Collecting vintage train sets - getting on the right track

Hi, I recently unearthed my old 1950s Hornby train set from the attic and have fallen back in love with it. I wanted to know if there is any real value behind vintage train sets and if I should start collecting? - A Fothergill, UK

First things first, have you kept the box to your set? That box could turn your Hornby train from a nostalgic collectible to a worthwhile investment. For serious collectors, the original box - especially an unopened one - will more than double the contents' value at auction, so if you can, hold on to it!

Lionel train set
This detailed Lionel train set made $35,395 against a $1,200 high estimate in 2011

When it comes to Hornby train sets, the earliest pieces are the most valuable. Ideally, you should be looking at sets released before the second world war, as this was when they were at their most popular.

One of the most valuable lines released by Hornby was its "Gauge 0" series of 1937, which features some of the most classic designs and can fetch thousands at auction. The most highly regarded models are the Gauge 0 Princess Elizabeth locomotive, which can make up to £2,140 ($3,457) in mint condition, and the Gauge 0 LE2, which is worth £3,200 ($5,170) in standard condition.

However, one thing to beware of when buying these models is repaints. A simple lick of paint on a chipped piece can cut its value by more than half, and there is some pretty convincing work out there.

The finest and most valuable models of toy train are made by the German company Marklin, who were established long before Hornby, in 1859. Aside from making toy trains, it also specialises in spectacular dolls houses and "technical toys", such as model ships and engines.

In 2001, a 1906 Marklin Gauge V toy train, which is big enough for a child to drive, and extremely rare, sold for a very impressive $113,750. Even the more modest sets can bring excellent results, with Gauge 1 sets selling for £1,000 ($1,614).

A 1936 Marklin "Cock o the North" was valued at £1,500 ($2,422) in the 1980s and has since risen to £13,000 ($20,993), displaying the investment potential of some of the finest sets.

I would recommend starting your collection by buying one of the various identification and valuation guides available, and making sure you know what you have before moving on to bigger and better things.


Paul Fraser

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