It was I that suggested to Model Collector that they made a reproduction of the 1955 Matchbox catalogue, which was given away free with the April 1996 issue. I put the editor in touch with the owner of the original, who was surprisingly relaxed about sending it through the post to the magazine! The reproduction is now a collectors' item in its own right. Model Collector also reproduced the first Models of Yesteryear catalogue (1958, showing nine models) and this was given away with the October 1998 issue.
Click on the image to see the full catalogue
Given free with this issue of Model Collector is a reproduction of the very first Matchbox catalogue, which appeared in 1955.
Following the tremendous success of the miniature Coronation Coach, of which over a million were sold during 1953, Lesney Products went on to develop the idea of a series of miniature models. An advertisement in the trade magazine Games & Toys in June 1953 mentioned that four new models were in preparation, and in September 1953 the new 'Matchbox Series' was mentioned by name. ln January 1954 the first four Matchbox Series models were shown to the trade at the Harrogate toy fair, and an advertisement in Games & Toys in April 1954 advised readers to 'Watch out for No.5 and No.6'.
By the end of 1954, eight Matchbox numbers were available, and an advertisement in January 1955 (reproduced here on the right) illustrated four new models, numbers 9, 10, 11 and 12, to be shown at the 1955 Harrogate toy fair. The illustrations in this advertisement are the same as in the catalogue, and date it precisely to early 1955. It was probably produced to give out to trade buyers at the 1955 toy fairs. The illustration of no.11 ERF Tanker is obviously an 'artist's impression', while no.12 Land Rover is actually a photograph of Dinky Toys no.27d, which in reality was a much larger toy!
Something similar was done a few years later when the first edition 1959 catalogue illustrated Dinky Toys no.643 in place of Matchbox number 71 Army Water Tanker.
The 1955 catalogue is extremely rare. We are only aware of one original example, and are grateful to the owner for allowing it to be reproduced for the benefit of readers of Model Collector. It is ironic that this one example has survived thanks to one of Lesney's competitors, The Mettoy Company Ltd, makers of Corgi Toys. The original catalogue has the Initials 'H.F.' on the cover in fountain pen ink. This is believed to be Howard Fairbairn, a director of Mettoy and driving force behind the new Corgi range, launched in 1956. He obviously kept abreast of the activities of competitors such as Lesney. The catalogue seems to have remained in Mettoy's files until the 1980s when much archive material was dispersed after the company went into receivership.
The next catalogue we have certain knowledge of, after this one, appeared in 1957, illustrating 42 Matchbox Series models. This was again a fold-out leaflet, but in colour, and a reproduction was available a few years ago. However, the discovery of the 1955 catalogue does suggest the possibility of a 1956 edition as well, probably illustrating the first 22 or 24 Matchbox models. We would be surprised and delighted if any reader can come up with one.
Meanwhile, it is good that at last the very first Matchbox catalogue is available to all collectors of this famous series of toys.