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Price Guides and Selling Your Trains

By Lou Palumbo, Published in Classic Toy Trains, November 2007 

This, the initial "Views from the Underground" (as a monthly feature-ed.) should be clipped and saved as it will be a collector's item in years to come. I'll be writing this column in every issue of Classic Toy Trains until I run out of ideas or just get tired of sharing my pearls of wisdom related to toy trains.

In each column I plan to give you information about the toy train market, old and new products, manufacturers, dealers, and any other oddities about the hobby. Who am I?  

I have been a train buff all of my life. My dad worked on the Pennsylvania RR, and he started me in trains (real ones and toy.) I grew up in New Castle, a small western Pennsylvania town with three older sisters, so I was the prince!  

I went to school in the 1950's, graduated from college in the 60's, worked 38 years for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, and retired in 2004. I married my lovely high school sweetheart, Marcia, 40 years ago and we have a son, 3 daughters, and 10 grandchildren to show for it. I've been collecting, buying and selling trains for most of my life and own and manage the Underground Railroad Shoppe here in New Castle.  

"Views from the Underground" is not new. You may recognize the name from articles in past price guides. Now, I think price guides should be titled, "This is What Your Trains Used To Be Worth." Seriously, it’s hard to write an accurate price guide these days. I know they are only meant to be "guides," but many collectors put a lot of stock in these books. I still use price guides, but with reservations. The price range of each item has expanded. Back in 2000, a Lionel postwar Santa Fe F3 A-A combination in excellent condition was worth between $500 and $600. Now those same F3s are going for anywhere from $250-$650, depending on who is buying and selling.  

The market is very loose. Good deals are out there for buyers as well as sellers. I divide the year into two parts. October starts "train season," which builds up in November and December. January and February are for working on your layout. Things slow down in March, and by April most everything is completed for "train season." I guess you could say it all starts with the show that the Eastern Division of the Train Collector's Association puts on in York, PA, every October and ends with the April York show.  

The summer months- May, June, July, August, and September- are all usually reserved for other recreational activities. Folks spend their money on vacations, but the ardent collectors still search for new finds at flea markets, summer train shows and trains shops they visit while out of town.  

One of the questions that I frequently get asked is, "When is the best time to sell my collection?" My answer is always: "Never!" I usually follow that with, "Why did you buy them in the first place?" If you bought them to sell, then you probably could have done a lot better buying the right stocks in the stock market.  

I never want to sell my trains. Still there were times during the years I was collecting that I had to sell some of my collection to pay for my children's weddings and educations.

So, that's the answer. Sell your trains only when you absolutely have to. Otherwise, let your heirs divide them up after you're gone. I have a few favorites that I instructed my kids to bury with me!

These are just a few of my "Views from the Underground." If you have any thoughts you'd like to share, drop me an email at  

Any entertaining items and questions or ideas are welcome. I want to make this column enjoyable and informative.  

Keep searchin'!


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