The Antique Toy Train Collector

a blog about old toys and trains from a collector in Canada



How did you get into collecting model trains?

A. I spend a great deal of my free time working in the garden in the summer and have little to do in the evenings and in the colder months. I love antiques, especially small ones that can be collected and had considered collecting Buddy L cars and trucks for quite a while. My plan was to buy beat-up pieces, restore them and display them. As it turns out the pieces were more expensive than I had thought and they would take up more space that I had planned on.
I was on an antique store excursion with my wife and parents in August 2013 and I came across a die-cast postwar Lionel 1666 locomotive and tender. I knew at that moment that model trains were the perfect fit! At that point in time I did not know that they made model trains out of anything other than plastic, had never heard of Lionel and had only seen model trains in HO scale! This find was perfect! Heavy, old and much larger than what I ran on the tracks in my living room when I was young.

Q. Did you have model trains as a child?

A. My parents bought me a Tri-ang HO train set for Christmas when I was around 8 years old. I remember having it set up on the living room floor for a day or two but have no memory of it after that. The next train I had was when I was around eleven years old. There was a Hobby store close to the place where my parents went grocery shopping and they had a complete layout in their window for a Christmas display. It was an N gauge and I received it as a belated Christmas gift. I played with it for a few years and then found that girls were far more interesting than toy trains. I believe that it was sold.

Q. What type of trains do you collect now?

A. I went through the phases that a new collector might go through over years…in mere months. After buying the first locomotive I started buying every model train piece that I saw. I had postwar and modern Lionel, American Flyer, Marx and even a few German pieces. Next I started buying HO pieces but because I had decided to avoid plastic, these were die0cast and tinplate models from Hornby and Marklin.
After a year of aimless buying I decided to focus on prewar (pre 1945) pieces and I sold off all of the HO and most of the postwar pieces. I still have a collection of 6400 series freights as well a few of the larger postwar locomotives.
I have a substantial collection of Lionel prewar O Gauge pieces dating from 1930-1941 and the balance of my collection is large gauge (Standard Gauge and larger) from a variety of manufacturers
Today I continue to focus on much older, larger and rare pieces from both American and European manufacturers.

Q. Do you have a favorite piece? Favorite Manufacturer?

A. As I have learned more about the hobby my tastes have become more specific. I don’t really have a favorite single piece but really like the larger scales (Standard Gauge, Gauge one and Gauge Two). Again I don’t have a favorite manufacturer but am a bit “obsessed” with early American manufacturers and their offerings, companies such as Voltamp, Carlisle & Finch and Knapp.

Q. What does “collecting” mean to you?

A. What collecting means to me is most likely quite different than what it means to a “serious” collector. I find that when you see wording such as “collector grade” or a “collector’s dream” they are referring to pieces that are original, basically new or unused and in their original packaging. The word “collector” has been assigned to the individual that buys an item primarily for its value or more so it’s potential future value. Today’s meaning of the word collector could be almost interchanged with the word investor.
So where does that leave me? I am a person that is amassing a collection of old model trains, like a museum of sorts. I collect based on visual appeal and have a desire to find all of the required pieces to complete a train once I have acquired a single piece. As far a grading most of the pieces that I have are presentable in that they are not all banged-up and have most of their paint. There are a few exceptions where the item is scarce or the cost of getting a better grade was unappealing to me. As far as boxes, if the item I purchase comes with a box…great! But I do not go out of my way to buy pieces in boxes.

Q. What do you see in your future as far as collecting?

A. I see myself becoming more focused in one particular era and concentrating on buying pieces within a specific era. I can also see divesting myself of my postwar items in order to gain the funds necessary to finance my chosen pieces.
I find that as I progress that I have an interest in items that are considered rare or scarce simply because the pieces that I am buying today are far more expensive than those I started buying. It is not about investing for profit as much as trying to buy smart so that I don’t lose a lot of money on a bad purchase.
I intend on educating myself further on the various pieces that I collect. I was fortunate to have a long-time collector provide me with a lot of books and literature on the specific models that I collect.

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