by Jim Bunte

This article was publised in the February 1995 issue of "Collecting Toys" (pages 44 -49). I am reproducing this article so that all the collectors who missed it at that time can enjoy now. Also, for the new collectors it is a great way to find out about Charlie Mack, who I admire the most among my collector friends. I hope the author does not have any problem as I have no way to contact him and ask for his permission to reproduce. Now enjoy the article.

Centuries ago, when I was growing up, there was a kid in my neighborhood who was different from the rest of us. He was a kid who had this toy collecting thing figured out. "Single-minded" doesn't begin to describe his fascination with die-cast. Witout a doubt, he had the world's greatest Matchbox and Hot Wheels collection known to people under 10. The kid did whatever it took -- within moral and legal boundaries -- to realize his well-formed dream, much to our collective chagrin.

Why chagrin? A large portion of our time, you see, was spent losing dice games to this kid, games in which our beloved Matchboxes or Hot Wheels were collateral. The lure? Two for one odds. You won, you got two of his cars. He won, and you parted with one. Who could resist?

Unfortunately, no one. When those Yahtzee dice rolled (if only Milton Bradley knew .... ), you were but a wheel-turn away from parting with your toys. This kid was a dice whiz; why any of us ever gambled with him, I'll never know. He could roll sevens and elevens like the dice were fixed.

During pensive moments, I've ponder that kid and his immense collection. He was someone who knew what he wanted -- a stellar collection of die- cast. -- and most important, knew how to get it (in this case, through the magic of Yahtzee, sort of). And he began at an early age so he was able to accomplish his dream.

Amazingly, I met a toy collector -- Charlie Mack -- who, in terms of love for die-cast, could've been separated at birth from this neighbor kid. When I visited Charlie's incredible, 15,800-piece Matchbox museum in Durham, Connecticut, images of dice pits and vanished die-cast filled my head. Everywhere I looked, I saw Matchbox toys. Charlie is a toy collecting completist, but, I'm happy to reporty, not because he's some Yahtzee malcontent. He's a great guy with a friendly smile and a desire to spread the word about die-cast collecting. In fact, Charlie Mack is a lot like every toy collector you've ever met.

But Charlie does share some key traits with that kid. His dream of collecting toy collecting toys extends back to childhood. It's been a passion guiding his adult life. And he's been highly successful in his pursuit: Charlie has one of the most comprehensive, supreme Matchbox collections in the world, period. Judging from what I saw, I'd say he has maximized his dream's potential, to say the least.

But what makes Charlie's such an interesting story is not that he amassed a monumental assembly of Matchbox toys. It's what he does with his collectibles that makes him so different from most of us -- and certainly from that dice-rolling kid of my past. He took his phenomenal collection and, instead of hoarding it for his own pleasure, creataed a public museum for all to see and appreciated. It's well done, with an overwhelming array of Matchbox cars, trucks, and related toys, all in pristine condition.

Believe me, Charlie's is far from a "Look at my stuff" museum; he personally guides visitors and emphasizes education. Underneath it all, Charlie wants people to know about toy collecting -- especially Matchbox Toys.

Okay, so it's obvious. But when you're talking about 15,800 Matchbox toys, it's a question that simply must be asked: Why?

And now, Charlie's answer -- brace yourself. "I don't know. I just like Matchbox -- have, since I was a kid. It kinda just grew into, well, this," he said meekly, with a wave of his hand.

All right, so he doesn't know what compels him. Who can blame him? I challenge anyone to provide a defining answer for why we collect. Most can't, and may be that's the way it should be.

Charlie gave us a tour of the collection, and it is extremely impressive. If it's got Matchbox on the package, it's probably here. And I'm not just talking about die-cast vehicle toys for which Matchbox is so well known. How about a Lesney walking elephant toy from the early 1950's? Or a Universal Matchbox Nightmare on Elm Street "Freedy Krueger" doll with a Ginsu hand and talking mechanism that says, "I'm gonna slice you up!"? Or girl's toys? Or AMT models Kits? The lesson is simple: Matchbox is far more than little cars, and that's just part of the educational experience inherent in visiting Charlie's museum. Come to this museum, and you leave better informed about Matchbox, Simple as that.

