We acknowledge Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and give respect to Elders – past and present – and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
2010/17/1-6 Model car, 1933 Duesenberg SJ 'Twenty Grand', plastic / metal, designed by Franklin Mint, Pennsylvania, United States of America, made in China, 1989, collected by Michael and Jan Whiffen, Woree, Queensland, Australia, 1983-2009. Click to enlarge.

Model of 1933 Duesenberg SJ 'Twenty Grand'

  • 1989
This model represents the full-size Duesenberg Model SJ 20 was built for the World Fair in Chicago in 1933. It was known as the "Twenty Grand" because of its expensive price tag. The car had a centrifugal supercharger, a claimed output of 320 bhp and a top speed of 130 mph (210 km/h). This Franklin Mint model reproduces the car's elegant exterior of metallic platinum and was made of 148 parts including the Duesenberg bonnet mascot and a range of dashboard gauges. It has diagrams of the engine and driver's compartment layouts, and a Certificate of Authenticity.

This object is one of a collection of 41 precision model cars which comprises 22 models of Corvettes, from 1953 to 1998, as well as famous Rolls-Royce, Duesenberg, Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz and Ford Mustang models. They were designed by the Franklin Mint in Philadelphia, USA, and collected by Queensland couple Michael and Jan Whiffen from 1983 until 2009 and donated by them in 2010.

By the 1980s many of the children who had collected Matchbox cars in their childhood returned to the hobby, but this time with more disposable income. The Franklin Mint recognised this trend and began making larger scale, collectible, limited edition, die-cast cars just for the adult collector market. They made everything from the collector's first car or motorcycle, and the luxury car they had always aspired to own, to the sports car they had lusted over, all at an affordable price. Despite being criticised for being a mass-manufacturer of kitsch, the Franklin Mint was the pioneer of the collectibles industry.

Although not Australian-made nor used in Australia, the cars reflect some of the most desirable vehicles around the world in model form. The meticulous attention to detail not only clearly illustrates increased sophistication of die-cast model making since Matchbox days, but also the changing design features of automobile bodies, interiors and engines. This is especially true in respect to the Corvette set, where the models represent cars from 1953 to 1998. This is a legitimate way to illustrate the developmental changes in automotive design over a 45-year period when it is impractical and impossible to display the full-size cars.

The cars themselves are a fascinating insight into the development of the collecting hobby which grew in Australia and around the world throughout the second half of the 20th century. This interest is seen in Australia with the enormously-popular ABC television programme, "The Collectors", which began in 2003 and spun off a magazine and, in 2010, a book entitled "Collecting the 20th Century".

Michael and Jan Whiffen have clearly enjoyed collecting the cars and other motoring collectibles, and it has been a passionate hobby for them to share together over 35 years.


"Business Wire", 19 February 2008,
Dinger, Ed, 'The Franklin Mint' in "International Directory of Company Histories" Volume 69, 1998.
Georgano, Nick, "The Beaulieu Encyclopaedia of the Automobile", The Stationary Office, London, 2000.
Information provided by Jan and Michael Whiffen.

Margaret Simpson
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry


Object No.


Object Statement

Model car, 1933 Duesenberg SJ 'Twenty Grand', plastic / metal, designed by Franklin Mint, Pennsylvania, United States of America, made in China, 1989, collected by Michael and Jan Whiffen, Woree, Queensland, Australia, 1983-2009

Physical Description

A model car of a 1933 Duesenberg SJ 'Twenty Grand' with a paint finish in silver. The four doors, the boot and the two sides on the bonnet all open. A paper maker's label has been tied to base of the model. Marked on underside.


Paper makers label attached.



75 mm


85 mm



  • 1989


The cars were all designed and made by Franklin Mint in Franklin Centre, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The Franklin Mint is a private American corporation which was established in Middletown, Pennsylvania, in 1964 by business entrepreneur, Joseph M. Segel. It was set up to make and market high quality "coin-like" gold and silver commemorative tokens and medallions. Limited editions, expensive-looking packaging and certificates of authenticity all appealed to collectors and the company prospered. Sales were through direct mail and advertisements in the media. A book division was added in 1973 to produce fine bindings of classic works and other collectibles soon followed. A lawsuit was filed by the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund over the so-called illegal production of merchandise including dolls, plates and jewellery, after the Princesses death.

In 1983 the Franklin Mint began to produce die-cast model cars, beginning with the 1935 Mercedes Benz 500K Roadster. Numerous models followed with the most popular being the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, while the Corvettes and Harley-Davidson lines were the most popular marques. The range went on to include antique, classic and modern automobiles, muscle cars, motorcycles and military aircraft. By 2008 over 500 models had been reproduced. The firm developed high standards of engineering in the production of their die-cast cars with authentic detailing.

By 2008 the American publication "Business Wire" said the Franklin Mint was "the world's leading private mint and most trusted name in collectibles". As well as the coins and model cars, it is said the firm had over 12,000 product lines including "art" figurines, paintings, heirloom collectibles and celebrity likeness dolls, designer jewellery and gift items.



This collection of 41 Franklin Mint precision car model is a small part of a larger collection which was put together over a period of almost 40 years by Michael (Mike) Whiffen and his wife, Jan. Their collection began with Matchbox (1:43 scale) cars and extended, from the early 1980s, to the larger 1:24 Franklin Mint models. Today their collection includes books and DVDs on cars, limited edition dinner plates featuring Holden's 50th anniversary, various Holden, Jaguar and VW model cars, Matchbox horse-drawn vehicles, AFL memorabilia, teddy bears and fob watches. As Jan noted when they first offered their collection to the Museum:

"Michael didn't collect cars as a boy, but always had a fascination for them." He grew up in England and arrived in Australia as an 18-year-old under the Big Brother movement in 1959. His collecting days started after arriving in Australia. "When we first met he drove a little old Austin Freeway and his collection of cars were the three Matchbox toys that sat proudly on his rented TV… Michael's love is Jaguar cars and there are model Jaguars cars all over the house. I personally have a fascination for VWs as I learnt to drive in one and there are a couple of model cars in our collection along with "Herbie the Love Bug" DVDs."

Jan went on to write:

"Our passion for model cars has never waned and we find we can not go past model cars without "just a quick look". Even when travelling overseas, firstly in Singapore and each time we have visited Canada and England we always managed to bring back one or two new models to add to our ever growing collections."

"As well as collecting Matchbox cars we also discovered the larger Franklin Mint Precision Model cars and soon there were cars in every nook and cranny as the collection grew to more than 300. Most of our Matchbox cars and all of the Franklin Mint cars were purchased via mail order and our collection grew with each new catalogue that arrived in the mail. The first ever Franklin Mint Model was the Silver Ghost which still has pride of place in one of our display cabinets. The Corvettes grew from one to twenty-two very quickly… Michael chose Corvettes because they were advertised as a set collection, they were sports cars, spanned more than 40 years and you could see the changes over the years, plus here in Australia you rarely see Corvettes and when you do they stand out in the crowd."

Cite this Object


Model of 1933 Duesenberg SJ 'Twenty Grand' 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 28 February 2021, <https://ma.as/410807>


{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/410807 |title=Model of 1933 Duesenberg SJ 'Twenty Grand' |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=28 February 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Transport at the Museums Discovery Centre.