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Wolfie Ginsburg Matchbox Collection - 1960 - 2014

Wolfie collected Matchbox toys his entire life. Having first acquired early models, in Cape Town, South Africa, where he grew up, as toys to play with and enjoy he never lost his love for these little masterpieces. He started to look after them and they became a passion that he continued to pursue for the rest of his life. Wolfie unfortunately passed away in 2014 just shy of his 62nd birthday and at this time had a collection of close to 14,000 toys.

What follows below is a list of anecdotes from his memoir that sheds light on the spectacular relationship he had with his Matchbox toys. As his children it was impossible not to share the incredible passion he felt for his cars as it was part of who he was. We want to share these with the people that will be taking on a piece of this legacy, to form part of their own collections, and hope you will treasure these little gems as much as our father did when they were in his care.

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Wolfie’s Story

I, like most little boys, had a collection of battered die-cast toys which I would play with indoors using the pretend roads formed by the pattern on our dining room carpet and when the weather was fine in a patch of soil under a fig tree in our back garden. This patch of soil could be a city or a battle ground or a construction site or anything that my imagination could dream of. With some water the resultant mud could be anything. I could play with my cars in the soil or mud for hours.

I remember a visit to a little shop in Woodstock, Cape Town, run by one of my parents' friends where she gave me (perhaps my parents bought them, but I recall her handing them to me over the high counter) about six Matchbox toys in their boxes. These were very early Matchboxes and I played with them for ages. To my later regret I didn't keep their boxes - whoever did?  Many years later when I found them in their battered repainted state I discovered that they included some of the rarest. I still have the repainted ruin of a number 15 ten plastic-wheeled Diamond T tractor which cost one and six - about 7 South African cents

Initially I used to get 25 cents a week pocket money. When I worked for my dad this increased so that by the time I went to the army I was getting R5 a week. Twenty-five cents meant that I was able to buy one new Matchbox toy at 23 cents and I had 2 cents and my choir money left over for sweets and bus fares.

I kept my collection of toys in a battered little brown suitcase and when I went to play at a friend's house I would take the case with me. Obviously the toys in the case became scratched as I dragged them around with me.

I don't recall the actual date, but on one fateful day when I was eight or nine which would affect me for the remainder of my life my brother, Ivan, suggested that  rather than just throwing my toys in the little brown suitcase, I should keep their boxes and when I finished  playing with them I should replace the toys in their boxes to protect them.

 Initially I only focused on Matchbox miniatures. It was only later, when my finances improved that I widened my collection  to include the other Matchbox die-cast ranges.

In my first years I used to walk the mile or so down the hill to school with Ivan , stopping to pick up Judith (his eventual wife) and to see her sister Gael (my eventual wife).  I used to get paid by my dad on Sunday nights when he cashed up the week's takings  and so every Monday I had cash in my pocket. After school I would walk down the road  to town to a local department store, where the ladies in the toy department knew me and would keep one example of every new Matchbox miniature for me. I would also wander around  the city centre to all the toy shops to look for any that interested me. In this way my collection grew by one toy a week for years.

When I was growing up in Cape Town I had an old glass fronted showcase in my bedroom which I rigged up with electric lights in which I displayed my toys.

When my father transferred his customer records from his white record cards to bound manual ledgers I listed the toys on similar record cards - one card per toy and continued to use his steel drawer. Later I transferred all this data onto a simple Amstrad computer and then manually re-entered the list onto a Lotus spreadsheet. Now the list is kept on four large Excel spreadsheets. Back up copies were kept at the office. For many years I would annually print out a hard copy of the lists. At all times I have known in my head which toys I have and all that Matchbox has made that I don't have and am on the lookout for.

In Cape Town, as well as regularly visiting all toy retailers I used to visit the offices of the South African importer, Jeffrey Stein sales where I could see all the forthcoming issues. I also have letters from Lesney in London sent to me in Cape Town as early as 1967 in response to my queries to the company about their products.

I personally met both founders. I met Mr Jack Odell when  he visited Cape Town in 1970 and I visited Mr Lesley Smith at his home in Winchmore Hill, London, when  I was doing research prior to writing part of the book “Matchbox Toys - The First Forty Years.” I wrote part of that book, in particular some of the history of the company, which I researched at Companies House, then in Cardiff,  and the whole chapter on the King Size range.

In about September 1978 Gael and I went to see the movie, Grease, at a cinema in Sea Point, Cape Town. During the movie's interval I suggested to Gael that we should go to London. The previous day we had received notification in the post that our landlord at the time’s daughter, was about to return to Cape Town from a trip overseas and she wanted our beautiful flat in Mandalay. Under South African law a landlord could evict a tenant if they wanted the rented accommodation for a child. We knew we would once again have to move. I wasn't happy with the way Hurwitz Levack had changed since the merger and that day I had seen an advertisement in the South African Chartered Accountant magazine that Deloitte Haskins & Sells, London, were looking for staff.

When we  got home I immediately wrote to Deloittes, Cape Town where interviews were  to be held.

I was interviewed in  Cape Town by a Deloitte, London partner, David Patton, and was offered a job. They offered to fly Gael and me to London to work for the firm for eighteen months at an annual salary of £5,700 p.a. This seemed a wonderful way for us to get to Europe and to see the world. We had every intention  at the time to return to Cape Town after the   secondment. I told my parents and they were very excited for us.

Our doctors were so much better than we had encountered in Cape Town, we had a cat, London is better for  collecting Matchbox Toys than Cape Town – we had made our decision to settle in  London. It wasn't the weather or the beaches!

I have been a member of various Matchbox collectors' clubs based in the US and UK since 1970 and am considered one of  the world experts on the Matchbox King-Size range. I believe that my collection is the most comprehensive Matchbox Toy collection in the UK.

