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Collectible Matchbox Cars: Hope You Saved the Box!

by Bram Hepburn (10/22/13).

This 1960s Fire Chief car sells today “used” for $10 or so, and in mint, maybe for $25. But mint-in-the-box, closer to $70.

I am 53 years old. So if my math is correct, it would have been about 45 years ago (the late 1960s). Now, I’ll sound more like I’m 80 years old when I tell you that my dearly departed Mother would occasionally take me to the “Five ’n’ Ten” store down in the local village, which is when Matchbox cars became the gold standard of personal possessions for me.

She would shamelessly extort good behavior out of me, using the purchase or denial of new Matchbox cars for my collection to keep me in line.

In my oh-so-innocent boyhood days, I could bargain and cajole with her, using any other currency, and come out on top. But when Matchbox cars were brought into the mix, I grew weak at the knees.

And all these decades later, I can still remember vividly a memorable day when I had been sick and home from school and, as a treat, she brought me to the Five and Ten cent store. I’m not sure what I did to deserve it that day, but Mom said I could pick out ten (!?!) cars for myself. I couldn’t believe my ears. We went into the store, and I quickly ran to the back of the store where the Matchboxes were—half on the rear wall, while the rest hidden behind a store room door, where you had to swing back the door to get access to an additional six-foot wall of shiny Matchboxes, stacked on skinny shelves, all packed in their original card board boxes.

On this day, as I euphorically selected my prize picks, Mom had been talking to the cashier, whom she knew on a friendly basis. I’ll assume she was telling her that I’d been sick and out of school, because after a few minutes, I heard them calling my name from the front of the store.

This reference and price guide published in 1983, “Matchbox Toys,” is the best book I’ve seen to get a quick over view of what you might have, in terms of value, in that old Matchbox collection you have in the attic. It was compiled by Nancy Schiffer, and is not too difficult to find if you search for it.

This is one of the original plastic carrying cases in which you would keep your Matchbox car collection. These cases do not have much value at all, but I still have mine, in very good condition. What these cases did, however, was eliminate the need for you to keep those darn individual cardboard boxes that the cars were sold in. You know, those boxes that are so pricey now. Funny how that works.

Mom spoke to me in a magical whispering tone sounding like she had been speaking to God personally, and He was going to let me through the gates of Heaven itself for a few minutes, just to poke around. And, sure enough, that was more or less the case, as she said that her friend the cashier was going to let me look at some special, limited-edition matchboxes that the company had sent her special, and she was keeping separate.

She knelt down behind the counter by the register and motioned for me to come back there with her, with Mom smiling and watching.

I remember my heart was absolutely pounding as she pulled some open boxes out from the underneath cabinet and I was allowed to pick out some brand new Matchboxes that I had never seen in any of the yearly catalogs that the Matchbox Company had sent me! One was a crane, one was a farm tractor with two attaching trailers for doubling up, and also a train engine that was from a series called “Models of Yesteryear.” I was never so happy!

This is an early Morris sedan (“early” Matchbox cars refers generally to cars made by the Lesney Co. in London, in the late 1950s to 1960s, with “regular” hard black or grey wheels, as opposed to “superfast,” which were manufactured in the 1970s and later). Because of its scarce color, great condition and original box, it would bring several hundred dollars at auction.

With the advent of online auction services like eBay, Matchbox cars (as with most collectables), have had their prices polarize. The lower-end common examples that sold for $10 in 1990 might sell for $18 today, whereas an extremely rare car that sold for $200 in 1990 might sell for $3,500 today. For example, the BP wrecker truck shown here (which is mine) would be worth about $40 if it were mint, and maybe twice that (or more) with the original box. Recently on eBay, the same truck, in “reversed colors” (green front, yellow in the rear), for more than $8,000 sold on eBay.

I remember in my frantic glee, opening each of the small cardboard boxes that incased the cars as Mom drove me home. She kept saying “Save those boxes; don’t rip them!” So, I listened for a moment, but kept ripping and opening more as I went along through the bag.

I know when I got home, she repeatedly tried to get me to save the little boxes they came in, with the picture of the car on each. I tried to listen. I tried to obey … I really did.

And I took good care of those old, well-made Matchbox cars, and still have them safe in a Matchbox carrying case to this day. My young son plays with them now, and likes the “good old ones” the best.

One of several double decker London style buses offered by Matchbox. This one is a trolley bus, which usually available for $25 to $80 (again, top price for mint-in-the-box).

