Lesney was founded in 1947 as an industrial die-casting company by Leslie Smith
(March 6, 1918 - May 26, 2005) and Rodney Smith (August 26, 1917 - July 20, 2013).
The two men were not related by blood; they had been school friends and served
together in the Royal Navy during World War II. Shortly after they founded the
company, Rodney Smith introduced to his partner a man named John "Jack" Odell,
an engineer he had met in a previous job at D.C.M.T. (another die-casting company).
Mr. Odell initially rented a space in the Lesney building to make his own die-casting
products, but he joined the company as a partner in that same year.
Lesney originally started operations in a derelict pub in north London (The Rifleman),
but later, as finances allowed, changed location several times before finally moving
to a factory in Hackney which became synonymous with the company. In late 1947
they received a request for parts for a toy gun. As that proved to be a viable
alternative to reducing their factory's output during periods in which they received
fewer or smaller industrial orders, they started to make die cast model toys in the
next year. However, seeing no future for the company, Rodney Smith left the
company in 1951.
Yet, seen in hindsight, the first model toy they produced in 1948 — a die-cast road
roller based clearly on a Dinky model (the industry leader in die-cast toy cars at that
time) — proved also to be the first of perhaps three major milestones on the path to
their eventual destiny. It established transportation as a viable and interesting
theme; other similar models followed, including a cowboy-influenced covered wagon
and a soap-box racer. Of course, the company continued to produce non-toy items;
of those marketed directly by Lesney, one of the more popular ones was a bread-
bait press, well liked by British anglers at the time.
The next crucial milestone was the production of a replica of the Royal State Coach
in 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Two versions were created,
the first in a larger scale, followed by a smaller-scale model. It was this second
model that sold over a million units, a massive success at the time. The profits from
the sales provided valuable capital for further investments.
The final and decisive stepping stone in the pre-Matchbox era was a toy which Mr.
Odell designed for his daughter: Her school only allowed children to bring toys that
could fit inside a matchbox, so Mr. Odell crafted a scaled-down version of the
Lesney green and red road roller. Based on the aforementioned size restriction, the
idea was born to sell the model in a replica matchbox — thus also yielding the name
of the series which would propel Lesney to worldwide, mass-market success. The
road roller ultimately became the first of the Matchbox 1-75 miniature range; a dump
truck and a cement mixer completed the original three-model release.
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. This
distribution was documented on the boxes themselves, on which the text "A Moko
Lesney product" appeared. However, by the end of the decade, Lesney was able to
buy Moko, marketing its products under its own name from that point on. A period of
great expansion, tremendous profit, and recognition followed: In 1966, Lesney
received their first (of several) Queen's Awards for Industry. By the mid-'60s,
Matchbox was the largest brand of die-cast model vehicles in the world, and had
diversified the line into multiple series.
When Hot Wheels (then a separate company) were introduced in 1968, they featured
wider wheels on a thinner axle. The wheels were a made from a low friction plastic,
and the axles were polished to further reduce friction; a much faster wheel set that
created a much faster car. Sensing the play value of these faster, albeit less
realistic cars, Lesney created the Superfast series in 1969, using the same types of
wheels as Hot Wheels had. Lesney had essentially been caught with their pants
down, and had to compromise between their castings, which had been designed to
accept regular wheels, and the Hot Wheels-style wheel set, which needed a wider
wheel to be durable. The castings simply didn't allow enough room for a full-width
Hot Wheels type wheel, so middle period Superfast wheels were about half of the
width of today's wheels. By 1971 the entire Matchbox line was converted to
On July 11, 1982, after years of difficulties due to the economic climate in Britain at
the time, Lesney went bankrupt and into receivership. Competing companies Mettoy
(Corgi) and Meccano (Dinky) also suffered the same fate. The Matchbox brand as
well as Lesney's tooling were bought and became a division of Universal
Holdings/Universal Toys, where the company re-formed as "Matchbox International
Ltd." Tooling and production were moved to Macau. Jack Odell went on to form a
new company, Lledo, where he produced models similar to early Matchbox Models
of Yesteryear. Today, the Matchbox brand is owned by Mattel, creators of Hot
Some of the tools and dies created in the Lesney era are still used in the Matchbox
line as of 2007.
|Leslie Smith and Jack Odell
When I was a very young child I remember going to the "Lad and Lassie" toy store in
Blytheville, Arkansas. It was owned by Wallace Smith a close friend of my father.
To me in 1963 this was the greatest store in the world as it had the complete Tonka
collection, complete Dinky collection and the complete Matchbox collection plus
everything any boy or girl would ever want.
My dad told me to get whatever I wanted, so I took my time trying to take everything
in. The Tonka Fire trucks were super cool but for some strange reason I gravitated
to the Matchbox display. The display was a carousel full of cars and trucks listed by
numbers one through seventy-five.
I was taken in by the high detail of the cars and truck in 1/72 scale. I looked up at
Dad and said, "This is what I want." Dad and Mr. Smith laughed, and Dad said, "Son
you can't have the display but you can get as many cars as you want. The price was
49 cents each so it didn't take me too long to figure out that ten would cost five
dollars. I looked at Dad and said "Is ten dollars to much?" Dad said, "No, just get
what you want. I spent the next two hours turning the display and trying to decide
which twenty cars I would get. I don't remember which ones I got but I do remember
one in particular, a cream colored van that said Radio Rentals. It came with a sliding
back door and three little red TV's plus an antenna to put on top of the truck.
