By Karl Schnelle
Giles Chapman has written a book on his childhood toy cars combined with a fascinating history of ‘the big three’ in the Golden Era of British Toy Cars. The three British toy car companies are the obvious ones listed on the cover (below), and the Golden Age was the 1960’s, as the author calls it. Mr. Chapman is a well-published author, so he brings a good perspective.
This new book is the same format as his previous books like 100 cars that Britain can be proud of and My Dad had one of those. His books are known for a sound coverage of the subjects and some well chosen and presented pictures. Chapman has written over 40 books and is a well known motoring journalist and author in the UK; he has now turned his attention from real cars to model cars.
Britain’s Toy Car Wars might be the first book that tries to tie the big three together in a historical and toy collector context. Many books have been written about the copious output of each company, so do not expect a review of their entire toy car production. I was expecting some side-by-side comparisons and timelines of who did what when, or who came out first with a certain feature and how did the others react. There is some of that, but mostly it is the author’s reminiscing about his childhood toys and then explaining the background of the company that produced them. In fact, many of the nice photos are of play-worn cars, which reinforces the readers’ nostalgia for their childhood.
If you are a specialist collector of Dinky, or Matchbox, or Corgi, then you will get a better understanding of the other two companies. As a kid, I collected all three and have read a lot about their history since then. So I did not learn a lot of new information about them, but several interesting facts did pop out from Chapman’s research.
I had realized that Meccano was much older and more conservative in their approach to selling Dinky Toys, but I did not know that Dinkys were sold in only 6000 approved stores while Matchbox and Corgi were everywhere, in more than 20,000 shops. Chapman portrays Smith and Odell as the ‘young guns’: they disrupted Meccano’s domination with Dinkys by selling pocket toys at a much cheaper price, available all over Britain at the time.
There has been a lot written about Hornby, Smith, and Odell, but this book also includes some history of the people at Mettoy. Van Cleemput is already well-known and is covered here. However, I learned a lot about the Ullmann and the Katz families and their involvement with the success of Corgi Toys. In fact, Giles Chapman wrote Arthur Katz’ obituary for the Independent (1999).
If you would like the read about all three companies and their high-level rivalries, please read this book. The author writes in a very engaging style and brings both the history and nostalgia into the story.
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