So, how much are Lionel trains worth? You can buy or sell Lionel trains from a few dollars to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. But, the prices vary depending on the era, materials used, and design. Additionally, you can buy or sell accessories, individual pieces and sets too.
Whether you’re a railroad enthusiast, a hobbyist, or an avid collector, you know that most people consider Lionel, LLC as one of the best model railroad makers in the world. Their realistic models of passenger and freight cars, buildings, engines, cabooses, and other train parts are a sight to see.
Lionel trains are famous for being easy to use and fun to play with. They’re the perfect gift for kids (and adults), the best display under the Christmas tree, and the best addition to a railroad collection.
If you’re planning to buy or sell Lionel trains for the first time, you’ve come to the right place.
Read on to learn more.
How Much Are Lionel Trains Worth?
As mentioned, the value of Lionel trains varies greatly depending on the era, design, and material used. You can buy or sell train sets, accessories, or parts. Additionally, both buyers and sellers consider the quality, look, and style of the train that’s linked to the many phases the company experienced.
There were years when Lionel trains only produced high-quality model trains with working steel wheels and couplers. There were also years when Lionel trains were producing plastic couplers and trucks.
Also, you have to consider where you will buy or sell Lionel trains because it can have a big impact on your price. For example, an exclusive train show offers high-priced items whereas eBay’s prices vary depending on the current week’s bidder.
There are also live auction houses, online auction houses, and direct buyers that can offer different pricing ranges.
We will discuss more of this later in the article.
Who Owns Lionel Trains?
Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grand founded Lionel Corporation in 1990 in New York City. But, there are debates on when the company turned into a corporation because the two dates vary. The official paperwork has a date of September 5 but was put into filing on September 22.
Over the years, Lionel Corporation had many owners, reaching both its lowest and highest state in the process.
Currently, the company’s new name is Lionel, LLC which is owned by Wellspring Associates. The partners included in the new company are Martin S. Davis who’s an investor and Neil Young who’s a rock and roll singer. They also acquired the Lionel trademarks which include all the Lionel toy trains and models.
When Did Lionel Trains Start?
The Lionel Corporation has been in the model railroads and toy trains industry for over 120 years. Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant founded Lionel Corporation in 1900. The first train created by Cowen was powered by a motor and battery created for an electric fan.
Additionally, it ran through a brass track to attract the attention of passers-by to buy the goods inside a store. Soon, the public started approaching the store owner to try and buy the display trains.
Lionel model trains reached their peak during the 1950s when it was selling $25 million worth of toys every year!
In the 1990s, Lionel trains drew a lot of praise because of their solid construction and impressive attention to detail. In 2006, the first-ever electric toy inducted by the National Toy Hall of Fame was Lionel’s famous electric train.
Below, we’ll discuss the four eras of Lionel production that provide different values on Lionel trains and accessories.
Pre-War Era (1900-1942)
It was during the pre-war era (1900-1942) when Lionel Corporation was able to develop and perfect its model train layouts and designs. During this time, the toy trains were running on dangerous wet-cell batteries.
After several years, they disregarded the wet-cell batteries and replaced them with a 110-volt transformer for safety reasons. Along with this transformer, they were able to pair it with a three-rail “standard gauge” track to help cut possible short circuits.
During this time, Lionel’s marketing message was “standard of the world”. Today, Lionel’s design is the world’s standard in gauge train sizes. Lionel continued developing different rail cars and model engines along with matching accessories to allow consumers to “build” their trains.
In 1915, Lionel introduced their O gauge trains which eventually became their most popular product. Because of this, their business reached its first peak of success during the 1920s. However, because of the Great Depression that happened from 1929 to 1939, their sales took a sharp decline.
During this decade, people could not afford high-priced model railroads and trains. Lionel improvised by releasing a smaller version of their Lionel O gauge train which caught the attention of the masses. In 1939, they stopped manufacturing the Lionel Standard gauge.
How Much Are Lionel Trains Worth From the Pre-War Era?
