Matchbox 20 x 2000
CT museum visit #459. Some photos and quotes are from the 2021 short documentary “The Matchbox Man.”
Charlie Mack has over 44,000 Matchbox cars and Matchbox-branded toys.
In his house.
It’s… overwhelming. Now, I’ve written many times here that I love these personal collection museums. These singular pursuits of eccentrics. After all, many more known museums started out like this, or are just like this writ large. I try not to pigeonhole these collectors or speculate on their mental states.
Charlie Mack loves Matchbox. Simple as that.
But people like Charlie Mack readily admit their… addiction? Compulsion? Hoarding? and always with a chuckle. Charlie Mack’s Matchbox Museum is impeccably neat. If this is some offshoot of hoarding, it’s the neatest, most organized hoarding imaginable.
It’s not hoarding… it’s collecting and being a completist. And I know a thing or two about the latter. CT-ahem-MQ and all…
Yes, Charlie Mack’s museum is in his house. To visit, you must get an appointment. I had done so and Calvin and I arrived on time and eager to explore. Since our early 2020 visit, Charlie Mack has expanded into his garage and another outbuilding from the looks of his Facebook page.
Which, having seen the collection “back then,” boggles my mind.
In 2024, Charlie Mack has around 44,000 Matchbox cars and who knows how many Matchbox branded items like clothing, games, puzzles, catalogs, advertisements, and promotions. He has always loved the toys, and has fond memories of playing with them as a child.
His childhood happened to coincide with the beginnings of the Matchbox company, which began in 1953. Sort of. It turns out to be a very complicated beginning in the 1950’s.
Matchbox started as a company in England called Lesney Products by 1947. Lesney was started by two unrelated guys with the surname Smith: Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith. LESlie and rodNEY… Lesney. They were joined by toolmaker Jack Odell and had a factory space and made… windshield wipers. (I know that because Charlie Mack met Lesley Smith and asked him what was the first thing the company made.)
In 1953 they made a coronation coach to commemorate the event for Queen Elizabeth II. It was sort of a like a Matchbox before Matchboxes. Charlie Mack has one – though over a million were sold, so it’s not super rare.
That same year Jack Odell’s daughter needed something for show and tell, so he made her a miniature metal road roller. The school had a rule that toys had to fit inside match boxes, and boom. That was it.
The Road Roller was the first production “Moko Lesney” toy and they were off and running. (Moko was a toy distributor they used.). The company had 75 models by 1960.
By 1963, Charlie Mack had joined a collectors club. He had caught the collecting bug. He started his own chapter of a club a couple years later and ultimately began publishing a monthly newsletter in 1977. This went on for decades and was still being published in 2020. (I’m not sure about today.)
Charlie Mack has written more than a dozen books on Matchbox toys and for 30 years he ran an annual Matchbox convention that at its height attracted 175 dealers.
Did I mention that he has all of the 1953 first models? Did I mention he has some unmentionable NSFW Matchbox paraphernalia? No? Well, if you’re a grown up, here you are. I probably shouldn’t share this one, but hey, it’s Matchbox.
In 1992 he decided he had a museum when he was at 10,000 models. He was living with his parents who put up with the massive collection and the random Matchbox fans who would visit. It bagan in two 2 rooms upstairs, then he remodeled the basement and converted it to museum space. Now 12 rooms are filled with toys.
His parents had passed away when Calvin and I visited, and the entire house was the museum. Like, every wall of every room, floor to ceiling. his modest house in Durham is, quite literally, all Matchbox. My pictures don’t convey that, but it’s true.
Back to the 1950’s and 60’s… the firm began producing meticulously engineered replicas of cars, trucks, busses, farm equipment, ambulances, fire trucks and miscellaneous vehicles. Sturdy and cheap, they proved hugely popular in the U.K., the U.S. and elsewhere. By the early 1960s, Matchbox was churning out more than a million toy vehicles a week.
They also grew in size with each “generation” of toys. A true collector has, of course, each iteration of each model.
Everything was going great until Mattel began producing Hot Wheels. They were faster and, well, cooler than Matchbox. In order to save the company, Matchbox changed the wheels to “Superfast” and the style of wheels from 1953-69 were rapidly phased out. (That is known as the “regular wheel” era.)
Some of the most valuable Matchbox models are from this transitionary period when Matchbox was using up stock of “regular wheel” models with the new Superfast wheels. In fact, there’s a mint green car that is a “transitional” – and super rare. less than 10 exist today. and each is worth over $5,000.
Mack doesn’t really get into the value of such things. He knows collecting is kind of dumb and will point to some oddities saying, “that’s worth what you think it is.” Some people would call some of his collection priceless; resin and wood models for pre-production toys for example. He even has a wood model with original masking tape on it. Seriously.
In 2020, Connecticut filmmaker Gorman Bechard made a 20 minute documentary about Charlie Mack and his obsession. I reviewed it and you can watch it yourself through the link above, below, and on that page.
In fact, Charlie Mack will admit that he could have a collection worth over a million dollars. Unfortunately he had to sell off a ton of his rarest stuff in 2000 to pay the bills to keep his family’s house. He had a “transitional” tow truck that he sold for about $10,000.
Since 2000, he’s been slowly building his collection back up to be one of the largest and most valuable in the world. Perhaps Charlie Mack sees some parallels between his museum and the Matchbox company. Afterall, they went bankrupt, or nearly so, in 1969. At some point Tyco bought them and then, ultimately, Mattel bought them and continues to own the brand today. Matchbox saw the depths and was slowly built back up.
My man Charlie Mack used to be able to make a living from collecting, dealing, newslettering, and conventioning. But the internet and specifically eBay, combined with an aging and dying collector collection, forced him to get a job to continue to be able to pay bills after his 2000 sell off. He was still working there in 2020, and still adding to his collection. Charlie Mack is the rare collector who is as enamored with new models at Wal-Mart as with rarities from 60 years ago. Straight up: He just really, really loves Matchbox cars.
He loves the variety. He loves that they were cheap as a kid. He credits his hobby for keeping him busy, focused, and grounded. Throughout his life, most of his friends were fellow collectors from around the world. He is, quite literally, Mr. Matchbox. Instead of fighting eBay, he became eBay obsessed, and he uses it almost exclusively to buy and sell.
The question he gets the most, of course, is what his favorite piece of his collection is. He’s quick to say he doesn’t really have one, but will admit to an affinity for error models. He has an entire wall dedicated to errors. Smashed up cars inside a sealed blister pack, upside-down decals, incorrect wheels… things of that nature.
Charlie Mack isn’t sure why he got obsessed the say that he did. Why did he need every model? Why did he branch out into clothes and skin magazine photos and puzzles and ads? In his own words, “I just got carried away.” I get it, Charlie Mack, I get it. This website started as “just museums.” Then I branched out to “the big trails.” Then wineries. Then breweries. Then, before I knew it, I was chasing every single everything of interest in the state of Connecticut. And I can’t stop.
Charlie Mack, could you ever have too many Matchbox cars?
Me too, brother, me too. Solidarity.