The Albuquerque man’s matchbox passion results in a global conference

Jim Gallegos sits in a Mattel Ford F-350 Superlift Matchbox Truck. (Courtesy Jim Gallegos)

Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference in our lives.

For Jim Gallegos of Albuquerque, the little thing that marked a big turning point in his life was a die-cast Matchbox toy model of a Greyhound bus. Matchbox toys, introduced by the British company Lesney Products in 1953, were originally designed to be small enough to fit in a matchbox.

Gallegos, now 59, got his miniature greyhound in the late 1960s when he was around 10 years old. It fascinated him.

“There were others before that (Matchbox toys), but that’s what got me going,” Gallegos said in a recent telephone interview. “I had never been on a greyhound before, but I saw her. The (Matchbox Greyhound) was realistic, something I could relate to. “

Just a few weeks after receiving the greyhound, he got a Matchbox Ford GT and his passion for miniature wheeled vehicles began to accelerate.

Today his collection of miniature vehicles runs into the thousands, and the Matchbox Convention, which he launched in Albuquerque in 2003, runs Friday through Sunday, May 21-23. July, 15th held at the Albuquerque Marriott.

A display of vintage Matchbox toys. (Courtesy Jim Gallegos)

Gallegos said the Albuquerque event is the only Matchbox convention other than one in Germany that the toy company Mattel actively supports. Mattel, which launched the Hot Wheels miniature vehicle line in 1968, bought Matchbox in 1997.

Gallegos calls its convention the Matchbox Collectors Annual International Gathering of Friends. He said that about 30 collectors from across the country attended the first and that there were about 20 tables at the toy fair that first convention. 200 collectors have registered for this year’s convention, and 100 tables will be set up at the toy fair, which is open to the public.

“It has grown slowly and this year’s convention will be our biggest ever,” said Gallegos. “All the top collectors will be there. They come from the USA, Japan, Brazil, Germany, England, Belgium, Mexico and Canada. We have an 82-year-old husband and his wife who come from Japan every year. “

Gallegos said he believes it is the friendship among collectors rather than their common interest that makes the Congress successful.

Gary Dietz of Fresno, Calif., Right, looks over the die-cast vehicles of dealers Bill Rhoades of Santa Fe, left, and Dick Davisson of Albuquerque, from left, during the 14th annual Matchbox Collectors International Gathering of Friends in 2016.

“That’s why I started it,” he said. “Before the Internet became popular, a group of us collectors communicated by phone and email, but we rarely saw each other.”

The congress offers the opportunity for personal exchange between the members of the collector community.

Gallegos, a 1975 graduate of West Mesa High School, has retired from AT&T and now serves as the sales director for Presbyterian Health Plan. Starting from this Matchbox Greyhound bus, he collected all sorts of toy vehicles and antique toys.

When you consider how much space it takes to display a collection of miniature toys the size of Gallegos’, not to mention the time it takes to dust, it’s lucky that his wife Vicki and his Son Shaun, now 32, shares his enthusiasm for toys.

“Vicki has several different collections,” said Gallegos. “She collects old plastic toys and antique toys – everything from old wind-up toys to various mechanical toys from the turn of the 20th century. Toys have a lot of history, technology and art, and Vicki values ​​that aspect very much. She played with her brother’s Matchbox toys. “

In the 1990s, long before Gallegos started his Matchbox convention, he and Vicki held antique toy shows in Albuquerque. Then they really got into the immense universe of collecting. Gallegos said its database contains the names of 12,000 collector friends in 72 countries.

When he was a kid, Gallegos said Matchbox toys sold for 59 to 69 cents each. They only cost about $ 1 today. But some models – depending on their rarity, condition and popularity – are now being sold for a lot of money on the collectors’ market.

“It’s not uncommon for Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars to sell for $ 10,000,” he said. “The highest price paid for a Matchbox toy was $ 25,000 for a one-of-a-kind fire truck.”

The record price for a Hot Wheels toy is about $ 70,000 paid for a rare Volkswagen Beach Bomb, a VW microbus with a pair of surfboards sticking out of the rear window.

Gallegos said none of the toys in his collection are for sale. He still owns the Greyhound bus and the Ford GT. He said they weren’t worth much to collectors, but they were priceless to him. You changed his world.

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