By Raymond McKee (The Southern Gent)
Since Mattel finds itself in the odd position of celebrating the anniversary of a rival brand it overwhelmed and absorbed, they must be credited for the effort they are putting into the party. They have had the Matchbox across America series, (curious choice for essentially an English brand), and the burgundy painted commemorative series, the 50th Anniversary Tour Truck, the Matchbox celebration and parade in England, and now, this admittedly handsome coffee table book.
And the book is quite handsome indeed. Printed in England on high quality stock and bound in a hardback binding covered in red cloth and accented by a gold dust jacket, this book would be a credit to anyone's coffee table. But we aren't just looking to impress visitors. We want to know what the book has for collectors. To begin with, it has some of the finest model photography I've ever seen. All the models are in excellent condition, excellently lighted, and excellently shot. Mac Ragan dreams of having the budget that was obviously spent on these. Since Everett Marshall's Matchbox Road Museum has a chapter to itself, I suspect that most of the models are from there. The book does not try to be comprehensive, but it covers the important models in the brand's early history, the 1-75 line, the models of yesteryear, and Matchbox collectibles.
The text is provided by Richard J. Scholl, who is a past editor of the Matchbox Collector Newsletter. He has written, not just a history of the brand, but also insights into the personalities of the founders. He compares and contrasts Matchbox with its major competitors, giving almost a history of diecast modeling itself. By the time you have followed the text all the way to Mattel's ownership in the present, you will also know the histories of Corgi, Dinky, Universal, Tyco, and Mattel itself. You will meet many of the designers and marketers who plotted Matchbox's progress through the years. Scholl also includes a chapter on where Mattel is taking the brand. The generic "Matchboxness" designs are admittedly to save licensing costs, but they are designed with more details and moving parts to increase playability.
Scholl wraps up the book with many of the details that collectors will want to know. There are chapters on how a Matchbox gets made, numbering logic, the aforementioned chapter on Matchbox Road, Collector's club contact information, and a timeline of Matchbox history. At 268 pages, the book is hefty, but the preponderance of photographs keeps the text a light read. I was able to get through the entire book on a few successive lunch breaks.
The only real complaint I have about this book is the price. While it is a very nice, well made book, I'm not sure it's $65.00 nice. I do not know the print run so I don't know how limited this is. However, I manage the bargain racks at my store, and this appears to be a prime candidate for my department in a year or two's time. That's a gamble I'm willing to make.
Matchbox: the Official 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition, by Richard J. Scholl is published by Universe Press, ISBN 0789306859, and retails for $65.00