Lesney “Matchbox” Models of Yesteryear

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The British toy maker Lesney is famous for its Matchbox line of small toy cars.  However, just like many other toy manufacturers, Lesney didn’t want to get its flagship Matchbox product line pigeon-holed as simply a brand that made “little cars” for kids. While that was a large portion of the Matchbox market, Lesney wanted people to consider the Matchbox line as having more to offer, and sought to branch off the the brand into new territory.

This new line of toys was to be something similar to, but separate from, the normal Matchbox line. It would offer replicas that were more detailed, larger and, of course, more expensive than normal “mainline” Matchboxes. The name of this new line was “Models of Yesteryear”, and the first Model of Yesteryear (MoYY) cars were introduced in 1956.  The subject matter was vehicles from motoring’s early days; from the early 1900’s to the 20’s and 30’s. This make sense, since the only real “yesteryear” in the ‘50s was the first 20-30 years of the twentieth century!

Models of Yesteryear were larger, more detailed and more costly than mainline Matchboxes. In addition, the subject matter consisted of vehicles that were more likely to appeal to adults than children.  So, what good was that going to do for a company that generally was know for making toys? Plenty!

Interesting, esoteric and historically significant subjects were the target of the MoYY lineup. This catalog from the 1959-1960 time period gives an idea of what buyer's could choose.

Interesting, esoteric and historically significant subjects were the target of the MoYY lineup. This catalog from the 1959-1960 time period gives an idea of what buyer’s could choose.

Thinking Ahead of the Curve

To appreciate exactly how far ahead of things Lesney was with the MoYY line, consider this: Today, high-end “premium” diecast replicas featuring higher levels of detail and accuracy are commonplace.  However, back in 1956, such a thing didn’t exist. Essentially, what Lesney did was to invent the “adult collectible” die cast car! That’s actually pretty awesome when you think about it! The idea seems to have caught on, since MoYYs were made for over 40 years!

The neat thing about MoYYs is that they are replicas of a lot of interesting vehicles of which there aren’t any styrene, or even resin, kits. While WWI aircraft have found a recent resurgence, it doesn’t seem that early autos have the same force of commercial will behind them. This is a shame, really, as they are interesting subjects from both an engineering and a historical standpoint. Thus, let’s get ready to jump, Quantum Leap-style, through the ages of the MoYY lineup and see just how things evolved.

Notice that a lot of the offerings aren't cars? The choice of models indicates an older, more sophisticated target market for the MoYY line.

Notice that a lot of the offerings aren’t cars? The choice of models indicates an older, more sophisticated target market for the MoYY line.

Evolution of a Historical Record:

What’s really interesting with MoYYs is how they have changed over the years. The line has gone through some very interesting metamorphoses, right from size and cost to complexity and construction. To really appreciate the line, it’s best to look not at individual models just in isolation, but to compare them with their brethren through time. That’s what we’re going to do here.

NOTE: Just as my Military Dinky Toys were my Uncle’s, so too are the Models of Yesteryear you’re going to see on this website. My uncle, Mr. Gregory J. Mansell, has been a long-time collector of toy cars, right from when he was a child. When he was younger, he got MoYYs as presents and kept them, as you’ll see, in nearly perfect shape.  He continued to collect the MoYYs as he got older, and has acquired some loose second hand examples, as well as some boxed, like-new ones too.  To him I am very thankful for not only preserving these awesome toys, but for letting me take some pictures and post them up here for all to see. Thanks to his care and diligence, not only are the MoYYs themselves in excellent condition, but so too are the boxes on many of them.  Just as with models, the boxes reflect the times in which they were made, and are every bit as interesting as the vehicles they contain. Thanks, Unk!

Early Model of Yesteryear Cars:

Click on the picture below to take a look at how some of the earlier MoYYs evolved. There’s quite a difference, even over the first 8-10 years!

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