Monday, 24 April 2017

The Incredible Lesney Collection of Riley Musseau and Some History on the Brand!

Guest Post by: Riley Musseau aka @preachermoose_diecast

History Lessons.

This will be brief and simple, Matchbox started out as Lesney products in 1953, following the end of World War II. The modern-day name we all know and love started because of matchboxes, or well the fact that the original diecast toys, that were sold in boxes in a similar style and size to matchboxes.
This will be brief and simple, mostly paraphrased from the Wikipedia page, mostly because I’m a tad lazy, and I’m sure you’ll Google it, or you already know. Matchbox was created in 1953, known as Lesney Products, leading to the popular term Lesney today. The company was created by John W. Odell, Leslie Charles Smith, and Rodney Smith (hence the name Lesney, a portmanteau of Leslie and Rodney Smith's first names). Their first major sales success was the popular model of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation coach.
Lesney co-owner Jack Odell created a toy that effectively paved the way for the company's future success. It was designed for his daughter: her school only allowed children to bring toys that could fit inside a matchbox, so Odell crafted a scaled-down version of the Lesney green and red road roller (I have a recreation of this model, as well as four other recreations from back in the day). This toy ultimately became the first of the 1-75 miniature range. A dump truck and a cement mixer completed the original three-model release that marked the starting point for the mass-market success of the Matchbox series. Because of the inspiration for the toys' size, the idea was born to sell the models in replica matchboxes — thus yielding the name of the series. It also resulted in the description of the models' scales being "1: box" (as opposed to more mathematical scales such as 1:87, 1:64, or 1:43).  

Additional models — mostly British at first — continued to be added to the line throughout the decade, including cars such as an MG Midget TD, a Vauxhall Cresta, a Ford Zodiac, and many others. As the collection grew, it also gradually became more international, including models of Volkswagens, a Citroën, and American makes. To make such miniatures, the designers took detailed photographs of the real models, even obtaining some original blueprints. This enabled them to make models with surprisingly high levels of detail, despite the small scale. The size of the models (and their clever packaging) allowed Matchbox to occupy a market niche barely touched by the competition (and certainly not by Dinky); the associated price advantage made Matchbox models affordable for every child, and helped establish Matchbox as a household word for small toy cars, whatever the brand. Although used generically, "MATCHBOX" (in capital letters and quotation marks) was registered as a worldwide trademark to protect the Matchbox brand from competition.

What started it all
My first Lesney was the 1968 Scammell “Mountaineer” Snowplough. When I got it though, it was sans-plow, more of a dump truck. I picked it up one weekend at a really cramped little stall, at a shady - run down old flea market. Honestly, as much as she may hate it, it’s my girlfriend’s fault that I started collecting cars in general. She happened to live a short drive away from this flea-market, outside of Quebec City. One Sunday we visited, and I noticed a bright orange dumper box, and a rear set of dually axles. There was something old fashioned about it that caught my eye, so I asked the owner, Francois, to see it. Ten dollars later, and it was in my pocket, an extra five, got me the original box from the packaging as well.

Money Pit.
Now what’s worse than finding a new money-pit for our hobby? Working with the guy who happens to own the money-pit. Frank fuelled my addiction, worst part being the fact that he ended up offering me a job, working under him, with him becoming my supervisor. Coincidence? Cue the shady, 2 AM parking lot deals after work, and countless dollars spent lining his pockets. I’m sure we’ve all been there. I was a hard worker, I finished up early, and when he came to do his inspections, we mostly ended up talking to each other about what we picked up, and what we were hunting.
I became a regular every weekend. and I ended up spying a bright yellow dump truck. No. 6, the Euclid Quarry Truck. Mint, despite the box being a tad rough.

Now I took business in college, and I would see this guy every weekend. One weekend he brought in a new Mack dump truck, and a Hatra Tractor Shovel. No. 28 and No. 69. I could say he gave me a good deal, but Frank is probably still a little sour about how good of a deal I got. The models are both mint, and the boxes are immaculate. I handed him the cash. Transaction completed. The light faded from his eyes, and he realized he’d made a mistake.

