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Matchbox museum began in childhood

When Charlie Mack, of Durham, was playing with Matchbox cars at the age of six, little did he know that it was the beginning of a lifelong passion. He began collecting them when he was 10 and today there are 30,000 Matchbox toys on display in his house. His collection comprises the Matchbox and Lesney Toy Museum, which is open by appointment.

He has edited Matchbox USA, a toy magazine, for the past 35 years. He has written nine books on Matchbox toys, on their variations and pricing. For the past 35 years he has run a club for lovers of all things Matchbox, organizing their annual convention and publishing a newsletter. The conventions, however, ended in 2011. “They stopped because now people are content to stay home and bid on Ebay,” Mack said. “And the economy hurt them. I still publish the newsletter, though.”

Matchbox toys had its beginnings in 1953, when the items were first produced by Lesney Products. The company, which had been making other toys since 1947, made its first miniature of a coronation coach, inspired by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. This began its production of smaller toys called Matchbox (because they could fit into a matchbox). In 1982 the company went bankrupt, and today the Matchbox brand of toys (it’s not just miniature cars) is owned by Mattel.

Mack’s collection, in addition to the cars, includes dolls, games, plastic kits of vehicles, plush animals, and catalogs. “I collect anything that says Matchbox on it,” he said. “I’ve been selling bits and pieces over the years to pay the bills, as needed. They increase in value over time, with the most valuable being pre-1975. Some new stuff can be valuable, too. For instance, if there was a small quantity of cars made of a certain color.”

His mother was responsible for bringing him one that eventually sold for $10,000. She was at a tag sale and asked the vendor if he had any Matchbox cars. A few days later this man arrived at her house with eight of them, which he had gotten from cleaning out someone’s attic. It was the tan crane truck in this collection that brought in the hefty sum 10 years later. It was valuable because of the limited number being made in that color.

Mack said he likes the variety of Matchbox toys, and he likes the pre-productions, which include color trials. These were models painted in certain colors and normally seen only by the people at the factory making them. There would be a meeting to determine which colors they should keep, before the actual production. Those not passing muster were tossed, or sometimes given to employees, some of whom gave them to Mack.

“I like this,” Mack said, “because I grew up with it, and it just consumed me. I got into the realism of the cars, the heritage of the brand, the variety. It didn’t start off as an investment, but it has become one. There have been people who have put their kids through college with the Matchbox collection.”

For more information go to Mack’s website:

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