Of course, it's Matchbox cars that people come to see, and wao! What an experience they're in for. Walls throughout Charlie's Display are lined with Neil's Wheels Magic Box die-cast car displays. I'm completely serious when I say you cannot open your eyes in this place without seeing Matchbox cars. If you're into die-cast, Charlie Mack's museum is heaven.

This is one museum curator who has everything organized. Thank goodness, too, you quickly realize that without a strong sense of organization, there would be total chaos. Charlie laughed: "To be honest, there have been times when it's looked that way. But I've worked hard to make sure the displays are in logical order, nicely presented, and always well- lit."

Walk through the display and you'll find what you're looking for in short order. Charlie labeled each display with the era, wheel type, and other pertinent information. Whether it's regular-wheel Lesney, current-production Tyco, or anything in between -- Charlie's got it.

Variations are a big part of the museum, and with good reason. Part of Matchbox collecting's appeal is that you can collect variations affordably and, with exceptions, easily. May be it's a casting change; may be it's decoration shifts. Whatever -- Matchbox toys offer plenty in the way of variation collecting. The museum really illustrates this.

That's not to say Charlie has everything. "Nobody can," he laments. "I try, but there are some toys where only one or two pieces are known to exist. And they don't exist in my museum!" Charlie has a keen eye, however; he recently discovered rare regular-wheel Lesney toys in boxes of auction junk. "you never know where the next one will come from, so always stay alert." Sounds like good advice for any collecting interest.

Although he has a nearly overwhelming display to maintain and enhance, the museum isn't the only thing Charlie does, Matchbox-wise. He's also founder of Matchbox USA, the major North American collecting club devoted to all things Matchbox. Charlie coordinates membership, edits the monthly newsletter, even runs die-cast shows on the East Coast.

Yet it only energizes Charlie. He's such an enthusiast that hardly anything Matchbox wears him down. Whether it's reconfiguring the displays in his museum, setting up another show, or promoting the newest Matchbox releases in his newsletter, he's at full speed.

It's no surprise that Charlie is bullish on the future of die-cast collecting. He likes many of today's products, and he believes lines like Tyco's Matchbox Originals help build the collecting ethic, particularly in adults who might remember early toys. "Anything that brings in new people is good for die-cast. It doesn't matter what the manufacturer -- people buy and collect.

One of Charlie's prime interests in the Matchbox USA newsletter is promoting specialty toys made by Matchbox for firms like White Rose Collectibles. These lines feature decoration and packaging you just can't get anywhere else, such as White Rose's NASCAR line so popular with today's collectors. "Specialty lines not only appeal to confirmed collectors, but also bring new people in, such as the NASCAR crowd, who might not otherwise be interested in Matchbox."

Considering he's been in the hobby for most of his days and has seen the rise and fall of Matchbox manufactureres, Charlie remains more than upbeat about the game. "I think we've yet to see the cresting of die-cast collecting's popularity. It's easy, it's fun, and the products keep getting better -- at good prices."

That's great news for someone like Charlie Mack. He's spent much of his life devoted to the promotion of Matchbox collecting, and die-cast collecting's current popularity is a payoff that manifests for Charlie on many different levels. For starters, his museum does much to bring pleasure to Matchbox enthusiasts -- not to mention its contributions to educating the general public. His newsleter disseminates the information required by die-cast collectors to stay atop the latest developments. And his shows offer like-minded folks the opporutnity to come together under the banner of die-cast collecting.

In all, not bad for a guy who really doesn't even know why he does what he does. All we can say is, don't worry about it, Charlie -- just keep doing what you're doing........

Charlie Mack's Matchbox musurm is located at 62 Saw Mill Road in Durham, Connecticut 06422. The museum is open by appointment only. Please call (here author gave the old area code of 203, which I changed to reflect the new code) 860-349-1655 for museum hours and information about the Matchbox USA collecting club.

G Book

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