He did steal my Mercury Cougar though, so I suppose he got even, to some extent. I’m still after that to this day. The same day I picked up No. 30, the 8-Wheel Crane truck, and a very rough, but very cool No. 8 Ford Mustang, with working steering. Again, with original boxes. It was a meager start, but beautiful collection. 

Exclusive deal?
The Opel Diplomat. Another model that our shopkeeper friend may or may not have ripped me off on. I know because I still have the price that I paid stuck firmly on the windshield. He mentioned that this model was a rare variation, worth $50, due to the lack of a chromed engine. I’m still skeptical, but you be the judge.  Now same day, unrelated to that deal I snagged a Jeep Pick-Up, No. 71. It was heavily sought after by me for quite some time, mainly due to nostalgia. In the small town I’m from, there’s a guy with an old white one, and it’s been sitting in the same spot since I was a kid. When I drove by last October, it was still there, unmoved.

Final Goodbyes
I moved. Before I left, I managed to snag that Scammel Plough that got be started, however this time, it had a plow, succeeding with my original goal, and I picked up four more models for the journey back out west. I’ll keep it brief, but I managed to grab No. 48, the Dodge Dumper Truck, that I had been eying for some time, the chrome base still annoys me though.

I also grabbed the No. 64 M.G. 1100, with dog in the rear, because dogs in cars is something all of us seem to value. I mean, look at the little guy, isn’t he cute? 

 I also grabbed three more models including a No. 39, a Ford Tractor, a No. 33 Ford Zephyr III and finally the No. 20 Taxi-Cab, based off a 1964 Impala. What I really like about the Impala and the Ford tractor is that they both happen to have detailed badging, even though these guys are nearly 50 years old – That’s Crazy. Oddly enough, I never intentionally tried to collect models from 1968, it just happened. I just saw yellow and blue boxes, and bought what I liked. 

Now a little more history, on Alberta population demographics… plus a little bit about elsewhere (Also known as why collecting tends to suck in Alberta)
Just before I get to that, I mentioned I moved, or that I was moving. Anyway, there was a grand trek across the country involved, lots of driving, sadly in the dead of winter.  So, I returned to Alberta. Land of pickup trucks, ranching, and oil – we’re very true to our stereotypes. Now my section header says a bit about why collecting sucks in Alberta, and I’m sure Zach, here at The Western Diecast Review can agree to that, or anyone who’s had a taste of the bounty out East.

Now, Quebec City, where I used to live has been around for over 400 years. They claim to be one of the oldest cities in Canada, but we all know that isn’t necessarily true. Anyhow, the province of Quebec, as well as Ontario are Canada’s oldest, largest and most developed provinces. Alberta on the other hand joined confederation in 1905. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were people here before then, but actual development of the province didn’t truly begin until the oil boom of the 1970s. We had plenty of development before that, including some expansion into oil and gas, but it wasn’t until 1967 that Suncor energy, proved that bitumen could successfully be removed the oil sand and upgraded the crude oil on a large scale. Seeing as most models I collect are from 1968, you could sort of say that it makes sense that it’s hard to find Lesneys.
So, Oil prices soared and people flooded into the province. Before that, Alberta was pretty much boreal forest and muskeg to the North, and Prairies to the south. Major cities included Edmonton and Calgary. In 1968, the population of the province was just shy of 1.5 Million. By 1970 it had risen to nearly 1.6 Million, with just over 420,000 people in Edmonton. By the start of the 1980s, Alberta had grown to nearly 2.1 Million people, and since then we’ve reached 4.28 Million people, with 1.321 Million people in Edmonton. Numbers aside, we still have a small population. Alberta was, and still is a small province, with very strong working-class attitudes. Our main industries still include agriculture, and of course the oil industry. People weren’t exactly buying Matchbox out here, like they were in Eastern Canada. Even today, Alberta is viewed as being very rural to the East, and honestly if I leave Edmonton, this statement is very true. As a modern-day collector, this makes finding them much harder. 
Now if you’ve been to Edmonton, and you’re a collector of any kind, or you appreciate antiques, and older odds and ends, you’ve probably been to the Old Strathcona Antique Mall. My first major purchase was a mobile gas tanker, actually sat there for about a month before I grabbed it.
Since then, the only other models I’ve purchased there were a $20 K-8 Car Transporter, and a No. 75 Ferrari Berlinetta that I paid a pretty penny for. In hindsight, I should’ve grabbed the Toyota SR5 from the first generation of Stompers, in it’s original packaging for $5 that day as well, but $45 for a Ferrari with the original box seemed to good to pass up.  
Honestly though, Alberta was a dry-spell for me. For the longest time, I couldn’t find anything. Most antique stores lacked models in the condition I would have liked them to be in, and price was always an issue. Although I’ve got to give some credit to our Alberta collectors, namely Garvie, who I’m all sure we’re familiar with. He’s given me a few models, and I’m sure if he’s reading he’ll recognize them.

