The Graham Hamilton Ultimate Matchbox Picture Box collection drew worldwide interest to the Teesside auction house on May 26-27.
It was also the first time the saleroom had been open to the public for 14 months – Hamilton and his wife were in the room, watching as the collection was sold.
Lesney Products’ Matchbox Series range of small diecast vehicles appeared in 1953, designed with no particular regard to scale but able to fit into matchbox-type packaging.
The Hamilton group covered the entire Lesney Matchbox Picture Box era from 1962-82. The philosophy of the collection was simple: to assemble an example of every picture box released by Matchbox Toys over the years including significant printing variations where applicable.
Vectis said: “The hard part was then to match this box artwork to a corresponding model so that body, window, interior, base and wheel variations were an exact match to the artist’s illustration on the box. Pretty much an impossible task to complete, but we had a dazzling array of these throughout the sale.”
One of the lots reaching five figures was a Matchbox Regular Wheels 13d Dodge Wreck Truck in reverse colours (pictured top).
An interesting and sought-after lot on its own, this model came with provenance including a letter and photograph of Ed Fosdick who was chief engineer of design and safety for Chrysler. It sold for £10,000 against an estimate of £3000-4000.
Many of the rarest models were never released on the open market and had come instead from ex-Lesney employees, many of whom worked within the research and development department responsible for designing new additions to the range.
Five of the lots had been sold as part of the collection of Peter Smith, a prototype model maker for Lesney, at Stacey’s of Rayleigh, Essex, in July 2015.
A Superfast 24d Team Matchbox Racing Car Pre-production trial model with orange body took £9000 at Vectis (guide £600-800).
A colour trial Regular Wheels 15d Volkswagen Beetle Rally Car made £5000 (estimate £300-400). Another of the best performers against estimate was a very rare Matchbox Superfast 10f Plymouth Gran Fury Police Car with five-arch wheels which match the box artwork. Guided at £200-260, it took £3000.
The premium placed on variations such as this has occasionally led to accusations of ‘adaptation’. Vectis was keen to point out: “Graham is a well-known in Matchbox circles and his collection is highly sought after; buyers know the models are authentic and have confidence in the model they are buying.
“The Graham Hamilton effect ensured that even common models such as the ‘Desert Dawg’ Superfast 20f 4 x 4 Jeep achieved 10 times its bottom estimate; the model which would normally sell at its £10-15 estimate achieved £100, which our auctioneer would guess would be a world record.”
Other new top sums included a rare transitional Regular Wheels 31c Lincoln Continental model sold to an internet bidder for £8000 against a guide of £1200-1400. A pre-production trial model 31c Lincoln Continental, an ‘elusive model in outstanding condition’, sold to a room bidder after a short deliberation, for £13,000 (estimate £2000-3000).
Another suspected world record was achieved for a Regular Wheels 44c GMC Refrigerator Truck which was a factory pre-production colour trial and has No 44 cast rather than GMC. Despite having three scratches to the windscreen, it realised £8000 against £1000-1300 hopes.
The effect on value of the original box itself was demonstrated by a Superfast 48c Dodge Dump Truck (Superfast 48a) which sold for £5200 against hopes of £600-800.
The model is quite common but this example featured a 1971 copyright type I printer’s proof box that was never actually released, with one end flap tab being used by Bowaters for print registration purposes having the numerical sequence 1 to 56.
Vectis said: “Although a number of sheets of these boxes would have been printed it is unknown how many have survived and this was possibly the only opportunity to acquire one of these very rare boxes.”
The lot was formerly the property of Ron Jobson who was responsible for the majority of artwork both on the boxes and within the catalogues during the late 1960s-70s period. It was previously sold as part of the Ron Jobson collection at Aston’s auction in October 2011.
A further model from the Jobson collection, a Matchbox Regular Wheels 50c Ford Kennel Truck, had factory paint flaws to the hood and cab roof. However, the ‘new’ type F1 box was signed by the artist himself, undoubtedly helping the lot to achieve £5800 (guide £400-500).
Vectis said: “The total from the first two days of the sale is £281,000, and with a further two days expected to achieve a further £100,000 in September [29-30] this is possibly the highest grossing single-owner Matchbox collection to be seen.”
In 2019 Vectis sold the Matchbox collection of Simon Hope, chairman and founder of car auction house H&H Classics in Warrington, Cheshire. The nearly 3000 models were dispersed over three auctions and the premium-inclusive total was over £300,000.