To the regular person, traditional toy trains may be symbols of bygone eras. However, to collectors, antique toy trains are some of the most valuable pieces anyone can add to their collection.
However, how do you determine the value of an antique toy train so that you do not overpay? If you are selling, how can you value your train correctly so you do not sell at a loss?
Regarding valuing antique toy trains, several factors often play a key role—things like the condition and age of the train can increase or lower the price of your antique toy train. Antique toy trains can cost as little as $20 to as high as $2,000+.
However, it is also not uncommon for toy trains to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. To give you an example, Lionel Standard Gauge Set—the most expensive so far—sold for $250,000 in 2016.
This detailed guide will focus on showing you how to identify and value antique toy trains. By the time you reach the end of this detailed guide, you will know why some antique toy train sets are more expensive than others.
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Tips on How to Identify Antique Toy Trains
1. Look for the Manufacturer’s Marks
When using the manufacturer to identify your toy train, you will need to look at the manufacturer’s marks. In most cases, this will be the manufacturer’s name.
Also, you can look for symbols—and other visual elements—that may be specific to a certain manufacturer. Below, we will take a look at some of the most popular toy train manufacturers:
Louis Marx & Co.
Established in 1919, Louis Marx & Company built its first toy train in 1929. The toy trains from this company were famous because Louis Marx & Co. was largely focused on producing high-quality toy trains while maintaining an affordable price.
Established in the 20th century, this company made its name by producing a series of model toy trains and railroads. The company remained independent until 1967 when it was purchased by the Lionel Corporation.
While the Lionel Corporation was focused on developing and producing a wide range of products, none cemented the company’s place in history as its toy trains. The Lionel trains are the most recognized toys from the 20th century. A toy manufactured by the company in 1934 sold for $250,000 in 2016.
Marklin Bros. & Company
A non-American manufacturer, Marklin Bros. & Company had its start in Germany. Established in 1859, the company manufactured a wide variety of toys. However, the company was largely known for its toy trains.
Carlisle & Finch
Established in 1890, Carlisle & Finch happens to be the oldest US-based company that produced toy trains. The company stands out for being the first manufacturer to produce electric toy trains. The company set the trend for other toy train manufacturers.
2. Look for the Original Packaging
If the antique toy train is still in its original packaging, this is the most ideal indicator of the train’s authenticity. It is also a guide that can tell the train’s history. In most cases, the presence of the original packaging tends to raise the value of the antique toy train significantly.
3. Check the Train Gauge
Regarding antique toy trains, the term gauge refers to the distance between rails when you measure it from the rail’s inner edges. This is one of the best ways of figuring out the manufacturer and the period within which the piece was produced.
Earlier models utilizing Lionel’s Standard Gauge—also referred to as Wide Gauge—had a gauge of 2.125 inches. In later years, Lionel shifted to the European O Scale measuring 1.25 inches because of its cost-effectiveness.
The American Flyer was known for using the S Guage which was 0.885 inches in the 20th century. The S Gauge, however, dates back to the late 19th century.
4. Does The Antique Toy Train Have a Track?
Antique toy trains did not have run tracks before 1881. Before 1881, these trains featured wheels and the child pushed the toy train along the floor—they resembled toy cars connected with strings.
If the antique train you are interested in has tracks, this means that it was produced after 1881. If the train does not have tracks, chances are, it is one of the earliest versions from before 1881.
5. Use an Identification Guide
There are numerous antique toy guides—these can make the identification process much easier for you. Start looking at the local library. You might be able to find a good book that could simplify the process of identifying the toy.
6. Talk to An Expert
Approach antique toy train dealers, store owners, or auctioneers. Using their experience in the antique toy train industry, these experts can also help you with identifying your antique toy train.
Tips on How to Value Antique Toy Trains
At this point, we are assuming that you have already managed to identify your antique toy train. The next step now is to figure out the value of the train—the tips outlined below should help you with this:
In some cases, rarity can be the key to determining the value of an antique toy train—this, however, may not always give you an accurate value. For example, some antique toy trains might be rare—however, in cases where collectors are not interested in them, they will not have much value in the market.
Antique toy train collectors tend to have specific preferential interests for the pieces they add to their collections. For example, the manufacturer tends to play a key role in collector’s preferences—the three top brands that most collectors are always looking for include:
- American Flyer
The manufacturers usually command the highest value in auctions. Luckily for you, when it comes to these three brands, figuring out the type of toy train you have is easy as they all painted their names on the train cars.
Lionel, for example, has its train cars produced in the 1900s carrying the company’s name in orange lettering. Similarly, you may find their logos on train cars.
Consider the Train’s Condition
The condition of an antique toy train has always played a very vital role in its value. A train set that has all its pieces and parts intact will—in most cases—be more expensive than toy trains lacking some parts.
If the antique toy train has detailed graphics that are still in their original shape, the value of the toy train will be higher. However, if the train’s body features a lot of tear and wear, rust, dents, or scratches, its value will go down.
Use Online Retailers
Before selling or purchasing an antique toy train, consider taking some time to be familiar with the online market. Visit websites like eBay and Etsy and then search for your train. This should give you various items on sale in varying conditions.
Cross-referencing the antique toy train you intend to sell or buy should give you a good idea of the train’s value. In most cases, however, old trains tend to be the most valuable—these will have the highest prices on online selling sites.
Talk to an Antique Toy Trains Appraiser
If you think the antique toy train you have on your hand may be worth a lot of money, talking to a professional appraiser is the next best step you can take.
Antique toy train appraisers are specialized and highly skilled and can accurately determine the value and worth of your toy train. It is worth noting that you may not be able to figure out whether what you have in your hands is a rare and extremely valuable piece until you have it checked by a professional.
