Emotional dependence on wheels

Updated 2017-04-03 11:00:27 China Daily
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A collection of miniature car models at Shanghai collector Shi Ming's home.

Avid collector Shi Ming tells of his love for amassing thousands of toy models from iconic brands like Matchbox and Hot Wheels

Miniature die-cast Matchbox vehicles were one of the most iconic toys for those born between the 1960s and 1990s.

Made by British manufacturing company Lesney Products, more than 3 billion toy vehicles have been sold by Matchbox across 12,000 model lines since the company's inception in the late 1940s, according to The Telegraph.

While the primary target audience of such toys are children, the brand does have its fair share of adult collectors in China.

Shi Ming, 41, the operations director of DHL Aviation Services in Shanghai, is one such avid collector who has a whopping 3,000 Matchbox cars in his collection. He can even name every car model that is on display in his home.

“It was so fascinating when my mom gave me my first Matchbox car during my elementary school year in 1986. It was very cheap, only 1.6 yuan (.25), but it was nevertheless very unique at the time,” said Shi.

Shi, who has been collecting Matchbox cars for 31 years, said that the toys were more than just a form of entertainment-they were also his first foreign language teachers.

For instance, he remembered how he would excitedly read all the product descriptions that came with each vehicle, and this helped to improve his grasp of the English language. When children were only beginning to learn English during the fifth grade, Shi was already familiar with words such as “caution”, “firefighting” and “refuse truck”.

Shi added that these toys also gave him insights into another world beyond China. In the 1980s, China was home to just a handful of car brands, but Matchbox taught him that others such as Jeep, Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Reynolds existed elsewhere in the world. He also recalled how he would get excited whenever he spotted familiar foreign car brands in imported movies.

A major milestone in the history of Lesney Products was when the company produced a miniature model of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation coach in 1953. A few months later, the company's co-owner Jack Odell designed an even smaller model that could fit in a matchbox for his daughter to take to school as a toy. This formed the foundation upon which Matchbox would build its success.

In the 1960s, Hot Wheels, a new line of vehicles by US toy giant Mattel, emerged to become Matchbox's fiercest competitor. To keep up with the competition posed by these new toy cars that had racing-style wheels, sleeker tires and brighter colors, Matchbox bolstered the quality of its toys and expanded the number of models.

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