frequently asked questions (FAQ) updated 1/1/99

Try also "Ask Charlie" [Mack] and the Matchbox Community Hall FAQ page new 8/22/01

on this page:

When a car was made new 11/13/98

The issue date [see "variation" listings or Charlie Mack's books] of the model in question & the next following model with that same number [e.g., 1-75] tell the first & last year produced. Other clues include when various wheels were used, differences in casting etc. The box can provide a clue as box styles changed over time [if included & the model was not separated from the original box and put together with a box from another toy of the same model but different period].

How to start collecting Matchbox cars ?

"Collecting" is assembling items according to a theme, distinguished from "gathering" a random assortment.

"Goals" – set & keep your goals in perspective. Collecting is (typically) a hobby & "diversion", & not a livelihood. Your collection may some day (e.g., decades) be worth considerably more than you paid, & your heirs will likely reap the benefits after you are dead. Recent purchases, even "limited edition", model are typically worth what you paid & will not appreciate for a long time (there are exceptions to every "rule").

"Limits" – (Unless your time & pocketbook are limitless). Matchbox spans over four decades & includes a wide variety of items (1-75, Major Packs, Accessories, Yesteryears, dolls, collectible series (fire, steam etc.). Themes can be periods, e.g., regular wheels, Superfast, Universal & Tyco, or manufacturer, country of production, type of vehicle (fire or emergency, construction, Caterpillar, etc.) etc. Your budget & how much you like the "thrill of the hunt" or finding the "bargain", or how much you are driven to obtain mint examples of specific items to complete your collection are considerations.

"Variations" – [especially if hard to get] may make the model more desirable (or just another item) to collect. Some seek one of each model number & series without regard to variations, "major variations", or "every" variation, e.g., different wheels (metal, gray, silver & black) or different number & size of "knobs" representing treads (e.g., "fine", "knobby", etc.). Some color differences are obvious (red compared to purple), but others are arguably just differences in mixing paint or fading in the sun.

Style/location – mint in mint box items have the greatest chance of appreciating, particularly mass produced items where many still exist but truly fine condition ones are hard to find. Many persons currently buy items to "put back" for the future so more MIB pieces will exist in the future. Style varies by local etc., e.g., Matchbox collectors do not like there cars "tampered with" ("touched up"), but Hot Wheels collectors seem to like & collect "custom" (repainted) versions, & Americans seem more willing than Europeans to purchase without the packaging (the box).

two 39B Pontiac convertibles
39B Pontiac convertible, left: 1. purple body, spw, and right: 9. yellow body, bpw [from the pages of George the Virtual Collector

"Two 39-B 1960 Pontiac Convertibles (released in 1962). When John Dean started collecting in earnest in 1969, Crews Beggs in Pueblo, CO, the local department store, was still using the 1967 Matchbox catalog showing the yellow Pontiac convertible, but was sold out. He went the D&S Paint store in Pueblo, which which the owner told him carried Matchbox & Mini Dinky Toys only to get model trains at wholesale, & with its slower turn-over there was one yellow Pontiac in the Matchbox display. In fact, hunting up stores with dealer displays that contained old models or old variations was John's ace. Because people stocking the displays never had the time or inclination to keep track of incoming stock in relation to the model in the display they often had stock on the shelf behind the counter with no corresponding item on display. In those days one not only had to ask to look at the back up stock, but open all of the boxes to see what was actually in there. John once found a first series dark green Zodiac in a later Zephyr box. He left it because he already had one. Matchbox were so common the idea of them getting valuable was pretty remote."

Finding extensive photos of models.
Finding which cars I had as a child.
Detailed written descriptions mean little to me.