Return of the Lesneys: Frank Strikes Back
I had since returned to Quebec, to see my girlfriend for our anniversary, about a year ago. I picked up a ton of cool stuff that did happen to include the No. 37 Coca-Cola Lorry, which cost me a pretty $75, and it didn’t even include the box. Now Frank is a sucker for branding especially if it is antiquated or considered to be retro. You think after all this time he’d give me a half decent deal, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. I also grabbed the No. 46 Pickfords Removal Van, but he strained my budget, and I couldn’t afford much else. These were antique mall prices. BUT – Fun Fact. The Pickfords Moving Van could double as a matchbox, you can fit several matches in the back of this van, and the sliding door keeps it closed.

Ron: A New Hope
Now I mentioned a dry spell. That’s where Ron comes into play. Now we all have our special place, so I’m not disclosing his location to anyone, I’m quite certain we all have our own secret spots. Ron’s place is my place. I found out about him through this antique furniture vendor I know of, who mentioned I check him out. This guy has tons of cool old toys, he even has vinyl records. It’s a cool spot nestled in a music shop. Since meeting him I’ve picked up plenty of models from him over the last few months. I’ll show you below.
I grabbed the Iso Grifo and the Volkswagen 1600TL just before Christmas, along with the Milk Delivery Truck. I still need to get the reproduction boxes off for those first two.

 I did happen to grab the E-Type Jaguar a while ago too. This model doesn’t happen to be from 1968 but it looks fantastic. I’ve got an original box with it as well, at a price that couldn’t be beat.
 I’ve grabbed the Mercedes Truck and Trailer off him as well. 
I’ve managed to get my sought after 8-Wheel Hoveringham Tipper, and a nice Pontiac Grand-Prix Sport Coupe as well.

The DAF Girder Truck is another recent favorite, probably the last model I’ve picked up before I moved to my new place in February. Budget constraints I suppose. It’s all original, including the girders. It’s fantastic.

Although if you remember, I picked up those two Porsches, and that Citroen a while back at the same time. Might not be classic Lesney, but it’s the boxes that get me. It’s my favorite thing about collecting these.

I don’t remember when I got this either, but I love the Studebaker Station Wagon I got off him. He said next time he orders in some reproduction boxes, he’ll order me in the dog and hunter for this car.
The great thing about Ron is that if I want to box up some of my models, he has a ton of high-quality reproduction boxes that look like the real thing. I bet you didn’t notice which models had reproduction boxes, and which didn’t. I even got my 1968 collector’s catalogue off him, at a discount, because if you may or may not have noticed, it’s got a chip out of the front cover. As I was picking it up, the shop’s pet bird took a chunk out of it, but hey it has a story, and that’s what matters. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my rambling about my love of Matchbox, and I hope you all have stories of your own to share.

A huge thanks to Riley for contributing this post! Go follow him on Instagram, @preachermoose_diecast. 

Happy Collecting!!


  1. Very exquisite post, I'm the first to admit that I am not refined and cultivated enough to collect pre-1070s vintage Matchbox. I'm concentrating my vintage collecting efforts these days on the Made in France Majorettes, particularly the star wheels (tri-spokes era), once I have enough interesting material (i.e. that part of my collection gets big enough), maybe we'll think about doing a collaboration.

  2. I did not know about matchbox before I read your post. I think the idea behind these miniature toys is very cute. Thanks for sharing.