A Model of Yesteryear “Duke of Connaught” train engine. It was special back when I got it, but it will only command $10 to $25 today.

This was one of my favorites, a Lambretta motorcycle with sidecar. It was the favorite of many little boys, so they made lots of them. So, despite their popularity, they have minimal value (but you can’t have mine!); roughly $30 ($80 top price for mint-in-the-box).

A Singer Sewing Machine work van is worth $40 used. In the box, you would have to pay $200 for it.

Because I took such good care of them, they have held and increased their value. The cars that I bought for 59¢ each back years ago are now worth $10, $30, $50 apiece, and even more for some of them.

Oh, yes, and if they are in their original matching paper cardboard box, they are then worth sometimes tem (!?!) times as much.

So, what did I do with my original boxes? I am somewhat sure that when I was 9, on some summer evening when I was bored, I set them on fire somewhere out behind the chicken coop.


Bram Hepburn collects 19th-century New England bottles and glass, having spent the last 30-plus years digging and diving for bottles in New England and upstate New York. He lives in Eliot, Maine.

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9 Responses to “Collectible Matchbox Cars: Hope You Saved the Box!”

  1. I used to purchase Matchbox for my son, as a travelling salesman, each week, and they number in the hundreds, but one day he said, “Daddy, I’m too big to play with little cars”, and he immediately became older than me. I still have them, some with boxes, but many without, after all they were bought as play toys. Most of those I purchased after my son gave them up are in blister packs as opposed to boxes, but I do have foreign issue and Collector Club issues with the box.

    • Bram Hepburn Bram Hepburn says:

      Thanks for the reply – I can imagine your son was excited to get the Matchbox’s each time you drove in the driveway. It’s funny though, the slightly newer ones in the blister packs are often more valuable than the old boxed ones.

      • Hi Bram,
        Taking note of your bottle collecting, only one I have of note is an early Anheuser-Busch beer bottle from back in the days when they had a brewery in Norfolk, VA, lo this many, many years ago. My die-cast collection now is of all makes, Hot Wheels, Tomy, Corgi, Maisto, even some Tootsietoy and Dinky. And of all scales. Last few days doing some research on Bing and Google about some robots I re-found when I was looking looking for some old Mr. Peanut items to commemorate the 100th Birthday of Planters in Suffolk, VA, the wife’s hometown.

        • Bram Hepburn Bram Hepburn says:

          Good to hear from you!
          Boy, you’ve got everything covered, Mr. Peanut, Busch, and Robots :} Now robots have to be an interesting thing to collect. But it’s crazy, but your busch bottle may wind up being more valuable than any of my Matchbox cars , who knows?

          • No, It’s Coke, McD’s Happy Meal toys (from the first up to year 2000), Pez, Lots of Olympic stuff especially Atlanta ’96 to include tons of pins, also double tons of other type lapel pins, non-mechanical coin banks, Nascar Die-cast and other things, some smoking paraphernalia (ash trays-advertising-lighters) Raggedy Ann and Andy, Smurfs, California Raisins and on and on, slowed down a good bit now, maybe an estate sale every now and then. Wife says we are about to run out of room and no way is she going to give up her side of the bed..

  2. Bram Hepburn Bram Hepburn says:

    Haha!
    Holy smokes, I thought I was bad! I guess if you know what you’re buying, and are having fun, that’s the way to go. And our wives will keep us in check along the way :}

  3. lurch says:

    As a kid I had most matchbox and hotwheels from 1966-1980. I sold them at a yard sale in the early 80′s. I have started collecting again and hope not to sell these.

  4. Today’s production of the die-cast is so prolific, in the millions, that newer issues will never have collector vale, but the older ones, especially Hot Wheel “Red Lines” or maybe the England made Lesney Matchbox ones, Dinky, or the themed Corgi such as Batman, Superman, Kojak issues may increase in values as the years go by. eBay has upset the collector market in that what was rare in one area is of no concern as they can now be accessed nationally, even world-wide. Even so-called Limited Issues are produced in the thousands.
    So with a new start in mind, give consideration to what is of interest to you, Automotive brand, Ford, Chevy, Dodge etc., a particular color, body style, car, truck, race car, fantasy, antique replicas, military etc..
    But of the foremost is the enjoyment and satisfaction it gives to you.
    Happy Collecting throughout the coming year (and many years beyond).

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