All these questions have similar answers. You have to do your research. To find photos try my image pages, or the Matchbox Community Hall numerical photo guide to pre-1969 Lesney [on my links page], The Bay Area Matchbox Collectors' Association (BAMCA) interactive image database, or for Yesteryears try Kurt Ristniemi's page on YY [on my links page]. updated 8/22/01 Matchbox Forum Collectibles and YY database new 2/24/06

  1. Purchase at least 1 good book, & likely more. Which books you need depends on the limits of your interest. Overall, I like Charlie Mack's "Encyclopedia of Matchbox Toys". It has nice sized & high quality photographs of all the models & series, & some of the rarer variations [not as many variations as Charlie's earlier books, but the photos in the earlier books are much smaller], & covers the full Matchbox range, with updated price guide [see my value page, guides do not mean a model is "worth" that price, or you can sell it for that price, & are based on mint in mint box pieces, with "lesser" (e.g., chipped etc.) pieces going down in price rapidly]. Charlie has at least four other earlier books, each covering only limited periods of production, e.g., regular wheels, Superfast, Universal & Tyco years.

    If you are interested in yesteryears, "The Yesteryear Book 1956 to 1996" [White Book], compiled by Kevin McGimpsey & Stewart Orr, produced by M.I.C.A. & published by Major Productions, Inc., 1996, is excellent. Included are history & other information & for each model, a photograph, original cost (in pounds sterling), specific information as to the model, chart of variations with value, & notes on casting & other variations.

    There are other books that are quite good & fill these & other needs, as well as many books that are not very well done. (See book page), on the web on, & perhaps the Barnes & Nobel web site or local store.
  2. Join one or more of the collectors clubs (see my club page). They differ in tone & coverage, but typically offer current & (in some clubs) older model information, possible contacts, & for sale & want ads.
  3. Go to the Matchbox USA or the Official Mattel Matchbox convention in Hershey Pennsylvania, both held in June (see convention page). There are huge numbers of models for sale at the show & in in-room trading prior to the event, social events such as dinner, & again, many contacts.

Finding & buying Matchbox by mail or over the internet.

Dealing long distance sight unseen without having a model in hand to inspect is difficult at best, but you are not likely to find local sources with the items you want for your collection. One key is to find honest & knowledgeable persons [who know which model number, series & variations & its "true" condition (persons seem not to accurately describe condition – see my page on condition), e.g., describing a car with "most" of its paint as "near mint" or "excellent", & pricing a car as a rare version even if it is not. I send e-mail or telephone asking persons to confirm an item is mint (if so described) or its condition, & specifically ask them to "describe any nicks, chips, scratches, rubs, marks & the general overall appearance & 'shine', as an otherwise mint item may not really appear as such".

The internet has its own difficulties. Digital photos, if provided, are often not "true" in color & can be difficult to "read" as to true condition. Auctions generally seem to frequently bring excessive prices, as it is easy to get caught up in the "excitement" or misinterpret what the piece really is (variation or condition) & bid too high.

I want to locate a few models of cars that I had as a child.

Dan Wells & Two Crazy Collectors (see dealer page) regularly publish lists of cars for sale & have extensive numbers of older items in various conditions. Both are fair in their descriptions & will stand behind their products. Ads in club magazines are another good source. See above as to purchasing on the internet. Many of the published lists of cars for sale have gone by the way and sales moved to the internet. updated 12/23/06

I was shocked by some prices I see, do you normally pay prices like these ? Such prices are way more than I had anticipated.

"Sometimes". Supply & demand (and personal desire) are factors – hard to get items (particularly in mint condition with mint box) typically command premium price. Regular wheels are now at least three to four decades old, were toys meant to be played with, & the boxes often thrown away immediately. Even a small detail (e.g., number of bumps on the wheel) makes a piece less common & harder to find than other variations, & can make a huge difference in price. Some boxes are rare & more valuable than the model inside to the right persons.

I purchase a lot of cars for $20 to $100. I normally will not pay high prices for a wheel variation that does not tickle my fancy, & am more likely to "go for" color variations or particular "livery" (decal or tampo print). I have paid a couple of hundred dollars & "a bit more" for quite a few. I consider "retail price" to include other "value" (e.g., a large stock to select from, & publication of an informative catalogue, "watching" for a particular piece for me (with attendant overhead costs etc.). When I pay "retail" for MIB I insist on getting a mint in mint box piece.