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Matchbox Fakes...
and how to recognize them!


A fake toy is one that has been changed
since it was originally produced at the factory
and is then marketed as being original.

  There are many enthusiasts that derive great pleasure from converting or restoring vintage toys and models, this can only be described as a perfectly legitimate (and often highly skilled) pastime.  Unfortunately some of these models then find themselves being sold on the open market as original.  Often the seller has him/herself purchased the item as original and is quite unaware that it is not as it should be.

  The highest quality examples can be very difficult to recognise even by professionals, but by the same token less common original items are now being dismissed out of hand as fakes when they clearly are not.


In this article I am going to show you how to spot a fake Matchbox toy
and dispel one of the more common myths about the original production process.


  In particular what we are going to be looking at here is the 1-75 range and the attachment of the base to the body.
The reason for concentrating on this part of the process is that any high quality restoration/alteration will require the removal of the base plate from the body so that individual components can then be repainted, replaced or restored.
It therefore follows that the first thing a collector should look at in order to establish authenticity is the base plate fastenings, because once our restorer has finished his work he must then re-attach the body to the base plate.  Now if our restorer then wants to pass his work off as original he must make the baseplate fastenings look original.  This is very difficult!

The Original Production Process

Before we go any further we need to understand how the baseplates were attached at the Lesney factory originally, and also to understand that there was more than one process.

we use quality packing materials
As a general rule Matchbox attached the body to the base with pillars that were part of the body casting. They then went through holes in the base plate.
The length of the pillars varied greatly depending on the body shape.
The diagrams below gives a basic representation of the two different types of swaging tools used to distort the pillar ends and retain the baseplate.
swaging tools 1
The tool on the left is a direct compression swaging tool whilst
the tool on the right is a rotary swaging tool.
swaging tools 2
Both tools have a similar effect in that they spread the end of the
pillar so that it cannot pass back through the baseplate.
swaging tools 3

  The above diagrams show that there were two similar methods of swaging over the pillar ends protruding through the baseplate.  One method simply pressed whilst the other pressed and turned.  Both methods result in the pillars no longer being able to pull back through the base which is therefore now securely attached.
Visually however the results look very different.  The compression swage just forces over the pillar edges and in some case splits the metal while the rotating method produces a smoother finish with circular lines on the pillar ends and if pushed a little too far also on the base plate.
The main difference however is this:
Before assembly all the components (body and base) were painted. This means that the pillar ends were also painted and here we come to the myth.

The Myth

A belief commonly quoted by experts and highly experienced collectors alike is that the swaged pillar ends should always have the body colour paint on them and a lack of paint is conclusive proof of a fake.

  A quick look at the photographs below will clearly show that the compression method of swaging the pillar ends usually (but not always) leaves the body colour paint showing, whilst the rotary swaging method nearly always removes all the paint except sometimes a tiny amount still remains at the bottom of the center dimple or round the edges.

Matchbox mb9 side
Side view of a common Lesney MB9 Fire Engine.
Matchbox mb9 base
Base view of the same model.
Matchbox mb9 base2
Close up view of the pillar end shows nearly all paint removed and circular swaging marks. Clearly a rotary swaging tool has been used.

See larger image here.
Matchbox mb73 side
Side view of a common Matchbox M73 Mercury Commuter in green.
Matchbox mb73 base
Base view of a common Matchbox M73 Mercury Commuter in green.
Matchbox mb73 base2
Close up view of the pillar end showing some paint residue but no rotation marks. Almost certainly a compression tool has been used here.

See larger image here.
Matchbox mb73 side
Side view of a common Matchbox M73 Mercury Commuter in red.
Matchbox mb73 base
Base view of a common Matchbox M73 Mercury Commuter in red.
Matchbox mb73 base2
Close up view of the pillar end showing clearly the rotation marks and in this case there is no paint to be seen at all except a tiny bit round the edges (see the close up picture). A rotary tool has obviously has been used here.

See larger image here.
Matchbox MB13d side
Side view of a common Matchbox MB13d Wrecker.
Matchbox MB13d base
Base view of a common Matchbox MB13d Wrecker.
MB13d base1
Close up view of the pillar end showing showing clearly the splayed and cracked effect of a compression tool. In this case almost all the paint remains and in fact some has been forced onto the base plate round the edges.

See larger image here.
Matchbox M69 Rolls Royce side
Side view of a common Matchbox M69 Rolls Royce.
Matchbox M69 Rolls Royce base
Base view of a common Matchbox M69 Rolls Royce.
M69 Rolls Royce base2
Close up view of the pillar end showing showing clearly the rotation marks and again in this case there is no paint to be seen at all. A rotary tool has obviously been used here.

See larger image here.

  We have now established that there were in fact two different but similar methods of swaging the pillars.  What you will also have noticed from the pictures is that the swaged pillar ends even if they were done with the same method do not always look the same.  This is because over time tools became worn and and their shape changed accordingly which creates a different finished effect.  There would also have been variations in pressure according to how the machine was set up before a production run and indeed some will even have been hand operated.

