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’Box fresh

10 months ago

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Stephen Dobie | Journalist


1 September 2023

‘I’m not a toy car collector, I’m a Matchbox collector.’ It is, I think, safe to assume most of us had the seeds of our love for cars if not sewn by miniature diecasts, then at least liberally watered by them. Many of us leave them in our childhood, perhaps storing a few of our more treasured items in lofts, cupboards or on a shelf in our home office. But for David Tilley, Matchbox is more than an old flame from the past. It’s his way of life.

More than half of the British population are active collectors – stamps, coins, watches, dolls, you name it – and however twee and endearing a hobby it may appear on the surface, these things can quickly spiral. David’s Matchbox collection totals 17,500 toys with a cumulative value that outstrips his house, their potential insurance premium unviable. ‘I’d rather just spend it on more Matchbox,’ he smiles.

The company turns 70 this year and can surely boast few fans as committed as David. It’s a company with numerous twists and turns in its tale, from humble beginnings in the back of The Rifleman pub in North London, producing miniature road rollers, cement mixers and tractors small enough to fit inside a matchbox (the origin of the name, of course), to 3D-printed prototypes and cumulative global sales beyond four billion. The pressure from its more outlandish rival Hot Wheels – which arrived on the market in 1968 from the same husband-wife team that launched Barbie – eventually led to the pair becoming range-mates under Mattel ownership.

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