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Train Collecting Tips

What You Should Know
(From the TCA - Western Division)

Actual selling prices for antique toy trains will always depend on several different factors, including how motivated the buyer and the seller are, the location, and economic climate. The skills of the buyer at bargaining and the seller at promoting also effects the price. It is impossible to combine all these factors and arrive at one definitive price for any single antique toy train item. Keep this in mind when making purchases. Here are a few things to remember that can assist with obtaining valuable items for a collection:

1. Scarcity helps determine value. The rarest of trains can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Rarity is an important element of collecting. However, there are items that show up regularly, but are in such great demand with collectors, that the prices are higher than expected. Conversely, some items are hard to find, but have a low price tag because collectors are not interested in them.

2. Brand names count. Lionel is the most A wide assortment of toy trains awaits you at TCA meets collectible, followed by American Flyer and Marx. Lesser known brands such as Ives, Carlisle & Finch, Voltamp, Bing, Boucher,  Bub, Bassett-Lowke, Georges Carette, and Dorfan, could be worth something.

Other notable brands include
Märklin, Hafner, Hornby, Fleischmann, Kusan, McCoy, AMT/Auburn, Lima, Thomas Industries, Buddy L, Schöenner, Tyco/Mantua, Rivarossi, Williams, Weaver, MTH, Jep, Hoge, Athearn, LGB, Tri-ang, USA Trains, Aristo-Craft, Bachmann, K-Line, Atlas, Walthers, American Models, Roco, Varney, Jouef, Hess, Exley, Howard, Ernst Plank, Life Like, Issmayer, Joy Line, Doll et Cie., Fandor, Arnold, and Trix/Trix Express to name a few.

3. Original price plays a large part in determining value. An old Lionel that originally sold for $50 might now be worth $100; but a Lionel of the same year that sold for $100 may be worth $1000 now.

Rare items abound at TCA Western Division meets.4. ‘O’ and ‘O-27’ gauge trains (the larger size trains) are normally most collectible, followed by Standard and S gauge. HO and N scale trains are normally not collectible; they’re worth not more than half of their original retail value no matter how old they are  (exceptions are brass locomotives and some limited run plastics).

5. Condition means everything. An old Lionel train that looks great but won’t run is worth more than the same train in scruffy condition that runs like a Swiss watch.

6. Having the original box the train came in will add tremendously to the train’s value - even if the box has seen better days. Original instruction sheets and packaging such as cardboard liners and spacers, or shipping cartons also helps to increase the value of toy trains and accessories.

7. The more original parts the train has, the higher its value will be. Some old trains might be worth restoring; the majority are not. A restored train will tend to be worth less than the same item in an untouched condition.

Some trading of pre-war items at a meet8. Major variations in the standard body types, exterior colors and the size, color or placement of graphics on toy trains often will increase the worth of those items. Major variations are those which can be readily seen, exist in sufficient numbers so as to be attainable, and are accepted as legitimate collectible variations by the majority of experienced collectors. Minor variations are not worth more than the normal
production version.

9. Mail order, retail, hobby and antique store prices for antique toy trains will generally tend to be higher since these establishments have 
overhead that must be built into the price of the goods sold. Prices for similar items found at train shows, train club meets, swap meets, garage sales, estate slaes, auctions and on the Internet will be somewhat less, since there is less operating overhead for those sellers.

Resources for Determining Value

There are several sources that can be utilized for determining the value and worth of tinplate toy trains. This includes published price guides, on-line auctions and the TCA's "Interchange Point" published in the National Headquarters News.

American Flyer New Haven set  Both Kalmbach Books and TM Books publish detailed price guides annually for all of the major
  collectible toy train gauges and manufacturers. The Kalmbach books are called the "Greenberg
  Pocket Price Guides". The TM books are called "Price & Rarity Guides" and are written by
  long time train collectors and experts Tom McComas and James Tuohy. The values
  presented in these books are meant to serve only as a guide to collectors when buying and
  selling trains. These values are based on averaging the prices paid for train items bought and
  sold across the country at various train meets, private sales and auction houses.

On-line auction sites such as eBay and the TCA Mailing List & Electronic Interchange are excellent places to watch and track the prices being paid for various antique toy trains and toy train collectibles. These real-time Internet based auction transactions are the marketplace that establishes and demonstrates what the true worth of toy train collectibles are today.

TCA members receive the National Headquarters News 6 times annually as part of their regular membership. The Headquarters News contains the Interchange Point, which is a detailed listing of train items wanted or up for sale or trade by members of the Train Collectors Association. Members are permitted to submit up to 12 items for listing in each issue for free, as a service of the club. Like the on-line electronic Internet based venues, this published document's listings can be monitored and referenced for determining the value of similar train items.