Fakes

  As I mentioned earlier the base plate must be removed before a quality restoration can be achieved.  This can be done by either levering at the edges of the base plate until the swaged pillar ends are forced back through the holes or by drilling the pillar end until the spread metal is removed and the pillars can easily pass back through the holes.   The first method is unlikely to be used as it will break the swaged metal and not leave a clean effect.

  When our restorer has finished his work he must then re-attach the base plate.
Unfortunately the pillars will now be too short so they cannot be re swaged even if he had the correct tool.   It is therefore nessesary to use a different method of which there are two.
One is to glue the plate back on in such a way that leaves not trace and then cover the pillar ends with a blob of putty/resin that looks like metal and is shaped like a swaged end.
The second is to drill further down into the pillar and then insert a metal rivet/plug that again looks like a swaged end.
Both methods are very difficult to make look original and usually they can be easily spotted even with an un-experienced eye.

  If you get yourself a little experience by looking at the pictures above and studying the pillar ends of examples you know to be original you will soon be able to spot 99% of fakes.
Just remember that there is no simple rule like the "no paint it must be a fake" myth, spend a little time studying the subject and you will soon be an expert.

  However there will come a time when you are simply not sure and further investigation is required.  This situation normally arises when you have a rare or unique variation and verification is required for peace of mind.

  The putty/resin/glue method can quickly be tested for simply by checking to see if the pillar end is metal.  A tap with scriber end or a gentle scrape will soon show if it is resin or metal.

  To test for an inserted plug/revit is more difficult.  If we presume that our restorer is truly an expert and has managed to make the rivet end look exactly like a swaged end even down to the rotation/pushing marks etc then our options are very limited.  Because the plug/rivet must be glued (solder is not an option as the heat is too destructive to paint etc) then if you were to try and pry the base plate off then the plug will probably pull out fairly easily.  Unfortunately this test could damage your model and if we are talking about a rare variation then damage is the last thing we want.

A Case Study...

 Recently a Matchbox 13d Wrecker with regular wheels came into our possesion as part of a collection. There was nothing special about it except it had a yellow roof light!

 Having noticed the yellow light we did a little research.  We could find only one other example with a yellow roof light. This one had sold at auction a few years earlier and as it happened was the rare reverse colour variation. Click here to see it!

Matchbox mb13d side
Here is our case study with the yellow light.
MB13d base1
Close up view of the front pillar end showing showing clearly that a rotary swaging tool has been used. In this case all the paint has been removed and in fact the tool has been pushed down on to the base.

See larger image here.
MB13d base1
Close up view of the rear pillar end showing showing clearly that a rotary swaging tool has been used. In this case nearly all the paint has been removed except for a tiny fragment left at the bottom of the dimple which can just be seen if you enlarge the picture.

See larger image here.

  Taking into account that the yellow light is not unheard of, the paintwork and labels were all perfectly authentic, the swaged pillar ends were metal and of the rotating swage tool variety we were quite happy to market this model as original.


  After some time we started to get emails from a few self declared experts claiming that their was no paint on the pillar ends so the model was a fake. We took a second closer look at the model and then in all cases politely replied saying that we were perfectly happy with the models authenticity.

Things then started to get a little unpleasant.
More (or maybe the same) so called experts started publishing offensive comments in an online forum ( I won't mention any names but this site claims to specialise in vintage british diecast toys) accusing us of trying to sell fakes as originals.  They even went so far as to publish my home address (which is actually quite easily available) as though they were uncovering some great secret illegal operation and acting in the public interest.
As usual with this type of online behaviour the offensive rhetoric was all made annonymously.

 All accusations were on the basis that the pillar ends had no easily visible paint on them and therefore the model must be a fake.

 We are a small family business relying heavily on our good reputation as we have done for the last 20 years so we needed to act.

The Ultimate Test!

We decided to have the model X-Rayed just to see if any plug/rivet could possibly have been inserted.
At this stage we did not even know if it was possible, but after chatting to an expert at a specialist X-Ray product testing facility we were assured that any tampering of the nature described would soon show up.
An X-Ray session was booked and a short time later we took the contentious model and a common Superfast version so both could be compared.

The results were conclusive. The X-Rays clearly showed that the rare yellow light Regular wheel version had not had its pillars tampered with and the X-Ray of the Superfast version backs this up by showing identical results.

MB13d base1

In the image above you can see on the left the x-ray image of the superfast version and on the right the regular wheel version with the yellow light.
It can clearly be seen that both pillars are virtually identical with no inserts or evidence of drilling. If you click on the image you will see an enlarged version. You can see all the other x-rays taken on the day here.

Conclusion

Generally fakes are very easy to spot with just a little common sense and close inspection. There were clearly two types of baseplate fastening methods at the Lesney factory and having inspected a very broad sample it seems that about 10 percent were produced using the rotating swage method.

Our model was sent to Vectis auctions along with this article and the coresponding x-rays. They are in agreement about the originality of the model and said they would be happy to include it in one of their auctions. We have however decided to relist the model on our own site and eBay.



Update 30th April 2017
We complained to the owners of the website publishing the libelous comments regarding this model and brought this article to their attention.
The owner failed to respond in any way but the offensive thread does now seem to have been removed from the forum.

 
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