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The Art of Diecast Collecting

Jun 19, 2008
There are the Jay Lenos and Jerry Seinfelds of this world who own rare cars and motorcycles they house in climate controlled environments - motor museums for the rich and famous. But, most car collectors around the world opt for cars of more modest size and investment. The die cast collector crosses all social and economic boundaries - from people who buy affordable miniatures just for fun to collectors who engage in auctions where a model can fetch hundreds of dollars or more.

History on Small Wheels
Model cars first appeared in England and the U.S. in the early 1900s. Unlike the detailed die cast models of today, they featured painted shells and no interior adornment. They were also made of metal alloys that that didn't stand the test of time - they rusted and cracked, and few survive today. But, it wasn't long before manufacturers caught on to the idea that there was a market for model cars, trucks, airplanes and farm equipment. As popularity increased, so too did the quality of manufacturing and attention to detail.

Matchbox cars made in England by Lesney appeared in 1947 and started a new trend. The fledging company's first blockbuster was in 1953 when a million miniatures of Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation Coach were sold. But, the Matchbox concept was inspired much closer to home for Jack Odell (co-owner of Lesnsy) when he designed a toy that could be taken to school by his daughter. School rules dictated that only toys capable of fitting into a matchbox would be allowed in the classroom. Odell complied with the rule by making a miniature car with rolling wheels and sent his daughter off to school with a toy that became the first Matchbox car and the first page in a mass marketing success story.

Each tiny car fit neatly inside a box the size and design of the traditional matchbox. Every line of cars had 75 different vehicles and gave people - children and adults - a body of styles to collect, trade and save.

At the same time, other die cast cars hit the fast lane. In the 1950s Mettoy, producer of the popular Corgi brand, paid particular attention to interior detail and installed clear plastic in window frames. Miniatures with such detail went beyond simple toys to collectibles.

Precious to Popular
Then, in 1968, Hot Wheels got the rapt attention of America's boys. Hot Wheels was Mattel's plan to reach the market of boys in the same way that Barbie Dolls had captured the attention of girls. The idea was wildly successful and introduced the concept of collecting to young boys who might one day become adult collectors of more sophisticated die cast cars.

In the ensuing years, die cast manufacturers were increasingly focused on the collectors' market. Mainstream corporate customers saw the value of having their logo and brand on vehicles and Sears, Coca-Cola, Texaco and other companies ordered die cast models bearing their signatures.

Manufacturing Market Changes
For many years, these detailed models made with increasing accuracy and quality were produced in the U.S. and Great Britain. But, by the 1980s, the economic climate changed as a worldwide marketplace emerged. The cost of domestic manufacturing didn't match revenues and many companies declared bankruptcy or traded hands. Production moved in a great exodus to China and other Far Eastern centers where cheaper labor was available. Mattel was among the first to make the big shift and was rewarded with continued success. Mattel eventually bought Corgi and Matchbox.

Collectors Expect Quality Control
Many other die cast manufacturers joined the movement and, today, there are hundreds of companies offering die cast models of varying cost and quality to collectors all over the world. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that die cast quality went down along with domestic production. Since the market is so competitive and demand for quality among collectors is very high, producers in Hong Kong, Makau, Indonesia, Shanghai and elsewhere are under a bright spotlight.

World over there are die cast clubs that cater to collectors of specific models. There are online auctions in which rare models are purchased for record high prices and collector forums where fans exchange ideas and trade cars. Die cast models seem to capture the fascination of people from all walks of life and economic standing. Affordable, accessible and, at the same time, exclusive and rare, die cast cars appear to have built a significant niche in the world of collecting.
About the Author
Visit us to see our complete line of model cars and diecast cars including BMW Diecast Model Cars
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