Buying Model Trains Online


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Any time one has a hobby such as collecting, contacts are made with selling the products being collected. Some are nameless souls on eBay, some are those that we would like to forget ever dealing with and still others become people that come to we rely on. The following posts are my attempt to say thanks to some of the vendors that have helped me find what I have sought. These individuals had the selection, the knowledge and the service required to make my collecting experience a better one.

Getting the best results on eBay

When it comes to finding European vintage model trains on eBay and you want to search outside of North America, there is a check box on the left which will allow you to select “worldwide”. You might think this will give you all of the listings for any particular search but it does not. Selecting worldwide will only give you those sellers that offer shipping to your locale, in my case Canada.

The only way to see what is available from sellers in other countries is to go to the eBay site for that country ie: eBay Germany, eBay Italy etc.
This link provides a list of all of the worldwide eBay sites. Just for fun, try a specific search in each one and you will be surprised at how different the results are.
Another thing is search results based on your default shipping address. If I do a search on eBay with a Canadian (ship-to) address I will not get results from “some” sellers that will not ship to Canada. If I change my ship-to address to a US one, these sellers and their items show up in my search. I have acquired some great items by searching this way and then having my purchase sent to a US address. (my brother lives in Chicago, receives the items and then forwards to me via post)

Even if the seller states that they don’t ship outside of their country.ask! What I have found is that if you contact a seller and ask if they will ship to your country, they probably will. The reason they don’t state it is they get very few contacts from abroad.so why go through the extra bother of calculating freight etc. On the other hand, don’t just bid on an item where they have stated they won’t ship to your country unless you ask first. You might up winning and then have them cancel the transaction because they really don’t want to ship the item to you!
So what you will find by visiting the eBay sites directly are countless results for your searches AND like I said, most of these sellers WILL ship to Canada if you ask. The truth is that of all that I asked if they could ship to me, all said yes but one and he was in the US and in Buffalo which is at most 2 hours from me!

Things to watch for when buying something from international sellers:
Currency exchange – the difference between the purchasing currency and the currency the seller is seeking can vary a lot. At the time of this writing the Canadian dollar was down so even purchases from the US cost me and additional 12%. Banks and Paypal also charge a fee for the currency conversion typically 2.5 to 5%
Shipping – If at all possible have the shipment made by post as opposed to courier. Courier companies charge exorbitant rates for customs clearance.
Insurance – If you have the item insured there is typically a charge over and above a nominal amount. If you insure an item for a specific amount, then you will be charged taxes, brokerage etc on that amount. Conversely you cannot insure an item for more than its declared value.

Typically I have found that buying from overseas is more expensive than buying in North America but there is greater selection. Forget buying US made products from overseas (ie: Lionel) as these are ridiculous in price.

Rare, vintage, one-of-a-kind antique train for sale

Far too often I see the terms “rare, “one of a kind” and “antique” used on eBay for no other reason than to make the ad sound better. I don’t think that most of the people using the words have any idea of what they mean.

Rare
Meaning thin in density, few and far between. The word rare could mean different things to different people in different circumstances. A person in the middle of the desert might think water is rare, whereas someone living on an island may not. When it comes to eBay ads for collectibles and model trains in particular, rare should mean that there are very few of the described item available. If an item is described as one-of-a-kind then it should be just that.an item where only one exists. I would think in general this would only apply to something that was scratch-made. Any one of a kind model train that was produced by a name-brand company would most likely be priced far above the eBay crowd.

Vintage
This word is also misused. It seems that anything that is more than ten years old gets tagged as vintage. Vintage, in a word, actually means old. One could then argue what old means. The truth is that the word vintage is typically (misused) in ads to make the item sound “older” and therefore more valuable. Vintage to me means 1940s-60s whereas to my son who is 21, vintage is 1980s. I prefer it when an ad refers to an item being of 1940s vintage for instance as opposed to just calling it vintage.

Antique
The most misused word is antique, simply because I feel that most people don’t know what it means. In the Tariff Act of the United States in 1930, an antique was an object that was made before 1830, therefore 100 years old or greater. In 1966, the standard of 100 years old was adopted as the defining characteristic to determine if an object was an antique and its import would be duty-free.
I asked an antique dealer what their perception of the word was. They reiterated that an authentic antique is something that is 100 years old or greater. Today that would be something that was made before 1914. They went on to say that they typically would tag (regardless of their knowledge of the definition of antique) anything that was made in the 1920s or before as antique and anything later than that as collectible.

As of the date of this post a quick search on eBay turned up the following:
Rare model train: 4090 results
Vintage model train: 15,522 results
Antique model train: 476 results (virtually all of the results were models from the 1930s)

Buying from Europe – Tin Toy Trains

Marklin Public Urinal

I was discussing with someone the collecting of vintage model trains and we concluded that there really isn’t a great interest in Canada. That is there is no real visible presence. There are very few stores selling model trains in the country and fewer still that sell vintage pieces. Really the only option is to look outside the country to those geographic areas where vintage model train collecting is popular.