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Standards - Importance

“Preserving the Integrity of the Hobby”

A hallmark of TCA membership is the observance of ethical and fair practices when engaged in determining and representing the condition of toy train items offered for sale or trade. Such is helpful to persons considering a transaction, and reflects the principles of the Association's earliest and current leaders.

Several sets of standards have been promulgated:

  • Condition and Grading Standards
  • Paper and Box Grading Standards
  • Restored / Refinished Items Standards

These standards are monitored and enforced by the TCA on its members in their dealings, but not on non-member merchants. Standards Committee Members are present at most TCA functions to enforce the rules and regulations pertaining to the proper identification of toy train restorations, reproductions and related items. A large part of a Committee Member's responsibilities includes instructing the general membership on how to recognize fake and reproduction items.

In addition, certain standards in effect regarding reproductions apply to manufacturers and vendors:

  • Rule Concerning Reproduction Trains and Parts

These are rigid standards, which are monitored and enforced by the TCA on its members in their dealings. Be aware that merchants who are not TCA members are  not bound by these or any other standards, and all too frequently an unwary novice is sold, for example, a ‘Mint’ item that may in reality be in ‘Like New’ or even poorer condition. This is another area where membership in TCA has it’s advantages. It’s admittedly sometimes difficult to be objective in grading a treasured train item that is in your possession. Nevertheless, a seller’s credibility is on the line in such transactions, and every collector is well advised to err on the side of conservatism and to disregard sentimentality in grading each piece.

Warning: Many reproductions and repaints have been created of the more desirable toy train locomotives and cars. Many are not clearly identified as such. The TCA requires all members who are offering for sale, items that have been repainted or restored, to be labeled with a sticker identifying them as being restored. With demand increasing for antique toy trains by collectors, there are unscrupulous persons who will go to any length to create and sell fakes of valuable items. The Train Collectors Association has published a guide to identifying reproductions and fakes. This guide can be a useful tool to collectors who are suspicious of items they are considering for purchase.

The TCA has a Standards Committee made up of members who are long time collectors and are very knowledgeable on this subject of grading. The Standards Committee has created detailed presentations, with examples of each grade classification, using photographs of trains in each condition. To watch the Post-War Trains presentation click here. To watch the Pre-War Trains presentation click here.

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Standards - Condition and Grading

The following Condition and Grading Standards apply to ALL toy train and related accessory items. The items that are being evaluated may or may not include the original box. Boxes and other paper are subject to a separate set of grading and condition standards. Standards for all toy train related accessory items apply to the visual appearance of the item and do not consider the operating functionality of the equipment.

The Standards have been expanded with the introduction of a separate designation for restored/refinished items. Restored/refinished items must continue to be marked as such using the pressure sensitive labels (Ident Tags) available from the TCA. The Association provides these labels through members of the Standards Committee or the National Business Office.

Condition and Grading Standards are subjective, at best, and are intended to act as a guide. It is important and logical that wishful thinking not be allowed to influence the choice of grade. The toy train pricing guides published today generally adhere to these grading standards.

Toy Train & Related Accessory Items

Grade Description
Mint: - Brand New, all original, unused and unblemished.
Factory New: - Brand New, all original, unused, may evidence factory rubs and the slightest evidence of handling, shipping and having been test run at the factory.
Like New: - Complete, all original, no rust, no missing parts, may show effects of being on display and/or age, may have been run.
Excellent: - all original, minute scratches and paint nicks, no rust and no missing parts. No distortion of component parts.
Very Good: - Minor scratches and paint nicks, minor spots of surface rust, free of dents. May have minor parts replaced.
Good: - Sign of play wear with scratches and minor paint loss. Small dents, minor surface rust. Evidence of heavy use.
Fair: - Scratched, moderate paint loss, dented missing parts, surface rust. Evidence of heavy use.
Poor: - Requires major body repair. Heavily scratched, major rust and missing parts. Restoration candidate.
Restoration required.
Junk, parts value only.


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Standards - Paper and Boxes

Grades for grading paper (such as Catalogs, Instruction Sheets) and Boxes

Paper and Boxes

Grade   Description
  Individual pages/box flaps appear to have been never opened. All edges                            are crisp and the item is free of all flaws. Original folds are crisp with                            no signs of damage. No rusty staples, creases, tears, fading, and/or wear                            marks are present. The item is totally and absolutely "unflawed"!                      

