The Matchbox Code System

One of the decisions collector's make early on is what 'code level(s)' of models they will collect. Code Level refers to how the model was manufactured, decorated and distributed. This is applicable to the miniatures and oher lines such as Models of Yesteryear and Convoys, but here, for now, refers to only the minitaures models.

Code 1 models are straightforward- they are made, decorated and printed solely by the Matchbox company. These refer primarily to the standard models that fill the toy store shelves. In its early decades Matchbox factories made and finished all of their miniature models- even if the models were special promotions for a company, with a limited distribution, they were completed by Matchbox itself. One twist in the Code 1 definition is that there have been several instances where factories in China found themselves with leftover pieces and parts after the Matchbox business was relocated to another country. Those factories released many hybrid models in an effort to use up their remaining stock- mixing and matching colors, wheels and interiors in combinations never intended by Matchbox. These were sold primarily in China as 1-75's and despite being unofficial are considered Code 1.

In the 90's, it was determined that running small batch special orders was not cost effective and Matchbox instead licensed secondary manufactorers to handle special decoration/print orders. These companies were authorized by Matchbox for that work. Matchbox would produce 'blanks'- versions of models that were, typically, all-white and had no decoration or printing. The companies would then apply the final decoration per the customers' requests. The models created by that arrangement are considered Code 2 models.

There are three companies that Matchbox has authorized as Code 2 secondary manufacturers. ASAP (Advertising Specialty and Premiums) and Adtrucks (or ADT, a division of Conquer) were the first two, starting in the mid=90's. ColorComp, Inc. (CCI) originally worked with Matchbox on some Matchbox Collectibles models, and joined the list for code 2's toward the end of the 90's. CCI is the only one of them that remain in the diecast minitaures business.

Some collectors and clubs also list models that were not available to the general public (i.e. line review models handed out at factory events) as Code 2. These would otherwise be listed as Code 1 since they are made by Matchbox. This approach is intended to allow collectors to achieve 'completeness' in their collection without having some very rare models. On this site, those models are listed as Code 1.

Code 3 refers to any model that is altered or decorated without approval from Matchbox.

Code 4 are one-off models created by Matchbox for charities or auctions or to recognize individuals. The gold buses given to each year's Matchbox Ambassador (a selected liaison from the collecting community to key Matchbox team members) and the gold-plated 2003 Seagrave Meanstick Firetruck auctioned for The Ronald McDonald House charities are examples of these.

The line shifted between Code 2 & 3 models several years ago with changes in 'permission' from Mattel. Previous to circa 2006, models finished by a Code 2 authorized company (such as CCI and ASAP) were considered code 2. Since then only specific models that have the permission of Mattel are considered code 2. Models continuing to be made by CCI, based on either old blanks or standard release models, are now considered Code 3 since the change. Of late, Mattel has distanced itself (for legal reasons- not wanting to have any accountability for whatever message people put on their toys) from the process- they no longer produce blanks and the only Code 2 authorized models are a handful made for charities and some specific toy shows.

Despite this, by popular demand, CCI produces many customer-driven prints, using the remaining blanks or regular models, which the customers often still think of as Code 2 (as they were prior to 2006 or so). How to categorize these? Since we don't have a sharp definition of when Code 2 shifted to Code 3 for CCI and others, and considering the continuing popularity and collectibility of many (now) code 3 models, I've fudged in this database and list them all as Code 2/3. In this I include only the old 'true' Code 2, as well as current Code 3 made by the previously authorized companies and clubs/groups. If you customized it in your basement- not included!

So to summarize, on this site:

  • Code 1 are any model made entirely by Matchbox or at a Matchbox factory
  • Code 2/3 are Code 1 models that are further decorated/printed by a secondary manufacturer either a) with specific permission of Mattel to make that Code 2 model, or b) by a company/group who has been authorized by Matchbox previously to create Code 2's, which now are considered Code 3.
  • Code 4 are models that are typially one-offs, made only for special occassions by Matchbox. They are listed as Code 4 here.

In general the value of a model is based on a combination of quantity available and code level, with level 4 being by far the most expensive if they are ever made available by the original receiver).

I would love to hear your input on the code system- please drop me an email or upload a comment.