10 Most Valuable Antique Toy Trains
Now that you know how to identify and even assess the value of your antique toy train, we will show you some of the most valuable antique toy trains currently on sale.
Keihan Railway Toy Train
Antique Metal Toy Train Set
Marklin R880 Toy Train
Wilkins 973 Rare HTF Toy Train
Juvenile R.R. Wooden Toy Train
Marx No. 3000 Toy Train
Antique Keystone 6400
Watson Freight Train Set
Antique Cast Iron Passenger Train
Jones & Bixler Cast Iron Train & Coaches
1. Keihan Railway Toy Train
An antique toy train with its origin in Japan, this piece dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. According to the seller, the piece has been owned and used previously. However, the one thing that makes it stand out is the fact that it does not feature any signs of damage.
The piece is still intact and comes with its railway track. However, for you to add this antique toy train to your collection, you will need to pay $1,251.28.
2. Antique Metal Toy Train Set
One of the oldest antique toy trains we came across while doing our research, this piece boasts two engines and has a total of three additional wagons. The seller notes that the buyer will get the train cars together with a large number of handmade rail tracks.
Although the toy train is showing normal signs of cosmetic wear, the seller notes that it is still in good condition when it comes to functionality. Currently listed on eBay, this piece will cost you $899.
3. Marklin R880 Toy Train
If you would like to go back to before the 1930s, this piece might just be perfect. The seller notes that this piece boasts Marklin, a German company, as the manufacturer.
Despite having been around for close to 100 years, the seller notes that this piece still sits in its original box. The seller notes that it does show signs of wear although it still functions perfectly.
Currently listed on eBay, the Marklin R880 Toy Train will cost you $698. Interestingly, this piece already has 7 people who are willing to pay this price.
4. Wilkins 973 Rare HTF Toy Train
Produced by the Wilkins Toy Company, this antique toy train dates back between 1888 and 1895. It is one of the few pieces on this list that have been around for more than 120 years.
The seller notes that this piece is made of cast iron and has been played with before. However, the antique toy train has not suffered any major impacts on its functionality.
For the train and the passenger car, you will need to spend $397.95. Interestingly, when we checked the listing for this train on eBay, we were surprised to notice that 9 people had already expressed interest in purchasing it.
5. Juvenile R.R. Wooden Toy Train
The first wooden train set on our list; this set boasts a total of 6 pieces that are relatively in good shape. The seller, however, indicates that a few parts are missing from the set.
Dating back to the early 1920s, this piece has been around for more than 100 years. The cars average a length of 9 inches and have a width of approximately 2.5 inches. This piece from a manufacturer known as Juvenile R.R. is currently on sale on eBay and has a price tag of $349.95 attached to it.
6. Marx No. 3000 Toy Train
Coming from one of the brands that are loved by antique toy train collectors, the Marx No. 3000 Toy Train was manufactured by the Marx brand. According to the seller, there is a high likelihood that the earliest this toy could have been manufactured was the second half of the 19th century and the latest is in the first twenty years of the 20th century.
The red train boasts a length of 23 inches and a height of 11.5 inches. Boasting a width of 6.25 inches, the piece is labeled the New York Central Lines toy train. Currently listed on eBay, this piece has already attracted the interest of 14 buyers who are willing to pay the set price of $295.
7. Antique Keystone 6400
Manufactured by the Keystone brand, this piece dates back to the early 1900s. The seller notes that the piece does not feature any wagons—only the train engine is available for sale.
The train engine toy has clear signs of years of use, with most of its color having worn out. However, since the piece is extremely rare, the seller has listed it on eBay for $239.99.
8. Watson Freight Train Set
Dating back to the 1890s, this piece has been around for more than 13 decades. However, despite being around for this long period, the antique piece has only suffered some very minor signs of wear on its cosmetic appearance.
The train set boasts an engine and a total of 4 additional freight cars. Produced by the Watson brand, this piece boasts cast iron as its main manufacturing material.
Currently listed on eBay, this piece is selling at $205.50. Interestingly, the Watson Freight Train Set has received a total of 15 bids and has an extra 34 people who have shown interest in buying it.
9. Antique Cast Iron Passenger Train
Made of cast iron, this Antique Cast Iron Passenger Train was manufactured before the 1930s. The set boasts an engine set and two locomotives designed to mimic real passenger train cars.
The antique train is showing signs of use. The seller notes that the rear axle and wheels are missing, and it has one wheel that is broken.
The piece also has signs of cosmetic wear. Currently listed on eBay, the Antique Cast Iron Passenger Train is selling at $150.
10. Jones & Bixler Cast Iron Train & Coaches
This antique toy train entered the market for the first time in the 1890s. Produced by the Jones & Bixler brand, the antique toy train has been around for 130+ years.
Manufactured using cast iron, this piece is 17.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. The seller notes that the toy train is in a “played with” condition although it has not suffered any major damage. The train boasts three carriages in addition to its engine set.
Currently listed on eBay, this piece is selling at $147.95. By the time we checked the listing, this piece had already attracted the attention of 5 buyers.
Only a few toys can boast the universal sense of nostalgia—interestingly, antique toy trains are one of them. Boasting colorful and attractive details and model-accurate proportions, antique toy trains have been enjoyed by kids and collectors for years.
Whether your goal is to purchase a new antique toy train or you have several you would like to sell, the first step you will always need to take is on determining the value of the toy train. This detailed guide discusses the process of identifying and valuing toy trains.
Have you purchased antique toy trains before? What was your experience? Please let us know in the comment section.