Model Trains - The romance of the railways and nostalgia for innocent boyhood pleasures have made train sets among the most collectable of toys Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Model Trains

Model Trains

 The romance of the railways and nostalgia for innocent boyhood pleasures have made train sets among the most collectable of toys

The appeal of toy trains lies not only in the fine detailing and mechanical ingenuity of the engines and rolling stock themselves, but in the proliferation of scaled accessories - stations, signal boxes and other buildings, trees, trackside furniture, staff and passengers, bridges, level crossings and vehicles - that allow the hobbyist to create whole landscapes and communities through which to run them.

 Railways, and particularly steam railways, have from the very first attracted the enthusiasm of boys and their fathers, and toy makers in England, France and Germany were quick to see the possible appeal of toy trains.

 Mid-Victorian toy makers produced thousands of 'penny' trains and later 'carpet toy' models in wood and tinplate. These did not run on a track, but were pushed across the floor by hand or pulled along by a piece of string.

 They proved very popular, with a variety of passenger carriages and goods wagons contributing to their appeal.

 Some later 'floor-runners' were powered by clockwork or steam. The first toy trains to be provided with tracks were almost certainly what are known to enthusiasts as 'dribblers'.

 These ran on tiny steam engines that needed constant paternal vigilance to make sure the oil and water levels were topped up and that the spirit lamp regulated the steam properly.

 The first great name in the field was the German firm, Marklin, who produced a figure-of-eight track in the 1890s. They are still in business today.  Their locomotives, carriages, stations and accessories have always been treasured; old ones fetch fantastic prices.

 Once manufacturers started selling length of track, they had to decide on standard gauges.

 Gauge '1' had a scale of 30 to 1, and gauge '0', 43 to 1. Smaller gauges, such as H0, 00 and, in the 1950s and 60s, the tiny 000 were introduced later for families with less space for layouts.

 Continued adult interest in model trains led to an emphasis on attention to detail and good craftsmanship. Marklin, and their slightly down-market German rivals, Bing, always had high standards, but the most accurate scale models were produced by an Englishman, W Bassett-Lowke.

 The accuracy of model trains was some times hampered by the need to include clockwork or steam engine to power them.

 This problem was solved with the introduction of electric train sets in 1898.  Early electric models were powered by mains electricity at dangerous 120 volts.  By the 1920s, transformers had been developed that reduced the power to a more acceptable 20 volts.


Train sets were often seen as special.  Even the most humble sets were treated with care, even reverence, by their owners, who were always careful to return them to their boxes.

 This means that a remarkable number of them have survived in good condition.

 There was a time when no collector worth his or her salt would have bothered with anything other than sets made by Marklin, Bing or Bassett-Lowke.

 However, these can be fantastically expensive, and sets made by Hornby, the British firm that produced the much-loved Meccano, are now also very collectable and more reasonably priced.

 Other British companies, such as Chad Valley, Mettoy or Brimtoy, are less collectable.

 Condition is paramount in setting the price of an old model train.  Missing bits and battered boxes can have a dramatic effect on price.  Sets that have been tampered with by small boys with paint brushes are best avoided.

 They can be restored to their original livery, but the value is greatly reduced.

 Pieces of rolling stock, locomotives and accessories can still be found in a variety of places, from jumble sales to auctions, and individual pieces of line-side equipment can be picked up relatively cheaply if you are prepared to shop around.

 Rolling stock is often sold in lots. It is still possible to pick up lengths of track in junk shops, but do check first that it's not too badly dented.

 Boxed sets and locomotives by the more sought-after makers are more usually found in specialist shops and auctions and through advertisements in specialist magazines.

 Serious collectors must be prepared to travel and learn about their subject.  As with all potentially expensive collectables, knowledge of the subject is your greatest protection against disappointment.

 Try to make contact with other enthusiasts. They are not only the best source of valuable information, but also, potentially, of items for your collection.

 Although boxed sets, early Marklin and Bassett-Lowke locomotives now fetch the highest prices, items bought individually or in lots at auction can soon be made up into an interesting collection, providing that you concentrate on one format electric, steam or clockwork - and one gauge.

 Wagons or carriages with print on them tend to attract higher prices.

Leslie Ragan - New York Central
New York Central
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Greenberg's Guides Lionel Trains: Pocket Price Guide 2003 " 1901-2003
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