Jack Odell put me in touch with Harold Colpitts, a fireman who lived in Lynn, Massachusetts. Harold ran a club for Matchbox Toy collectors which he called the American International Matchbox collectors club. Harold published a detailed monthly magazine devoted exclusively to Matchbox Toys. He also published a booklet describing in  detail all the then known variation of Regular Wheeled Matchbox miniatures with detailed and illustrations and lists of all the contact details of fellow members so I was able to contact them directly if I wished to. Later he invited Ray Bush, a retired Royal Navy Lt Commander and Yesteryear specialist to join him on the board of AIM, but they fell out and Ray started his own club, Matchbox UK from his home in Plymouth in the UK. I was a founder member of Matchbox UK.

 In January 1979 we made our way in the snow to our first toy swap meet. We went to the Windsor swap-meet – which was held at the Montem sports centre in  Slough. When we arrived we were astounded. We got there in time for the opening at 11 and found a queue of over a hundred people in front of us. The hall was jammed with vendors selling toys of all descriptions. I had never before seen so many Matchbox toys. I was in Matchbox heaven. I finally met Commander Ray Bush, who had started the Matchbox UK club. I had been  corresponding with Ray for years while we were both members of AIM (American International Matchbox.)

At the end of 1984 we took our little girl to meet her family in Cape Town. We spent a delightful holiday proudly showing Tammi  off to everyone, staying at the Schneiders (my in-laws). I went to the beach a few times. I had to come back to work leaving Gael and Tammi to follow a few weeks later. While Gael was alone in Cape Town  she noticed that Joseph (my brother-in-law)  returned from a conference in Saldanah Bay with a strange Matchbox truck which she knew I hadn't got. She bought Joel (my nephew) an identical truck to play with and brought  the Dura truck to London. I thought that it had been modified in Cape Town until, in 1988, when doing research for a book I established that they had, in fact, been specifically made for Dura by Lesney Products in London.

In 1985 I joined a new Matchbox Collectors Club. MICA (the  matchbox International Collectors Association) was meant to be more professional than its predecessors. It was based around a matchbox museum in Chester, which we went to see, and  would publish a monthly magazine aimed at collectors and would arrange conventions where Matchbox collectors could meet, swap, buy and sell and  exchange information. The first Matchbox collectors convention  was held in Aldershot in March 1986. With trepidation we drove to Aldershot not knowing who or what sort of nutters would be attending. There were collectors from the  US, Australia  and Europe.  We met a number of people with whom we would become friendly over the next twenty-five years. We attended each annual convention except for one in 1986 till the final convention in 2010.

Just before my son, Danny, was born, May 1988, we bought a two foot six tall Matchbox talking doll at Harrods, named Cricket, for Tammi. I think that she preferred her baby brother. We are blessed that our children have  always loved each other and they have always been best friends.

Later in 1988 I was asked  by Stuart Orr and Kevin McGimpsey of MICA to assist with the writing of a book on the history of Matchbox toys. I was also asked to write a chapter on the King Size range. I obviously had my own collection and  had been a member of a number of Matchbox collectors clubs, I had already met Jack Odell in Cape Town and now I set about some new research. I examined Companies House records  about the history of the companies in  the Lesney group.  This is when I visited Lesley Smith at his home in Winchmore Hill where I spent an interesting and informative afternoon with him.

I took a selection of Skybusters, King Size and Superkings to a studio to have them  professionally photographed. Kevin asked to borrow my rare No 62 cream Mercury Cougar to photograph for the book  and he posted it back to me in  the normal mail – I found this very valuable model on my doorstep one  morning. The book “Collecting Matchbox toys – the First Forty Years” was a great success and although long out of print copies still command a good premium when sold.

By coincidence, I ended  up many years later working  at PwC with Will Jackson-Moore, the nephew of Lesney Smith.

Gael arranged a big party for my fortieth birthday. All our friends came over to our house. Gael  organised that the team we were friendly with in the Matchbox Research & Development department made me  a special black Matchbox Super King Porsche 911 with my name on it. 

In February 2002 I joined MCCH (The Matchbox Collectors Community Hall) an on-line forum run out of Atlanta for Matchbox Toy enthusiasts. At last I had a way of sharing  my hobby with fellow collectors. I was able to post photographs of rare or interesting examples from my collection. I could ask and respond to questions. Among the members there were individuals who could answer anything to do with Matchbox Toys. This on-line  club would signal the demise of magazine based collectors clubs which by their nature were less immediate. Through the MCCH I have met and corresponded with collectors all over the world.  I visit the site practically every day.

I had been contacted by the BBC who wanted to devote a segment of the Blue Peter show to Matchbox toys. I packed up a representative bunch of toys and Gael, Danny and I drove  down to the BBC in Shepherd's Bush. At the time I was suffering with Bell's Palsy and I couldn't speak, so Danny had to pretend that he was the keen collector. He acquitted himself very well. For me it was very interesting  to  see how they filmed the show. We each received a Blue Peter badge.

In March 2003 I made my first tentative purchase using E-Bay. Wow! E-bay was made for Matchbox Toy collectors. It became so easy to buy and possibly sell toys from and to anyone anywhere in the world. Since joining I have completed well over 500 transactions – only three or four sales among them – just to see how selling  works. There have been  times when the postman has delivered three or four little parcels on a single day. Heaven for me!

I have been collecting Matchbox Toys for over fifty years and at the time of writing I have about thirteen thousand cars, buses, trucks, planes, ships and dolls. There are anecdotes that I recall relating to the acquisition of and backgrounds to hundreds of these models.

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Sadly many of those precious stories and anecdotes have been lost with our father. However the sale of his precious collection offers the opportunity for many more anecdotes to be created around the world surrounding his special Matchbox toys.