Recently, a consignor came to us with several hundred new old stock trains. It sounds like an oxymoron, but “new old stock” refers to obsolete equipment or parts that were never opened and used. So, these toy and model trains were manufactured decades ago, but were never used.
Now, some people think the market for collecting trains has left the station. They’ll say a new generation of collectors prefer action figures, slot cars and video games. There’s certainly truth to a younger generation wanting to collect toys from their past, but there’s still a strong demand for trains, particularly scarce ones.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, people became fascinated with trains. The first wood and metal toy trains were made in Europe in the 1860s. Lionel made its first electric train in 1901, which was easily marketed by displays in store windows. Other toy train manufacturers included Marklin, American Flyer, LGB, Ives and Marx.
After World War I, Lionel became the industry leader, manufacturing bright, colorful trains known for its powerful motors and rugged construction. After World War II, trains became more elaborate, and by the 1950s, it was assumed that every boy owned a train set.
Our consignor’s collection is so large, we’ve been auctioning the trains over several weeks. One category that is doing well is brass trains. Earlier this month, an Alco Model HO D-168 Jawn Henry brass locomotive hammered at $1,000. During the same auction, a yellow brass hybrid Paragon 3 Series 4557 C&O Class L-1 and an Overland Models Brass HO Pile Driver-Up Fishbelly both realized $500 each.
One of the reasons brass trains are in demand is because they were made in small editions. They became popular after World War II, when American GIs stationed in Japan took note of the high-quality brass model trains produced by local craftsmen. Importers brought over trains manufactured by Fujiyama, Tenshodo, Nakamura and Toby. Some models are so rare, they can realize tens of thousands of dollars at auction.
Not only are collectors attracted to trains, but the accessories such as small buildings, signs, animals and vegetation can be desirable for the serious collector who is building his own town complete with his operational locomotive running through the middle of his town. These little towns are often referred to as dioramas and they can be built with the greatest detail all the way down to fully operational cities with stop lights.
We may not have commuter trains here in Arizona, but trains continue to be a major means of transportation around the world. And from what I’ve read, there continues to be advancements with speed and design…and even a possibility of solar-powered trains. Toy and model trains may not be as popular as they were decades ago, but I think they’ll continue to do well in the secondary market.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.