In my search for vintage pieces I originally started with eBay which led me primarily to sellers in the US offering Lionel. As my interests evolved and I ventured into European models such as Märklin, Bassett Lowke and Hornby I found that it made sense to source overseas.
There seems to be a fear of purchasing products from abroad.security issues with the financial transaction, shipping charges and duties and trust in the vendor that you will get what you have ordered. The truth is I have received better service, better value and far greater assistance with my purchases from overseas vendors than I have typically found in North America.

I am not suggesting that one only look for model trains from overseas; Lionel seems to be extremely expensive there. Recently I saw a postwar locomotive that I had recently sold to someone for $85 CDN for £600 in the UK. I don’t know if this is typical or not. Conversely I purchased a Hornby Royal Scot from eBay for $800 USD ($895 CDN) and I could have bought one in better condition from the UK for £300 (equates to approximately $620 CDN)

So if you are looking for European models I suggest looking to dealers based in Europe that offer them. One dealer that I really enjoy working with is located in the Netherlands (Holland). His name is Kevin and he owns Tin Toy Train. He offers a small but very high quality selection of Märklin vintage trains. If you are looking for a pristine vintage locomotive or rolling stock or something unique for your layout, chances are that Kevin will have it.  He offers unique vintage items from Märklin, Distler and others as well as a toy archive where past sales are highlighted.  I personally enjoy browsing a seller’s archives as it give me an opportunity to visualize new items to add to my “wish list”.

You can reach the site here: Tintoytrain.com

Did you know that Märklin made a model public urinal? Although not popular in North America these curbside urinals were common in European countries. Tin toy train has one offered for sale on their site!
This is the type of item that one can find by broadening their search and looking to overseas vendors.

Buyer Beware

Hornby Royal Scot

When is the truth the truth and when is it misleading?  I was looking for a Hornby Royal Scot Locomotive and found one on eBay.  It was a buy it now or make an offer deal.  I made the seller an offer, he accepted and the deal went through.  Yesterday I received the locomotive and I am not entirely happy with my purchase.  I went back to look at the original ad to see if I missed something and the truth is I received EXACTLY what the ad stated.  I have reprinted the ad here:

HORNBY 1929 LMS ROYAL SCOT (3-rail) LOCO AND TENDER NO./6100

Grading C-7 Excellent considering its age

A beautiful Hornby Royal Scot locomotive and tender. This will be the first of many pre-war locomotives that I will list here on eBay.Others will include County Of Bedford,Eton,and many special tank LNER’s.Please do not hesitate to inquire and ask questions,or even offer information for me which I always welcome. This engine and tender is untested and in very good/plus condition.Has been strict display since purchase in 2004 in New Zealand.

Thank you for viewing! Sounds good?  Looks good?  The actual locomotive I received was a clockwork locomotive that has an electric unit (looks new) installed into it.  There is a hole on the side where the key would have gone originally.  I never noticed before but this side was not photographed in the ad.  The nuts that hold the “guts” in place were loose in the box and the drive wheels don’t move at all.  So in my opinion the ad was misleading in that it never mentioned that the loco was reworked and possible seized.only that is was “untested”.  In all honesty, it looks good for display purposes but then the amount I spent for a reworked locomotive was too much. In the future I will probably end up buying another Hornby locomotive from the UK rather than eBay. Recommendations for others, makes sure there are pictures of all sides of an item for sale and ask questions.

eBay Global Shipping Program

Little Train – Big Price

To make matters even worse for those buying model trains and the like into Canada, eBay allows some sellers to use a shipping option called the “Global Shipping Program”. The idea was to get sellers to feel better about exporting to other countries (less confusing process and paperwork) and buyers pay all of the taxes and brokerage fees up front. The problem for the buyer (me) is that the fees that eBay charges for this service are far and above what one would pay in my example above. I recently purchased a $96.00 engine off eBay and my final bill when using the Global Shipping Program was $167.00 USD ($192.05 CDN after exchange) Double the cost of the original item!

Recently I saw a Lionel locomotive that I was interested in.  It was new in box and had originally sold (new) for $799 USD.  The seller was asking $459 USD but it has combined shipping and import charges of another $185, making it far too expensive.  Shipping the same item via USPS would cost me $78.  No sale!

A recent search on eBay turned up a seller using the Global Shipping Program. He was offering a Lionel 2360 Electric Locomotive at $2250 USD with a shipping charge of $53.31 USD and Import charges (using the Global Shipping Program) of $527.22. A total of $2830.53 USD. If the same seller was to ship the package via USPS the freight cost would be the same (or close) but the Import charges would be $9.95 CAD brokerage fee plus taxes of $292.50 (HST at 13%) which is a difference of $224.77! I have had a number of US vendors tell me they can’t be bothered with the additional paperwork so will not ship to Canada any other way, on the other hand I can’t warrant giving someone an additional $225 for someone elses convenience. No sale!

Buying into Canada

If you are like me you have probably not found too many “great” pieces in antique stores or trains shows and train stores have limited selection at marked-up prices.  Many turn to E-bay to look for and purchase model locomotives and rolling stock.  I have made many purchases from E-bay and wanted to share with others some tips regarding the price that you see online and what you end up paying.

