10 Most Valuable Lionel Trains: Value and Price Guide

Lionel Trains
(Source: CNNBusiness)

Lionel Trains are one of the most recognized model train brands worldwide. Their realistic miniature designs are almost comparable to a standard rail track experience. And while some people prefer to collect them as toys, many others do so for sentiments and decoration.

In 2016, the most expensive Lionel train was sold for $250,000? This sale is pretty significant because antique trains aren’t in style anymore, and they’re often considered as junks except you’re a hobbyist.

Whatever your reason for the interest in Lionel trains, we’re here to help you understand the intricacies. Why are Lionel trains so expensive? How are their prices determined?

 

10 Most Valuable Lionel Trains in The World

No. 
Lionel Trains
Year
Price
1.
Standard Gauge
1934
$250,000
2.
700 E Hudson Brass Prototype
1939
$77,000
3.
2360 Vagell GG1
1962
$15,000
4.
Girls Train Set
1957
$7,000
5.
Brute
1927
$2,000
6.
W.S. Freight Set
1950
$1,600
7.
100th Anniversary 24K Gold 700 E Hudson
2000
$1,350
8.
Contemporary Brass No. 7 Steam Type Engine
1910
$1,050
9.
Halloween General Set
1960
$449
10.
Sears
1959
$300

10. Sears

Year: 1959
Price: $300 – $500
Sold: $60
Sears Special Lionel No. 9834 Post War Train Set.
Sears Special Lionel No. 9834 Post War Train Set. (Source: Bids Square)

The Sears Christmas set with its yellow coach, baggage car, and fast flat car with a black, red, or gold locomotive comes in 10th place.

It’s famous for its 18-piece plastic frontier outfit with fences, animals, buildings, and a windmill. The set also includes a tank car, toots, and voice dispatcher recordings for an immersive experience.

Here is the O gauge Sear Lionel train in motion here

9. Halloween General Set

Year: 1960
Price: $299 – $399
Sold: $449
Rare Lionel Halloween Train Set 1882 General 1885 1866
Rare Lionel Halloween Train Set 1882 General 1885 1866 (Source: Dakota Paul)

The extremely Halloween General Set was initially made to promote the Druggists’ Service Council, so the company produced a limited-edition 7,300 designs in 1960.

It has unique locomotive colors of orange and black, while the passenger cars are blue. Its transformer is small with an O27 track giving it the famous 8-shape.

Accompanied by its display box and frontier set, the Halloween General Set’s value is unmatched.

 

8. Contemporary Lionel Brass No. 7 Steam Type Engine

Year: 1910
Price: $300 – $600
Sold: $1,050
Contemporary Lionel Brass No.7 Steam Type Engine
Contemporary Lionel Brass No.7 Steam Type Engine

The Contemporary Lionel Brass No. 7 Steam type engine train is brass and red-coated. The vintage locomotive has a standard O gauge on a 1:24 scale.

 

7. Lionel Trains 100th Anniversary 24K Gold 700 E Hudson

Year: 2000
Price: $650 – $850
Sold: $1,350
Used Lionel 6-28062 100th Anniversary Gold 700E J1-E Hudson
Used Lionel 6-28062 100th Anniversary Gold 700E J1-E Hudson (Source: Legacystation)

The Lionel company produced the limited-edition 24k Gold Hudson set to celebrate its 100th year in business. Its realistic design includes an operating smoke, Rail Sounds, wireless tether, and Train Master Control for an immersive experience.

 

6. Lionel No. 2169 W.S. Freight Set

Year: 1950
Price: $1,500 – $2,500
Sold: $1,600
1950 Lionel No. 2169 W.S. Freight Set
1950 Lionel No. 2169 W.S. Freight Set (Source: Invaluable)

 The Lionel train freight set boasts the best engine of its era, and its Hudson-style engine moves on an O gauge rail track. The components include a Valley hopper, lumber flatcar, Caboose, and Auto Dump Car. You should also note that it’s a remote-controlled system.

https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/1950-lionel-no-2169-w-s-freight-set-1251-c-bc949c5a52#

5. Brute

Year: 1960
Price: $10,000 – $15,000
Sold: $2,990
Brute
Brute (Source: Invaluable)

Coming with three buildable locomotive motors running on a 3½ inch gauge dual-track, we have the Brute antique Lionel train. Its features make it heavier than other models hence the name Brute.

Because children couldn’t lift it, the Brute remained a display item per the original plan for Lionel trains.

 

4. Lionel Girls Train Set

Year: 1955
Price: $10,000 – $15,000
Sold: $3,750 – $3,900
Lionel Girls Train Set
Lionel Girls Train Set (Source: Dakotapaul)

When the boys picked interest in spaceships and aliens in the mid-1950s, Lionel trains made a limited-edition girl set to appeal to the opposite gender.