From that moment in time I have been enamoured with the pre-1969 Matchbox toys
and I still want the complete collection that I saw that day in 1963.
I've got a long way to go but I'm working on it.
The loose-leaf book pictured to the
right is considered the "Matchbox"
Bible. It was written by Michael J.
Stannard and has a Copyright date of
1985. It only covers the "1-75 Series"
and the years 1953-1969.
Since 1985 many more casting, paint,
and other variations have been found
than what is listed in this book, but it is
still considered the "Bible" when it
come to the "1-75 Series". No updates
to this book have been published,
although many groups and people keep
a running update.
A a good place to start is: Nick Jones Moko Lesney
It list most variations for "Regular Wheels" and "Superfast" and even shows auction
prices realized. Also if you have any questions they even have a forum, plus
numerous links. A great place for either the novice or expert to share information.
1953: Lesney Products & Co. LTD created what would be called the "1-75 Series" or
"Regular Series". At this time it consisted of only three items.
Number 1. Aveling Barford Diesel Road Roller in 1:144 scale.
Number 2. Muir Hill Site Dumper in 1:93 scale.
And Number 3. Cement Mixer in 1:36 scale
1954: Lesney adds four new models making a total of seven models. New models
added in 1954 were the Massey Harris Tractor in 1:75 scale, the AEC Regent London
Bus in 1:198 scale, the Euclid Quarry Truck in 1:126 scale, and the Horse Drawn Milk
Float in 1:125 scale.
1955: Eighteen models now make up the 1-75 Series.
Around this time Moko Lesney produced it first cardboard Roadway Series. 1956
also saw the Model of Yesteryear range began. Instigated by Jack Odell who had a
love of vintage steam vehicles, he wanted to make an accurate range of models that
would run alongside the very successful 1-75 Series but these would be aimed at
the adult collector rather than children. Like all of the vehicles modelled by Lesney
so far the Yesteryears were not made to a particular scale but were made to fit a
standard size box.
1957: Forty-two models made up the 1-75 series and a scale close to 1:72 was
being held for most new models as Lesney began spreading its wings into the Major
Pack Series with the Caterpillar Earth Scraper and the Bedford Wall Ice Cream
Truck. Lesney also introduced the Accessory pack in 1957 starting with the Esso
Pumps and Sign, followed by the Car Transporter. Soon after the advent of the
Esso Pumps and sign, Lesney saw a need for a station of some kind and partnered
with Raphael Lipkin Ltd. to make an all plastic "Matchbox" Showroom and Service
Station for Lesney under the Matchbox brand name. This partnership would
continue until 1959 when Lesney obtained their own plastics molding equipment.
1958: The 1-75 Series grow to sixty different models. The Yesteryear line had eleven
models, the Major Pack had two models and the Accessory Pack line had three.
1959/1960: The 1-75 Series has reached the magic number of seventy-five models a
number that would become the standard for years to come. King Size Models were
introduced, and the Yesteryear, Major Pack, and Accessory Packs were being
added to as well. By 1965 Lesney is the world leader in diecast cars. And all is well
in the World of Lesney.
1968: Lesney Products & Co. LTD introduces the Matchbox Motorway to answer
Aurora AFX Slot Car Racing small bleed-off of the diecast car market.
Mattel's introduces "Hot Wheels", and take the diecast market by storm.
1969. With sales reeling Lesney Products & Co. LTD slowly advances into the low
friction wheeled diecast car market with seven "Superfast" cars. As the current
line 1-75 Series car are not designed with the proper wheel space or chassis to fit
the wide low friction wheels and polished axles they require. A total retooling of the
line must take place. This is not accomplished until 1971/72
1982: After having to play catch-up to Hot Wheels, a declining market share coupled
with the poor economic climate of the time, Lesney goes bankrupt and is bought out
by Universal Holding. The last Matchbox car is made in England
|There are as many schools of thought on collecting "Matchbox" cars as there are
stars in the sky.
Some just collect the diecast cars made between 1953-and 1971 as do I.
Some just collect the Superfast Era between 1969-1972.
Some just collect the Matchbox cars made after 1972.
Some collect every variation of the 1953-1969 line.
Some collect every variation of the 1969-1972 line.
Some just King Size,
Some just Yesteryear,
And so on and so on......
But the big dividing line seem to be Pre-1970 Matchbox Cars (Pre-Superfast)
and the Post 1968 Matchbox Cars (After Regular Wheel)
So collect what you like, not what someone else seems to think you should collect.
It's your choice and your money.
|The History of Lesney Products & Co. LTD
|The History of the "Matchbox" Car 1953-82
|Why I collect "MATCHBOX" Cars
|Remember condition is EVERYTHING. If the collection is in good shape the best way
to realize it's true value is to deal with a reliable auction company. There will be a
seller fee involved but it is still the best way to make the most money from the
Vectis Auction is the world leader in auctioning Matchbox Cars. Downside is they
are located in London, England.
Philip Weiss Auctions located in Lynbrook, NY may be a better option if you are in the
Another great choice in the USA is Gateway Gallery Auction in Chambersburg, PA
|You Inherit a Collection and Want to Sell it.
|Recommended Matchbox Dealers
|The Walden Collection
Pre 1970 "MATCHBOX"