As appeared in the 2005 edition of the Lionel Prewar and Postwar Price and Rarity Guide by TM Books and Videos
A wise man once said, "Buy land whenever you can because they are not making it anymore." Than's how I feel about Prewar and Postwar Lionel trains. They have been imitated - but never duplicated.
Today the tor train companies are pounding out trains and accessories like they are cookies. This also has had some effect on the past 1969 train market, the overall train dollars are being spread thin and the whole market is a little leaner in growth of value and collectability of all trains. But, take it from ol' Uncle Lou, the best return on investment are the trains produced before 1969 in Like New or Mint condition with original boxes. If you don't believe me, go to some of the large train auctions and check out the crazy prices people are paying for these babies!
All of the Lionel classics bring unbelievable numbers - Blue Comet and State sets, 1950 Hudson set, Girls set, Canadian Pacific sets all Like New to Mint with "hard" boxes. The odd ball stuff such as prototypes, factory errors, rare pieces, and original manufacturer paper work still bring record prices. So why all the negativity? I keep hearing the train market is dying, prices are going down, and the bottom is going to fall out. I don't agree. The train market is alive and well, it's just changing. A wider gap has been created in the collectability of older trains (pre-1969). The trains that I have described earlier have risen in value and continue to rise. However the postwar and prewar trains that are not in Like New or Mint condition have decreased considerably. A case in point is the famous Postwar 2343 Santa Fe ABA Diesels. In the eighties a Like New ABA Santa Fe set with boxes would sell for about $900 to $1000. A set that was Excellent would go for $700 to $800, Very Good would sell for $500, and you could get $300 to $400 for engines in poor condition. Today, Like New Santa Fe ABA with boxes sell for $1400 to $1600. However, engines in Excellent condition without boxes can barely bring $500. Anything worse you take what you can get.
Condition, condition, condition - that's the focus of the collectors who spend the big bucks. They won't settle for less, but will spend anything for a train in Like New or Mint with original boxes - and rightfully so.
In the past, there were two terms used by the train collecting society: "runners" and "beaters". These terms were not used to describe some of the men who collected trains, but I knew a couple of guys who would fall into those categories. "Runners" were used to describe trains that were Very Good condition - some paint chips or scratches, but were mechanically fine. Guys would use these trains to operate on their layouts. "Beaters" were trains that were in Poor condition. These trains were hard to look at and were used for parts and some restoration.
The influx of the new trains from Williams, MTH, K-Line, etc. have introduced a new breed of trains - inexpensive trains that were new and ran well. This put the death blow to all of the Postwar trains that were bought for only operating. The great disparity was created between Like New and Very Good. However, the "beaters" have risen in price due to the rise of the restoration facet of the hobby.
Restoration experts such as my good buddy Len Carparelli have worked their magic on these ugly ducklings and made them look beautiful and original. Another example is restoration. This has reintroduced fun into the hobby. Since I have made the water type decals available, more guys are restoring their own trains and are doing a great job. After an article in CTT about the restoration of the 6555 Sunoco Tank car using my water type decals, the price of a junk 6555s tripled. Actually, I can get $60-$75 for one of my restored 6555s and only about $40 for an original in Excellent condition. Go figure.
Good restorations have found their place in the postwar market. However, some of these restored pieces creep their war into the original train market. You must be very careful when buying a "Like New" or "Mint" item even if it's in the original box. Know the seller especially if it is an extremely rare piece. Beware of the four letter work - e-B-a-y. There have been a lot of unknowing buyers fooled in this arena. I still feel the best way to buy an expensive train is in person. It really pays to know something about the seller.
Original boxes have been the real sleeper in the past few years. The value of a box in Like New condition can more than double the price of the Post and Prewar trains that are in it. Master carton and set boxes have gone through the roof in the past few years. There have been some real crazy prices paid for these empty pieces of cardboard.
That brings me to the end of this free disbursement of my nuggets of wisdom. If you want more come see me at The Underground Railroad Shoppe in New Castle, PA or at my tables in the Orange Hall at the York meet where I hold court daily as "the mayor".