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Toy cars

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Catalogue record

Object Source: Diecast model cars

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Format : Toy

Toy cars, in particular diecast models, have been enduring toys throughout the 20th century. Two noted manufacturers are Matchbox and Corgi.

Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith were two friends who met after World War II and decided to form a toy company. It was called Lesney. Their first toys were clockwork tin toys, but they later began manufacturing miniature cars that could be fitted into a matchbox. The first toys in this 'Matchbox' range was produced in the 1950s.

Matchbox cars were easily affordable by parents. Mothers would buy one as they completed the weekly shopping; Fathers would bring one home on pay day. Children's collections grew. Lesney, or Matchbox as they were more familiarly known, expanded their series as more and more people began buying family cars: Matchbox models closely replicated the details of the latest model cars. They made family sedans and commercial vehicles, emergency services vehicles. Production increased and over 1000 people were employed. The company won the Queen's Award for Industry in 1966.

The company ceased production in 1973, no longer able to compete against the cheaper plastic toys, but the name 'Matchbox' continues under the Mattel label.

Corgi toys began production after World War II: the parent company was Mettoy, established by the Ullmann family, who had fled Nazi Germany to Britain. The Corgi range of die-cast cars was launched in 1956. The introduction of these led to a great expansion of the company. Corgi used clear moulded plastic for its windows and windscreens, which contributed to their eye-catching appeal.

Corgi also produced more exotic cars rather than models of British cars, and this was another advantage for the company. One of their first successes was the Studebaker Golden Hawk, and they continued to look for 'exciting' cars for their miniatures.

Following World War II Japan took the lead in the production of tin plate toys of all kinds, including cars. The majority of European manufacturers could not compete with Japanese efficient marketing and competitive prices. Friction-driven tin cars included this ambulance and a police car. These are fairly basic tinplate cars, cheap and lacking the precise detail of more expensive examples. With rubber wheels, and painted figures, a couple of hard pushes powered the friction-drive and away they would speed.

Wooden toys were among the earliest made, carved for children by their parents. Although to a large extent wooden toys were replaced by tin and other metal toys there was a movement towards more robust wooden toys in the 20th century. Motor vehicles were included and although they looked less realistic than metal cars, particularly the die-cast models. they are certainly more durable and continue to have appeal. Toycraft manufactured this yellow van, green lorry and red articulated lorry.


Further reading

Gardiner, Gordon The collector's all-colour guide to toy cars: an international survey of tinplate and diecast cars, from 1900 to the present day London: Tiger, 1989

McGimpsey, Kevin Collecting Matchbox diecast toys: the first forty years Chester, England: Major Productions, c1989

Thompson, Frank The Corgi toy price guide London: Black, 1986


SA Memory: To be a child. Corgi Studebaker

SA Memory: To be a child. Matchbox model cars

SA Memory: To be a child. Wooden trucks

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