Most of the vendors are based outside of Canada so there are additional fees that can add considerably to the price being asked or the winning bid in case of an auctioned piece.

First off I would suggest that anyone wishing to purchase from eBay use the eBay.com website rather than the Canadian version at eBay.ca .  The Canadian site lists those sellers that are willing to ship to Canada and this severely limits the results from a search.  I have found that most sellers even though they may state “May not ship to Canada” are quite willing to, so you will always find more of what you are looking for on the dot.com version of eBay.

If you are on eBay.com and find something you are looking for but the ad is tagged as “May not ship to Canada”, simply send the seller an email asking if they are willing to.  In 99% of cases they are willing to ship abroad, just have never been asked to.

There are four important things to consider when buying something from eBay or any other online seller: The exchange rate, the shipping charges, the customs handling fees and taxes.  Duties are something that rarely come up in US Canada shipments when it comes to model trains.  You may run into duties when a train was originally manufactured in a country in which Canada has no free-trade agreement in place but I have yet to be charged duty on any of my orders.  From what I see, Canada does not assess duty on this particular product coming INTO Canada.

This link provides information regarding duty rates on die cast locomotives into Canada as well as the corresponding Harmonized Tariff Code(s) for these items.

Exchange Rate
The exchange rate is the difference in value between the currencies in the selling and buying countries.  If an item is selling for $1.00 US the exchange rate at the time will determine the CDN dollar equivalent.  One should note that posted exchange rates are NOT what you really pay.  Companies that are doing the exchanging will add on a few points for the service.  If paying by credit card, the banks add on their take as well.  As of today the exchange rate is such that I have to pay $1.10 CDN for $1.00 US but by the time everyone gets their share it costs me around $1.15 CDN.

I found a great site from Visa that gives a reasonably accurate calculation of foreign exchange here .  I used 2.5% for the bank’s fee.

Shipping Charges
Items being sold on ebay and other online stores typically will show a shipping rate for Continental USA.  This rate will be considerably different when they are shipping into Canada.  I have seen $7.95 shipping for the US and the same package costing $40 into Canada.  As far as shipping rates, USPS has the lest expensive rates whereas FedEx and UPS are much higher.  I always ask the seller if they can ship USPS whenever possible for this reason.

Customs Handling – Brokerage Fees
Anything that is shipped across the border (both into and out of Canada) has to pass through customs.  Customs ensured that prohibited items are not coming into the country but more importantly they need to assess taxes on the value of the items being sent in.  Someone has to process the required paperwork for the “customs clearance”. If the parcel is shipped via USPS (United States Postal Service) the shipment is turned over to Canada Post for customs clearance.  Canada Post assesses a flat rate of $9.95 CDN for this service. (Link to this information on Canada Post website here )

This is added together with the assessed taxes and collected as a COD on delivery.  Fedex and UPS also offer customs clearance services but are VERY expensive.  Link to UPS rates for Customs Clearance into Canada here .

Taxes
Typically when on online seller ships something out of the country they do not assess local taxes on the product.  The taxes are assessed at the border by customs.  In the case of items coming into Ontario Canada, the rate of tax is 13% Harmonized Sales Tax or HST.

Canada Post does not assess duty or tax on items valued at $20 CDN or less or on gifts to family members of $60 CDN or less.  That being said I have had items with a value of around $100 delivered with no brokerage or taxes collected!  Lucky me!  I would not suggest that you have the seller undervalue your shipment to meet these requirements for a couple of reasons.  It is illegal and if caught you will subject all future shipments to yourself to additional scrutiny and any items valued at $20 cannot be insured for its real value.  Should the item get lost or damaged you would not be able to claim anything greater than $20.  Sucks when the item was an original 400E Blue Comet!

I have only had it happen once; I bought a locomotive from a large-scale seller off eBay and they charged me Ontario sales tax (13% HST) right on the invoice.  Fine by me but I had to watch carefully to ensure that I didn’t get dinged again at customs.

Link to all of Canada Post’s customs requirements can be found here .

So what this all means is this: Let’s say you were bidding on a prewar Hudson and you won the auction.  The final sale price was $2000 and the seller had listed shipping charges with the US at $40. Assuming the customer was in state, they would also have to pay the tax applicable in that State.  Let’s say for sake of argument that the rate was 8%.  The buyer would be paying a grand total of $2203.20

If I were buying the same locomotive (being in Canada) the total would look something like this:

$2000 locomotive
$50.00 freight charge
$307.50 exchange rate

$2415.00 total USD
$9.95 CAD Brokerage fee
$313.95 Taxes

Total: $2738.90

A total of $535.60 more for the same locomotive to a buyer in Canada. The above was based on Customs Clearance brokerage fees from Canada Post.  If the shipment was via UPS the fees would be $85.80 instead of $9.95!

This is an interesting link for those trying to figure out the final cost of an item imported into Canada, aptly named TheFinalCost.com

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