The hobby of model railroading began in the late 1800s with clockwork mechanism trains made in Germany. These trains were large, made of metal, and brought years of enjoyment to children throughout Europe and, eventually, North America. However, it wasn't until the period just after World War II that the hobby we know today took to the tracks. In the late 1940s and early 1950s most people who bought toy trains purchased Lionel, American Flyer or other larger-scale models. These ran on AC current and typically had three-rail track. In addition, they were big. It wasn't long, however, before the hobbyists started looking for more realistic trains that would fit in smaller spaces. Beginning the 1950s and continuing into the 1980s, there was an explosion of scales in model railroading. Modelers could choose from diminutive Z-scale to gargantuan G.
Whether found in an attic or just while cleaning out the basement of hobbies past many people have model trains that they no longer need. You could just toss them out, but most model trains are worth something. Some more than others. And, while you shouldn't count on retiring on the income from the sale of old trains, you can make some money by selling them.
So how do you go about selling model trains?
- The first step is to figure out what you have. Trains come in a variety of sizes and have been made by many different companies. Look on the bottom of engines and cars for the name of the manufacturer. Lionel is one of the more common names, especially for older trains. You might also see Marx, American Flyer or even Marklin. If you can't find a manufacturers name on the train, you'll have to do a little digging. First, you need to know what scale it is. HO scale trains are the most common. A diesel engine in this scale will be from 6 to 8 inches long and about an inch wide. N-scale trains are half HO size. O-scale are twice HO. S scale is in between HO and O.
- Once you know the manufacturer, or the scale, you can start to get an idea what your train might be worth. If your train is Lionel, American Flyer, or Marx there are a number of good guidebooks to value available at your local public library. Keep in mind, these books are just guides and reflect the retail price a particular kind of train might sell for. If your train is not one of these brands, other things will affect its value. For HO, N, and Z scale trains it will depend on who manufactured it, how old it is, and what condition it is in. One note: If your train is made of brass, it may be collectible. If you're not sure take it to a hobby shop and ask the owner what kind of train it is. In many scales, older trains do not command a higher price. In fact, quite often they are worth less. The opposite is true for Lionel, American Flyer and some Marklin.
- E-bay is another way to determine value. Once you know the scale and/or manufacturer of your train, you can do a search on e-bay and choose to see "completed items." Search using the scale, the name of the railroad printed on the car or engine and the manufacturer if known. This will give you a feel for what your train is worth. But don't sell it on e-bay just yet. Sometimes this popular site won't get what your train is worth, especially if you are not sure about how to list it or describe it.
- Now that you have some idea what your trains are worth, it is time to decide on the best way to sell them. If you have just a couple of pieces, you may want to sell them to a reputable dealer. A reputable dealer should pay you about half of the expected retail value. If you live in a large city, look for a hobby store that sells used trains. If you can't find one, you might also check for model railroad flea markets in your area. You can find lists of model railroad flea markets online at http://www.trains.com/community/events/. At the flea market look for vendors selling items similar to yours and ask them if they buy used trains. If they don't, ask if they can tell you how much they think it is worth. If they do buy trains, ask what they'll give. Check with several vendors before you sell to make sure you are getting a fair price.
- If you decide to sell the trains yourself, e-bay is a great place to do it. Just be sure your listing has keywords that will attract buyers who are interested in what you have. Be sure to know what shipping to charge so that you don't charge to little for getting it there. Trains can be heavy. Set a minimum bid that is the smallest amount you were offered by a dealer. You know you can get that price. Maybe you'll get more.
- If you have a medium size collection, you may wish to ask model railroad flea market dealers to come to your home and make an offer on the entire collection. Again, remember they will pay less than they expect to sell it for.
- Another way to sell a medium size collection is to rent a table at one of these flea markets or shows. Tables run from $10 to $30 depending on the show. Be sure to clearly price all your items based on your research.
- If you have a large collection, you can use any of the above methods, but you may also want to hire an auctioneer who specializes in selling model trains. One auctioneer who handles such collections is Bob Charles Auctions. You can find them on the web at www.bobcharlesauctions.com. You can also contact the Train Collectors Association for information on auctioneers specializing in trains. The TCA is online at www.traincollectors.org.
Of course, you may decide not to sell at all. A collection is often worth more to its owner than it is when sold as pieces. Consider building a train table and getting into the hobby. You may also consider giving the trains to a family member with children.