Holiday goals: How I finally got the Tomica collection out on display

All too often, only a lucky few of the models we buy will make it into a display. The majority gets consigned to a storage bin in a garage or basement – or worse still, left in a Walmart bag in the corner!

That’s a handy situation when a house move comes along – one less thing to pack up – but moving is also bad news for the cars you did manage to display. Back into storage they go, only to re-emerge, perhaps years later, when you’re done with more pressing renovations to the latest “forever home”.

We’ve moved twice in the last five years, including across the Atlantic. As you can imagine, much of my car collection hasn’t seen the light of day since we came to Canada in 2015, but since we bought our current home – where we plan to stay for the foreseeable future – I’ve been chipping away at getting models out for display. In my mind at least, if you can’t enjoy them every day, it becomes harder to justify having them at all.

Top of the list for display was my Matchbox Mission 800 set, which continues to edge closer to completion. This takes up more than half the space in my biggest display cabinet, which was custom built for me in the UK – literally by a carpenter in the woods! – more than a decade ago. It lacks the individual focus of something like a Carney case but makes up for it in sheer volume. It’s huge.

I’d supplemented the big wooden case with some smaller wall displays: a childhood cabinet that now houses Matchbox Convoys, a couple of second-hand, mirror-backed units that I’d filled with (mostly CMs) 1:64 rally cars, an Amazon Hot Wheels case for my favourite premiums and, most recently, a new, 144-count Carney for the best of my 1:64 racing cars. After a few months of work on and off, that latest racing case is nearly done – more to come in a future article.

That left my Tomicas (about 400 cars in all) as the biggest remaining collection that I wanted to get out for display. They’d not all been seen for more than five years, since when I’d increased their number by about a third during a visit to Japan in 2018. I can’t quite explain it, but I love Tomica and there was no doubt that space had to be found. During the recent Christmas holidays, I finally made time to get the job done. New Year, new display!

The first step was to relocate my Falken models. These had been occupying the top couple of shelves in the right-hand side of the wooden cabinet for a couple of years, but the combination of some larger pieces and the bright teal/blue paint jobs meant that these were well suited to the airier bottom shelf, where there is more room for items like the Greenlight Aerovault and some 1:43 Porsches to breathe.

I’m really pleased with how that themed display turned out and they look great alongside a few BREs that I collected around a Greenlight workshop diorama. The next job will be to integrate the Hot Wheels Falken models that currently sit in Creative Options cases – stay tuned for more on Falken, soon.

The next task was to condense the Matchbox a little. I’d laid them out with some generous spacing, but it was clear that I’d need to clear a couple of shelves to allow all of my older Tomicas – regular range models and a handful of Tomica Limited – to escape their boxes and join a few dozen recent additions that were already in the cabinet. Slotting in a spare shelf helped free up more space, too.

Now for those precious Japanese miniatures themselves. I’ve been trying to photograph my collection piece by piece in recent years but have never gone back to retrospectively capture the models I’ve had for a while, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the Tomicas into the portable studio. I started by grouping them by vehicle manufacturer, which is how I planned to display them, as most of my Tomica models are concentrated on the major Japanese OEMs. This created organized chaos on the floor, as you can see!

Then it was time for them each to take their turn in front of the phone camera.

As I was doing this, I worked through the Tomica sheet of my Excel file, updating missing info and looking up details that I wasn’t sure of, to bring the record of my collection up to date. The Google Translate app is brilliant for decoding Japanese boxes, incidentally. The empties were themselves sorted by manufacturer and boxed up to return to the basement.

Finally, it was time to put the cars on display. I started with the old Foreign Tomica (F-numbered) castings that I have, arranged in ascending order of model number. It’s not a foolproof system, and there are some later-renumbered regular-range models, US-sold Pocket Cars and Tomy UK releases mixed in there, but it’s as good a means of sorting them as any.

I then put most of the rest of the models in their OEM families: bigger models to the rear and smaller and/or older ones to the front to keep as much as possible visible. Toyota has by far the biggest section, as you might expect, followed by Nissan. I’ve tried to leave enough space between the makes so that I don’t need to completely rework the display when I add more models. Because I probably will…

Below the bulk of the Japanese cars are the construction vehicles, trucks and buses, as well as a few miscellaneous items like the Formula Renault 3.5 – a rare example of a modern formula car from a mainstream toy maker – and the original Pikachu car.

The final touch was to at last assemble a 7-11 playset that’s remained sealed up since I bought it. As you might expect from a Japanese toy, it’s brilliantly designed and perfectly finished, and looks great surrounded by a few Priuses and a vintage Japan Post Toyota Hilux van. I’ll try to grab a couple more from the series next time I’m in Japan.

So there it is, one Tomica display, done and dusted. I still have to decide what to do with a small number of Tomica Premium and Limited Vintage releases. It’s not an area of the collection that I plan on adding to, but I’d prefer to see them out of the boxes if I can. They might sit by themselves if a suitable cabinet turns up; failing that, they’ll go in with the rest.

To finish, here are a few highlights from the display.

The F20 Volkswagen Beetle in orange was my first ever Tomica, bought when I was 14. The Subaru 360 Taxi Type, a Toys Dream Project release from 2008, is one of the smallest cars in the cabinet; the Toyota Hilux 4WD (‘Bigfoot’) is one of the biggest! And finally: I’m not sure it’s unique, but there can’t be many Suzuki Everys in this dubious colour combination! I chose it myself when it was built for me in the Tomica Shop Factory in Tokyo.

My favourite models? Probably the orange Honda Civic GLs in the picture at the very top.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this ramble through my display-creation process, and that you also find the space and time to get your cars out of those storage bins. Happy collecting!

(follow me on Instagram @diecast215)

3 Replies to “Holiday goals: How I finally got the Tomica collection out on display”

  1. I had several Pocket Car Tomicas as a child. I preferred them for their realism over the Matchbox Superfast silliness of the early to mid ‘70s. Many of the Tomicas were unfamiliar to me as the real versions were not available in my country. But nonetheless, I felt the styling cues and aesthetics were quite attractive and comparable to vehicles I was familiar with.

    As far as displays go, very few of mine make it to the shelf to be seen. I’ve already parted with a couple hundred cars in less than 2 years. Hardly any of them were ever displayed. I can’t think of one I regret selling.

  2. Wow!!!
    I’m going to have to ask you bluntly Mr. H… but how many items do you have in your collection in total??
    I can’t recall if you ever divulged that information in any of your post that i’ve read, but you must have a vast, vast collection of goodies.. to much to mention!


    1. I had to check my spreadsheet! About 4,500, of which more than half is Matchbox. It’s a lot, but I feel better knowing that others have a lot more 😂

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