the MILK DELIVERY TRUCK, the PONTIAC GRAND PRIX, the VAUXHALL VICTOR, the JEEP PICK-UP TRUCK and many more. Even the German catalogue of 1966 still exists!

    My father brought me my first car models at an even earlier age. I think the first one was the MORRIS PICK-UP TRUCK.

    At this point I would like to remember and thank my father, who passed away three days ago at the blessed age of 94. He, born in 1926, has now reached his destination even before Queen Elizabeth II…

    Love & Peace

  5. Jill Wilson permalink
    April 9, 2021

    I used to love model cars when I was young – even though in those gender stereotyped days I should have been playing with dolls like my more conventional sister…

    I remember being particularly envious of the blue Matchbox Jaguar which my then boyfriend David Kilpatrick (aged 6!) had – I think it would have been number 65 in the catalogue.

    Happy days!

  6. April 9, 2021

    I still have my Coronation coach and horses after all these years!
    My Aunt used to work at the Matchbox factory and as a result , my brother had quite a collection of these delightful little models.
    Seeing all these pictures brings back happy memories of those days when a small, boxed gift could give so many hours of pleasure.

  7. Greg T permalink
    April 9, 2021

    “Dinky” – made by the people responsible for Meccano & Hornby were much better

  8. Richard permalink
    April 9, 2021

    Surely the first Baader-Meinhof gang appearance on Spitalfields Life.

  9. Simon permalink
    April 9, 2021

    What a joy to see this. I vividly remember the Matchbox double decker buses which ferried the workers to and from the factory.

  10. Helen H permalink
    April 9, 2021

    Great article. Shared with my Dad. It brings back memories of a book my Dad gave me as a little girl called “Mike and the Modelmakers – The story of how Matchbox models were made” by Miroslav Sasek. It tells the story of a young boy’s trip to London with his father (on business) to seek out toy vehicles, and throughout the book he gives a tour of the factory and and each stage of production of the cars, all beautifully illustrated in typical Sasek style. I loved this book and I also owned quite a number of Matchmaker vehicles which I used to “drive” around the garden, with my brother, and his more advanced collection. Happy long gone days!

  11. Mark permalink
    April 9, 2021

    Brilliant. Have several of these vehicles, rather battered, in the loft, waiting for the next generation to play with.
    Quality workmanship and fascinating that Astrid worked at the factory.
    You learn something everyday!

  12. SJ Kurtz permalink
    April 10, 2021

    I started my Matchbox collection in the mid60s, and have some of the same models (the fire chief’s car, the firetruck, the Mercedes Convertible, the Sugar Truck). It stands to reason that they kept using the same molds for decades. Why would they need to change them?

  13. Barrett permalink
    April 13, 2021

    I forwarded this to my friend and neighbour here in Hong Kong, where I live. Now in his late 70s, he rose through the ranks at Lesney’s Hackney factory and was rewarded with a posting to the FarEast when production shifted from the UK to HK.

    When Lesney closed in 1982, he bought and restarted what remained of the company – perhaps an interesting follow-up for you, GA …?

  14. December 29, 2023

    Does anyone know where I can find and purchase the following Matchbox models from the 1966 collectors guide?

    The numbers I want are: 6, 8, 11, 16, 18, 24, 25, 30, 43, and, 58.

  15. December 29, 2023

    Does anyone know where I can find and purchase the following Matchbox models from the 1966 collectors guide?

    The numbers I want are: 6, 8, 11, 16, 18, 24, 25, 30, 43, and, 58.

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