by: Jan Etal [ ]
This book, by Jean-Christophe Carbonel is based on his contemporary notes and observations and thorough current research. All of this is supported by the recollections of his colleagues, some of whom were involved in the retail hobby trade during the Matchbox (MBX) period and who were, therefore, ideally placed to be able to monitor consumer reaction to the then “new” MBX product. Other sources who provided valuable insight include some of the original staff at MBX and at Revell. Review and commentaries from leading contemporary magazines (eg. Airfix Magazine, Scale Models, Modelworld and Maquettes Plastiques Magazine) allow a fairly accurate picture of the modeling community’s reaction to the manufacturer and its products.
Considering that the text was written in French and then translated into English, the language is very good. There are some errors in grammar and usage but nothing too obvious and certainly, given the book’s origins, all tolerable.
“1973 – 2000 - The Story of Matchbox Kits”
Jean Christophe Carbonel
ISBN : 978-2-35250-0188-6
Published by Histoire and Collections
5 Avenue de la Republique
F-75541 Paris Cedexll France
82 pages (79 colour and 3 black and white) – heavy gauge, high gloss finish containing over 300 photos in excellent colour, and of decent size.
The binding is adequate – 5 stitched books glued into the soft-cover spine. Unfortunately, not very flexible. Some separation occurring on the review sample.
Overall, the book is well-designed. Page layout is generally very attractive but, at times, somewhat overpowering. There is a lot of colour here, ranging from photos of kits and parts, to reproductions of kit-box artwork. Not all photos are captioned and regrettably, photos do not always match the text. (eg photos on pages 6, 7 accompany text on pages 10, 11) This may be due to the difference between English text and French, which tends to be longer. (Perhaps the translation is responsible for getting things “out of sync”). Nevertheless, this is an interesting and entertaining read.
The book is designed to have a very brief introduction followed by four major sections, each of which has subdivisions detailed by year.
The major subdivisions:
• 1973 The Range
• The AMT-Matchbox Era
• The Twilight Period
• Under German Control
The introduction falls short because, although mention is made of the original Matchbox die-cast toys, there are no photos of them or, more significantly, the trademark boxes which resembled the typical matchboxes of the day. Many younger modellers will have never seen these toys or their boxes and may be left with a question or two.
The four sections of the book detail the introduction and establishment of the brand, including initial references to the origin and rationale behind the use of brightly coloured plastic. There are several references to the multi coloured kit parts and the negative press that this generated in Europe. Other details include interesting glimpses into master pattern production (eg the use of plexiglass) and the figure sculpting process, as well as a “behind-the-scenes” look into the selection of kits for production.
An overview of the expansion of MBX, as they incorporated AMT in 1978, and subsequent slide into difficulty as parent company Lesney filed for bankruptcy in 1982, provides a sobering reminder about how rapidly things can change.
The third section, “The Twilight Period”, describes the gradual reduction in Matchbox’ output and sets the stage for Section 4, the company “Under German Control” – by Revell – by 1991. This marks the beginning of the end for MBX as in 1995 “The pedigree of the kits became increasingly mixed”: Matchbox boxes contained kits produced by various manufacturers and it became difficult to know “who produced what?”. The last true Matchbox catalogue was produced in 1998 and by 2007 the brand had virtually disappeared, swallowed up by Revell who continued to produce MBX kits but under their own name.
Of major interest to many may be the contents of the Appendix of the book. Represented in tabular form, this section lists all kits marketed under the Matchbox banner. Surprisingly, no less than eight other manufacturers’, originally released kits that eventually found their way under the Matchbox name. Also listed are the kit’s that Revell has reissued under their own brand.
There is one final interesting piece of information provided by the author. In 2005, at the beginning of Revell’s reissues, the author found out from one of Revell’s representatives in France that “the marketing department” pushed for their release to provide simple cheap kits for beginners who were likely to move onto Revell’s better quality military kits. Apparently the success of these reissued versions surprised a lot of people at Revell.
Matchbox produced kits in a wide variety of subjects besides armour and figures. Subjects ranged from cars to ships to aircraft, motorcycles, trucks and armor to name a few.
Overall, this is an excellent little book, full of surprises and useful information. It provides an entertaining and nostalgic trip down Memory Lane. Highly recommended.
My thanks to H. B. Skitch and Co. for providing the review sample. Special thanks to IPMS Canada member H. Gilliland for his references, resources and knowledge about the Matchbox company.