Need an appraisal

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  • Member since
    October 2021
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Need an appraisal
Posted by Rush7703 on Thursday, October 21, 2021 7:06 AM

I inherited a number of model trains and am looking to get their worth.  I have done some research online but have a hard time finding some items.  Can anyone help?

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  • From: Henrico, VA
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Thursday, October 21, 2021 9:21 AM

Welcome aboard!

Um, I won't say you're asking the impossible, but you are asking the very difficult.

What are the items you can't find online?  What make?  What are they?  What's the condition like?  There's an awful lot of variables involved, including current interest and demand. 

Is there a train/hobby shop in your area?  You may want to go there with some pictures of the collection and see what they have to say.

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Posted by dlagrua on Thursday, October 21, 2021 9:38 AM

I would agree appraisal of model trains is a very difficult chore. If you have used post war or even new trains the prices have dropped over the past 10 years or so. Places like can give you an optimistic view of their value but selling a collection or group of trains can sell for half value. I would recommend going to a train show and observing what your items are selling for and bear in mind that condition is critical to value.

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Posted by smokey1 on Thursday, October 21, 2021 1:32 PM

first thing pictures are very important along with the numbers on the items. 

A train place like Trainz will offer you about 30% of what they feel they are worth. Not sure if they will tell you what they think they are worth or even make an offer without seeing them and the condition they are in. You have to understand they have to go thru them, repair anything that needs repairing, clean them up if needed, and then list them for sale most likely on eBay and then pay eBay their fee for selling them, then they have to pack and ship them ( yes at buyers expense but they have to pay someone to pack them and buy the material to pack them. 

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Posted by Leverettrailfan on Thursday, October 21, 2021 8:37 PM

Ditto to everything that other folks have said so far.
Maybe I'm a bit cynical here, but my experience has been that most people get very "optimistic" about the value of a train that they dug out of their basement or found at an estate sale. 
Toy trains can be worth some big bucks- but only under certain conditions. Rarity, demand, condition, and circumstance are all serious players in the value of an item.
A good thing to keep in mind is that something is really only worth what people will pay for it. Some people will stick to their guns with a top dollar price for an item, even though periodically the item will pop up for less money and/or in better shape. A lot of buyers know this, and will be patient and wait it out for something that's a better deal. The top dollar item isn't stuck unsold forever- someone might not feel like waiting, and money may not be of importance to them. But generally speaking, (unless you have a very desirable piece) if your goal is to sell something, and you don't want to wait forever for it to sell, you're going to do well to price it accordingly.

There is a massive difference between "Brand new in box, stored in a climate and humidity controlled enviornment" and "rough housed by the children and then left in a damp basement for 30 years". In fact, some trains can be worth a lot of money exclusively based on condition. Take for example the Lionel 65 handcar, cataloged from 1962 to 1966. For a run of 4 years, you wouldn't expect such an item to be so hard to procure. A poor choice of materials created a chemical reaction between the rubber figures and the plastic body, resulting in both materials melting and destroying eachother. The result is that an intact 65 handcar without this damage is very sought after and worth a pretty penny.

Then there's demand. Take the 1050 0-4-0 switcher engine, for example. Uncataloged, produced in 1959 only. Rare, and with most budget sets, finding one in good collector condition would take some effort. Yet, due to its cheap construction, any locomotive like it is generally eschewed by collectors. They're just so lacking in features that nobody really has an interest in these sorts of cheap, plastic bodied 0-4-0 and 2-4-2 steam engines except to the collector who's trying to find an example of anything and everything for completionist's sake. Being rare doesn't mean there's demand for an item. 

That said, not all cheaply made Lionel is worthless. In fact some items are insanely sought after- if in good condition. There's no hard and fast rule, if you game is trying to figure out the biggest cash haul you can get for your trains, you simply have to read up on everything, and talk to people.
Look out for common defects that could tank the value- battery corrosion in diesel locomotives with horns. Broken plastic shells. Worn off graphics and paint. Bent or cracked diecast parts. Many replacement parts are available, but not all of them are cheap- sometimes an item won't look too appealing to a potential buyer if it clearly needs work done on it, and/or replacement parts, which would significantly exceed however much that item is worth to them.

If you want to hear more clear opinions from the people on the CTT forums, you will have to show us what you have. And again- remember, a toy train is seldom a 'get rich quick' scheme. Make what you can, but be realistic.

Hope some of this helps. I do have some bias-
I've been fixing my own trains for a while now so I have strong feelings on the pricing of used toy trains. I'm always calculating the amount of time and money that goes into everything- sometimes you don't realize how much effort has to go into making these old toys look and operate the way they should. It makes me a bit frustrated when I'm faced with buying trains that would cost more than they'd be worth to me, and to the books, just to buy them and then to make them good enough to enjoy.
That said, I still feel my advice is sound. I've seen trains sit around in antique stores for years, because the prices they set were high enough that it was hard to justify buying them, instead of just waiting around to find a cheaper option.

If you have questions, lots of people here may have answers for you. But the trick is to ask specific questions. Without details or pictures, it's hard for us to help.


"Unless bought from a known and trusted dealer who can vouch otherwise, assume every train for sale requires servicing before use"

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Posted by BigAl 956 on Thursday, November 11, 2021 9:26 AM

Depending on wich part of the country you live in there should be a local chapter of the TCA. You should contavt them, a local collector would be best equipped to appraise your trains. Be prepared to offer compensation for their time.

Before going too far down this road, posting photographs of this collection to sites like this may help get things rolling for you.

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