Note: Items that have printing that is offset, smeared, double images, odd cut pages, and/or etc. are considered errors and shall be noted as such.

Paper: Item may have been touched by human hands since leaving original factory.
Boxes: Original contents are contained within, and if applicable, sealed box. All applicable sealing tape, plastic wrap, and/or staples are present and undisturbed.
  Same as P-10 with the following exceptions or additions. Item may have store or dealer stamp appropriately applied.
Paper: Item has been touched by human hands since leaving original factory. Individual pages have been opened. Original paper folds are crisp with no signs of damage if folded by the factory; i.e. still unfolded.
Boxes: Box may have a hand-written or affixed price tag indicating the "original price" of the box's contents.
  Same as P-9 with the following exception or additions:
Paper: Notations from an auction, dealer, club member on the cover or interior page may be present.
Boxes: Original contents of box may be missing; i.e. box has been opened. The"This Side Up" part of the box has the original sealing tape carefully and neatly cut and/or staples may have been carefully removed to expose the contents. Box is complete with all inner liners and/or flaps.
  Same as P-8 with the following exceptions and/or additions. Item shows signs of moderate usage and is 100% intact. Original paper folds show minute signs of damage. Item may have rusty staples which have not affected the paper.
Paper: There may be some evidence of bending and folding or unfolding if original factory folded. All pages must be present.
Boxes: Box shows moderate signs of being opened and closed.
  Same as P-7 with the following exceptions or additions. Item shows signs of usage and is 100% intact. Edges are minutely damaged. Original paper folds show signs of damage. All printing material is legible, however, the item may have some wear marks such as weathering, slight fading, unoriginal pencil or ink marks, and/or a foreign substance on the item such as rust, grease, oil, and/or etc. which minutely extends onto the printed material or is confined to the unprinted areas of the item.
Paper: Page(s) may show additional (unoriginal) fold(s) or "dog-eared" page(s). Page(s) may have tears. Such tears greater  than two inches may be closed with archival tape.
Boxes: All liners and/or flaps are present and intact, however, inner flaps may require some strengthening with the use of archival tape. The box can still safely store its original contents.
Any paper or box item repaired with a non-archival Scotch® or equivalent tape can be graded no higher than P-5.
  Same as P-6 with the following exceptions and/or additions. Item shows high signs of usage. Edges may be damaged. Original folds are heavily damaged. All existing printed material is legible; however, the item is heavily worn with severe wear marks extending well onto the original printed material and may have extensive color fading. No water damage or signs of paper/cardboard deterioration is evident.
Paper: Page(s) may be missing or loose and shall be so noted. The item may still be useable as reference material.
Boxes: All exterior flaps are present; however, they may require some mending or reattaching with transparent tape. Box liners and/or inner flaps may be completely and/or partially missing; however, inner flaps may be reattached with transparent tape. Exercising caution, the box can still store its original contents.
  Same as P-5 with the following exceptions and/or additions. Some or all of the existing printed material is illegible.
  Paper: Item is so heavily damaged that it has little to no use as reference material.
  Boxes: One or both of the exterior flaps are missing. Box will no longer safely store its original contents.


STANDARDS BULLETIN #1 from John Pease, RMDTCA Standards 7/11/2004

The TCA Standards Committee is now chaired by Joe Mania (87-26445). The various TCA Division members are listed in the current TCA Directory of Information manual. The current Ft. Pitt member is Bill Trushel (90-31499).

 "Heads up" -There are unmarked, super accurate reproduction boxes being produced by someone. The flaps of old boxes are being photographed and new boxes printed. Even faded numbers are/can be reproduced. As boxes are often as valuable as the contents and/or enhance the value of the sale it will become a major problem. The TCA Standards policy has always been, that when practicable, all reproductions must be marked if involved in TCA transactions or Train Meets. The problem with "high tech" boxes is much like superb train restorations. If not marked as a "repaint" one must rely on his own experience or seek and opinion from an TCA Standards member. Once again, the neophyte is at risk of being taken. The TCA position that all reproductions must be marked applies. Marking the box on the ends would solve the problem. However: - One could tear off the end flap, but the box would then be damaged. - It may be impracticable to require all manufactures to mark reproductions as sales are not exclusively to TCA members. Remember Lionel, MTH and others have been producing reproductions that are not marked for some time. - TCA may not have a legal position to prohibit manufacturers from selling unmarked reproductions to TCA members. - The question has always been is the individual attempting to defraud? - TCA members who are honest have had no objections to compliance with TCA Standards. The TCA Standards Committee will continue to monitor this problem and attempt to find an equitable solution. In the meantime - : BUYER BEWARE".