Instead of the masculine dark colors, the company opted for soft pastels that the ladies would like. Unfortunately, that didn’t improve the sales, so they discontinued the Lionel Girls Train Set within a short period.

Hence, making this model rank amongst the highest valued Lionel trains worldwide.

 

3. Black Lionel 2360 Vagell GG1

Year: 1927
Price: $2,000
Sold: $2,000
Black Lionel 2360 Vagell GG1
Black Lionel 2360 Vagell GG1 (Source: Invaluable)

The Black Lionel 2360 Vagell GG1 is an extremely rare model because only eight exist. History has it that Bill Vagell requested truly black Lionel trains, so he handpainted eight models and had Lionel design them, leaving only two as gold and copper designs.

There’s an accompanying copy of the request and response letters with the set; however, no one has seen the original in decades. If you stumble on it, you’ve struck train gold.

 

2. 700 E Hudson Brass Prototype

Year: 1939
Price: $77,000
Sold: $77,000
INCREDIBLE BRASS LIONEL PREWAR 700E PROTOTYPE
INCREDIBLE BRASS LIONEL PREWAR 700E PROTOTYPE (Source: Live Auctioneers)

Besides being a classic Lionel train, the most expensive Hudson Brass prototype earned its value from sentiment – it belonged to Joshua Cowen in the 1900s. The prototype is bigger than most toy models as it was initially designed as a store display fixture.

 

1.   Lionel Standard Gauge

Year: 1934
Price: $15,000 – $20,000
Sold: $250,000
Lionel Blue Comet No. 400e Toy Train Set
Lionel Blue Comet No. 400e Toy Train Set

The first most valuable Lionel train ever sold is a Lionel Standard Gauge Set from 1934, the complete set with 400E Locomotive and State passenger cars sold for … drums, drums $250,000! The auction happened in 2016 and to date it is the most expensive Lionel train ever sold.

 

Who Owns Lionel Trains?

Like many classic American pioneer antique products, Lionel trains have passed through several companies over the years.

The original owners of the Lionel Trains were the duo – Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant, in 1900 under the Lionel Corporation LLC name. They then sold it to General Mill’s Model Products Corporation (MPC) in 1969.

After a few years, the Lionel trains traveled to Richard Kughn’s Fundimensions in 1973 before landing in Martin Davis Investment Group in 1995.

Because antique Lionel trains don’t thrill typical modern-day children, Pace & Hong auctions note that its audience is unique. They are often sentimental owners, railway transport enthusiasts/workers, and regular fans who appreciate the detail.

 

How to Identify Antique Lionel Trains like a Pro

Once a product gains recognition amongst collectors, fraudulent people on the prowl produce counterfeits to infiltrate the market. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered with these simple identification tips.

Every antique Lionel Train fit into three broad groups from 1900 – 1995 – Pre-War Era, Post-War Era, and General Mills & Richard Kughn Lionel Trains.

 

Lionel Trains from the Pre-War Era (1900 – 1942)

Lionel Trains from the Pre-War Era

The O.G. antique Lionel Trains were wet-cell battery-controlled electric models. It goes without saying that owning these models was risky because of their power source. So, Lionel improved the design by fitting a 110 V transformer as a replacement.

This transformer needed to manage the short circuit problem, so the company added a standard three-rail track to the design. The famous O gauge antique Lionel trains emerged in 1915 and phased out the bigger standard gauge model by 1939.

Because of the antique Lionel Standard gauge’s rarity, it’s more expensive than the O gauge model.

 

Lionel Trains from The Post-War Era (1946 – 1968)

Complete 1950's Lionel antique train set accessories transformers switches track
Complete 1950’s Lionel antique train set accessories transformers switches track (Source: Ebay)

Having already set the record as the most sought-after antique Lionel trains model, the company reinstated the O gauge first. It, however, came with upgrades, so look out for magnetic assemblies and remote dissembles.

The designs are realistic, so look out for well-detailed ones and avoid those with missing intricate details.

 

General Mills & Richards Kughn Lionel Trains (1969 – 1995)

9090 MINI-MAX BOXCAR LN RARE WHITE OB
9090 MINI-MAX BOXCAR LN RARE WHITE OB (Source: Worthpoint)

Models designed after 1968 were under the Model Products Corporation, a.k.a. MPC, so look out for the company name on the package. However, if you see Fundimensions, you hold a 1973 – 1988 model.

A significant difference between the recent products and the antique designs is material.

Running trains with Richard Kughn
Running trains with Richard Kughn (Source: O Gauge Forum)

While Lionel trains used the highest quality materials to create realistic models, modern designs from 1973 are plastic-made.

