By Raymond McKee (The Southern Gent)
Let me say at once that this has been one of the more eagerly anticipated books I have reviewed. Mac's reputation, both as a photographer, and as a writer already assured that this would be a quality piece of hobby writing. Now that I have the book in hand I am happy to say my expectations were not disappointed.
Rather than trying to offer a complete catalog and price guide for Matchbox, a task that has been ably performed elsewhere, Mac recounts here the history of the Matchbox brand, following it from inception, through its several owners, to its present-day incarnation as a subsidiary of Mattel. Mac begins with the pre-history of Matchbox, with the founding of Lesney by Rodney Smith and Lesney Smith just after World War II, and their search for a marketable product before settling on little toy cars. In a very readable story, Mac examines the early models, tracing back to the original vehicles on which they are based, and shows how both the models and the line have evolved over the years. Mac also depicts the havoc wreaked on the brand by the upstart brand from Mattel, and how competition with Hot Wheels led to radical changes in the Matchbox line, and eventually the end of the parent company. The Matchbox brand, however, never went under, and today under the auspices of its former competitor, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.
Mac's photography is, as usual, superb. The subjects for his camera, provided by the Matchbox Road Museum, are in stunningly good condition. Many a hobby book has been marred by using photos of scarred and beat up toys. Mac's use of scale human figures once again really brings the models to life. From the couple cuddling in the hatch of a Citroen Station Wagon to the T shirt clad man stretching in the door of the Motor Home, Mac's photo's bring out the realism and playability for which Matchbox has always been renowned.
Speaking of realism, the book is also an excellent showcase for Mac's knowledge of real cars. Knowing something about the vehicle on which the toy is based makes the toy that much more fun to play with and collect. One can always entertain the hope of seeing a real version of the toy in your hand. And when you do, be it a Swedish made Snow Track, or a DeTomaso Pantera, your Matchbox model becomes that much more special. Mac excellently conveys the thrill of matching the toy with the real life vehicle with the joy of a true enthusiast.
This book is great for the beginning Matchbox collector, to explain what has gone on before, and why things were done the way they were. Mac gives the background history that makes these more than mere toys but artifacts of both automotive and toy development. The novice or casual collector will learn why certain models are significant, or why some models never made it to his corner of the world. Mac arms the new collector with the knowledge of what he's looking at and looking for in collecting Matchbox. An educated collector is a successful collector. Naturally Mac gives sources for new collectors to get in touch with the Matchbox collecting community.
Mac's book is also an excellent reference for the experienced collector, filling in gaps in his knowledge and reminding him of things he may have forgotten. Also it is a chance to see some of the items he's always dreamed of getting his hands on. Then there's always that chance of finding the yard sale from Fantasy Island and knowing exactly what to look for.
Finally, this book is great for the non-collector because it is a well-written, enjoyable read. Mac tells the Matchbox story clearly with a love for his topic. Use this book to explain why these little cars are so much fun. Don't be surprised, when in a moment of recognition, your non-collector friend murmurs, "I had one of those!"
MATCHBOX CARS by Mac Ragan is published by MBI Publishing Co., ISBN 0760309647, and retails for $19.95 US.