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Standards - Restored/Refinished Items

Restored / refinished toy train and related accessory items must continue to be marked as such using the pressure sensitive labels available from TCA. All replacement parts considered a "major component part" such as an engine frame, boiler or cab that have been used in the restoration of an item must include the required identification marks of the manufacturer.

Restored and Refinished Items

Grade Description
Professional Grade -- Restored in all aspects of finish and detail as when manufactured. Finished in correct type of paint, color, texture and gloss. All wiring exactly matches the original. All trim in correct finish or plating. Virtually identical to the original. No surface imperfections in the metal work. No wear or evidence of use present. Authentic in all aspects.
Very Good -- Restored to a general high standard. However, noticeable differences exist particularly with respect to the color, finish, and texture of paint when compared to an original piece.
Good-- A restored piece that has signs of play wear with minor dents and scratches.



Fair -- A non-professional restoration. Color, texture and finish clearly different from the original. Other items, such as non-authentic wiring are also evident.

Poor -- A poorly constructed restoration in all respects. May be a candidate for restoration. Includes dents or rust pitting under finish.


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Standards - Reproduction Trains and Parts

To All Manufacturers and Vendors Who Sell Reproduction Trains and Parts at TCA Meets or Advertise Trains and Parts in TCA Publications

The Association requires that all reproduction parts that are major components and large enough to mark without damaging the piece be marked as a reproduction with either the manufacturer's logo or "R" visible on a cursory examination. A "major" part is one that if missing would seriously detract from the item's value. This includes complete locomotives, cars, accessories, etc.

To sell these reproduction trains and train parts at TCA meets or by ad in TCA publications, a Standards Committee Inspection Report must be completed by a Standards Committee member. If you have reproduction trains or train parts that have not been inspected, contact the Standards Committee to have an Inspection Report completed. A copy of the Report will then be filed with the Business Office and they will issue a Certificate of Compliance. The Certificate of Compliance must be displayed on your table at TCA meets. Ads in TCA publications must note your compliance with the Marking Standards in order to be published. (Revised procedure adopted July 1997)

Train Collectors Association Marking Standards Enacted June 1981; Enforcement date June 1982; Revised October 1992.

Failure to properly mark reproduced parts and receive Standards Committee Certification will prohibit entry of those parts to any TCA meet or function, whether offered separately or installed on a train or accessory.

Marking of reproductions and replacement parts applies to ALL parts and reproductions appearing at any TCA meet or function. Exceptions may be requested by the parts manufacturer. Determination will be by the appropriate Subcommittee of the Standards Committee.

Acceptable markings in various materials

  • Aluminum extrusions: Acid etched or embossing as for sheet metal.
  • Brass plates, other metal plates, letterboard strips: Letter "R" denoting REPRODUCTION to be in lower right-hand corner on the exposed surface.
  • Cast parts: In the pattern.
  • Paper: Catalogs and other paper items to be identified with the word "Reproduction" with the Date and by Whom.
  • Plastics: In the pattern or die or by hot stamping. Replacement plastic shells to have 3/16 "R" or manufacturer's logo on outside or inside.
  • Sheet metal: Embossing visible through both sides, or by a permanently attached embossed tag.

The above methods of marking shall be permanent in nature and visible on a cursory examination of the item.

Note: No one can take an unmarked item into a meet. Items manufactured after June 1982 must be physically marked into the metal or plastic. Items manufactured prior to June 1982 must have the red REPRODUCTION label affixed. The marking regulations apply to the original manufacturer, his agent or representative, and to any subsequent purchaser.

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Standards - Subcommittees

Listed below are the subcommittees to which parts may be submitted for Certification of Markings. Manufacturers may request a general compliance certificate to avoid the submission of individual parts.

Contact Robert Robinson 64-1098 for certification information.

Steering (handling fakes & frauds) Prewar Trains (Before 1942) Postwar "0" (1946 -1969) Marx Modern (1970 - present) Postwar American Flyer Refinish Identification Paper Paint Identification


  • Steering (handling fakes & frauds).
  • Prewar Trains (Before 1942)
  • Postwar "0" (1946 -1969)
  • Marx
  • Modern (1970 - present)
  • Postwar American Flyer
  • Refinish Identification
  • Paper
  • Paint Identification

For a full list of subcommitte members - click here

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Index of Manufacturers

The Western Division has compiled a list of manufacturers.  The list is by all means not comprehensive, but does feature the most notable toy train manufacturers of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Click on any item in the list to learn more about the manufacturer.  Click here to visit the site.

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