Some of the MPC era Lionel trains had the 1940s – 1950s parts because of tight budgeting from the superiors in the new company. So, don’t get confused when you notice the era discrepancy in some features.

In 1989, the new company created RailSounds, RailSounds II in 1992, and Train Master Control in 1994.

 

How much are Lionel trains Worth?

Lionel trains don’t have a uniform price, so it’s hard for amateur collectors to determine the value. Certain factors contribute to the bottom line when appraising antique Lionel trains, such as materials, models, and age. You can, however, learn the art through research and practice.

Unfortunately, technological development hasn’t been kind to antique Lionel train collectors as many defer it for video games and other advanced toys. That led to a decline in the value as demand drives supply, which influences worth.

An average antique Lionel Train costs about $300 – $13,000.

There are two central price guides that collectors use regarding antique Lionel trains – Kalmbach and Greenberg’s Guide. You can do a summary appraisal by comparing your trains to other existing products on the internet or hiring a professional.

It’s, however, not a foolproof method as similar products have varied costs based on condition.

 

What Gauge are Lionel Trains?

When a train moves on a track, the distance between the outer rails is called a gauge, and Lionel trains have five main styles – O Gauge, S Gauge, G Gauge, Imagineering, and Ready-To-Play.

O Gauge

O Gauge
O Gauge Source: Lionel

The Lionel O Gauge has three sub-variants – O, O-27, and FasTrack® – with a 1:48 scale triple-rail track. Each outer rail is 1¼ inch apart, accommodating every O gauge car. It’s the classic go-to design for most Lionel trains as it was the best seller in its heyday.

S Gauge

S Gauge
S Gauge Source: Lionel

The S Gauge Lionel train is a modern design created under the American Flyer® banner. It has a 1:64 dual-rail track scale and is the narrowest of all the sets. The S gauge Lionel train has your name if you’re into miniature designs and gift sets.

G Gauge

G Gauge
G Gauge Source: Lionel

The G Gauge Lionel train is a 1:24 scale battery-controlled set that moves back and forth. Its dual-rail track is slightly wider than the O Gauge, even though they have the same scale.

Imagineering

Imagineering
Imagineering Source: Lionel

The Imagineering rail track is a recent innovation design for toddlers in their formative years. It has no defined movement track, so the child can control the training in whatever direction they wish. It comes in straight, and curved variants and sells for about $49.99.

Ready-To-Play

Ready-To-Play
Ready-To-Play Source: Lionel

The Ready-To-Play battery-powered Lionel train has a wide 1:24 scale dual-rail track. Although it allows back and forth movement of the trains, the Ready-To-Play gauge doesn’t work with other Gauges. The good news is that you can get one for $99,95 – $119.95.

 

What Scale are Lionel Trains?

train scale is the size of a model train relative to its real-life counterpart, and for Lionel trains, it differs based on the track gauge.

So, the O gauge being 1:24 and S gauge 1:64 make the O and S scale trains have more sophisticated designs with bigger cars, making them collector’s favorites. Please note that the G Gauge and Ready-To-Play also come in 1:24 scales.

Parting Words

Now that you understand the differences between antique Lionel trains and vintage models, you can make informed decisions when you attend Lionel train auctions. You’ll learn what suits your interest best and pick the right train size and model. Key points to always remember are;

  • There are five primary Lionel train gauges – O gauge, S gauge, G gauge, Imagineering, and Ready-To-Play.
  • Lionel trains categorized by scales are more sophisticated than those defined by gauges.
  • You can distinguish each Lionel train by three eras – Pre-War, Post-War, General Mill’s, and Richard Kughn.

 

FAQs

Q: Where can I sell my Lionel Trains?

A: Members of the Lionel Collectors Club of America (LCCA) can advertise and sell their antique Lionel items charge-free on their members Quarterly publication – The Interchangeable Track. Others can trade their antique Lionel trains on open internet websites like Etsy, Invaluable, and Ruby Lane.

Q: Are Rusted Lionel Trains Worth Anything?

A: It depends on the part of the antique Lionel train that’s rusted. If it’s the switches, you can get a professional to clean it or do it yourself following these easy steps. Another big red flag is oxidized tracks, so if your Lionel trains have those, you’re better off without them. Whatever you do, avoid using steel wool, abrasive, or home cleaning agents on your rusty or oxidized tracks. While your trains may be worthless, the manual is valuable to people working Lionel trains.

Q: Why are Lionel Trains so Expensive?

A: Rare antique Lionel trains are so expensive because they’re limited in supply. However, the common ones are very affordable, and you can get them for $10 – $100. Also, specialized limited-editions like the 24K Gold anniversary set carry premium price tags.

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