IAIN ROBERTSON 

Matchbox

When you consider that most of one man’s, 3,000-strong model collection had cost less than a few shillings each, highlights Iain Robertson, the desire to root around the attic, garden shed and garage for sealed boxes of ‘collectibles’ grows large.

When I was young lad, my weekly pocket-money was spent on The Victor comic and at least one new toy car, invariably from Matchbox but it might have been Corgi, Spot-On, or Dinky Toys, as all were major players in the High Street toy scene. At one stage, I had amassed around 500 examples but, as a pseudo ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’, I used to open the boxes carefully, so as not to tear the flimsy packaging, admire the miniature motorcars, but replace them with equal care, until my next explorative visit.

It was excellent practice, as my personal collection now stands at around 3,000 of all shapes, sizes (1/75, 1/43 and 1/18) and, these days, more significant costs. Although I still buy the occasional toy car…sorry, model collectible…more than half of my collection has been contributed by the motor industry and the short period of contract work (model development) I carried out for Corgi Toys during the late-1980s. I am aware that some of them are quite valuable; a German-made Schuco clockwork, tin-bodied Lotus GP racing car, is worth up to £500. Yet, even though I do have some of my collection ‘on display’ at home, the majority of it is in sealed boxes kept in a very dry shed.

Matchbox Simon Hope

Matchbox Simon Hope

The collectors’ market is exceptionally vibrant, with table-top swap meets and exhibitions taking place regularly, all over the UK and Europe. However, values are known to fluctuate substantially. Another pre-WW2 Schuco model that I own was tagged at £375 in the late-1980s (it actually cost me £100), although its value today is nearer to £250. On the other hand, a Corgi ‘Ecurie Ecosse’ race-car transporter that cost me £25 thirty years ago, is currently worth in excess of £450. To be fair, they are not all like that. If there is one rule of thumb, it is to ensure that each model is in mint condition and retains its original box. Playing with your toys is not recommended in the collectors’ scene!

One of the UK’s best-known and most respected classic car auctioneers, Simon Hope, who is chairman and founder of H&H Classics, sold recently his Matchbox 1/75 model collection of nearly 3,000 cars and trucks for a premium inclusive total in excess of £300,000. Simon told us that it was something of a wrench to sell, even at that price, as it was a collection that he had put together with love and passion over some 60 years, starting when he was a young boy.

Matchbox

Matchbox

His grandmother would not let him play with them on her lovely mahogany dining table, so he simply played with them by taking them out of the box and then putting them back, practically untouched. The collection, noted rightly as one of the finest in the world and comprising some extremely rare examples, was in completely mint condition, including their original boxes, and attracted bidders from all over the world. The collection was so large that it had to be spread out over three different sales, with specialist toy auctioneers, Vectis, of Thornaby, North Yorkshire.

His passion for Matchbox models continued into adulthood and as he got older, he continued to buy even more models, as Simon stated: “It was only as I got older that I realised there was actually a collecting scene out there, with copious information on rarer versions and colours. I never took part in that scene preferring to simply track down the ones I wanted in (or as near as possible) perfect condition. It just grew and generally they were bought with amounts of money not missed at the time.”

Matchbox

Matchbox

The highest value model in the collection was a lime green ERF Dropside lorry that sold for over £7,000 alone. A green Ford Kennel Truck fetched £3,200 and a white Ford Mustang reached £2,100. Julian Royse, a specialist at Vectis, said: “There is a big market out there for items like this, particularly the models from the 1970s but these things do tend to be generational. Models from the 1950s, which had previously been very valuable are now less so and later examples are extremely desirable. We find the demand far outstrips the supply and as such people will be very keen to collect pieces that may not come up again in their lifetimes. These toys used to be exported to eastern Europe and, surprisingly, there is now a really big market in the Czech Republic. As it happens, Simon’s collection was astounding and was probably the biggest range of any I have seen.”

While Simon’s toy collection may have been extraordinary, there are many examples of similar displays of passionate collecting and subsequent sales achievements every year. When you consider that even the most extravagant examples of the original toy cars, such as box sets and larger scale, features packed models, used to cost less than a fiver in the 1960s, that they can fetch in excess of £5,000 today pinpoints the investment potential.

Conclusion:      If you already have a collection, perhaps it might be realistic to have it valued and insured. If you want to start a collection, it is not a bad time, as individual models can be most affordable today. It is not a bad idea to consider a theme, such as ‘race and rally’, or ‘TV/movie’ inspired, as other collectors often specialise.

Photo credits: Mr Hope with Matchbox collection – Classic & Sportscar Magazine; all other photos by Louise Harker

Matchbox

Matchbox