- Lionel Standard Gauge Set – 1934
The most expensive pre-war era Lionel train set sold is the Lionel Standard Gauge Set from 1934 which was sold at a whopping $250,000 at an auction house. Furthermore, this Mint-in-a-Box train set comes with a 400E Engine & State Passenger Cars. The first production was in 1906 and discontinued in 1940 making it a collector’s favorite.
- Brute Lionel Train – 1927
The Brute Lionel train is a prototype or pre-production model of the standard electric gauge 381E. Its estimated market value today is $2,000. Its design replicates the Milwaukee Road’s Bi-Polar engine with three running motors that run on a 3 inches wide track.
Post-War Lionel Trains (1945-1969)
During World War II (1939-1945), most toy manufacturers stopped their production to put all their resources into helping the government with the war effort. The Lionel Corporation ceased producing trains and manufactured compasses for the U.S. Army to use.
After the war ended in 1945, Lionel resumed its production. The O gauge model railroad set became the company’s most sought-after product. Because of its popularity, it later became the iconic model train many generations would see under the Christmas tree.
During the postwar era, Lionel focused their production and marketing on making its railroad and train sets more realistic. There were remote uncoupling, magnetic knuckle couplers, and diesel engines that are replicas of real trains. With the large assortment of cars, engines, and accessories, consumers were able to buy a variety of designs and colors for their trains.
It was in the 1950s that rattled the Lionel Corporation. Although they reached their peak in the mid-1950s, television also started becoming popular this time which started the decline of the company. In 1959, Joshua Lionel Cowen and Lawrence Cowen (his son) sold their respective interests in the company to Roy Cohen who was their relative.
When the Cowens left, the company gradually declined. In 1967, the Lionel Corporation filed for bankruptcy. In 1969, the rights to the Lionel electric trains were sold to an American manufacturer of consumer goods, General Mills.
How Much Are Lionel Trains Worth From the Post-War Era?
- Brass Prototype 700E Hudson Lionel Locomotives – 1952
The brass prototype of the 700E Hudson is a well-known Lionel train that has an estimated market value of $77,000. This model train copied the famous J1-E New York Central Hudson engine. Also, it comes with various light options, smoke and steam effects, a realistic rail sound system, and a legacy control system.
- 2360 Vagell GG1
Another rare postwar favorite is the 2360 Vagell GG1 model train which has an estimated market value of $15,000. This model train is especially famous because of its back story.
Bill Vogel, a famous train hobbyist, wanted an all-black postwar GG1 train. He decided to buy and paint eight Lionel postwar trains and had Lionel decorate the body. Each train has 2360 imprinted on it with a decorative horn.
The trains also feature a three-position E-unit, two pantographs, dual motors, headlights, a sheet-metal frame, and a die-cast body. Additionally, the 2360 sets are rare because they had only seen production for 6 years. The production years were 1945 to 1948 and 1949 to 1952.
General Mills & Richard Kughn Lionel Trains (1969-1995)
Most collectors call this the “Fundimensions Era” or the “MPC Era”. After acquiring Lionel in 1969, General Mills incorporated the company into their toy subsidiary which is the Model Products Corporation (MPC). In 1973, they renamed their toy subsidiary “Fundimensions”.
During the 1970s, Lionel trains changed from being realistic and high-priced to plastic couplers and trucks. Their focus was on offering affordable toy trains to the masses. Although Lionel trains were less desirable during this era, they were still able to produce the popular Mickey Mouse Express 15-piece model railroad in 1977.
In 1986, General Mills sold their Lionel rights to Richard Kughn who was a model railroading enthusiast and a real estate developer. Furthermore, he established Lionel Trains Inc. which reinstated high-quality production of model trains. This includes solid steel wheels and working couplers.
In 1989, Kughn introduced the RailSound. In 1992, he produced RailSounds II with Neil Young, who was also a model railroad enthusiast and a musician. During the same year, Kughn released the Train Master Control which enabled consumers to have a centralized control console able to do all railroad functions.
In 1995, Kughn sold Lionel Trains Inc. to Wellspring Associates.
How Much Are Lionel Trains Worth From the MPC Era and Kughn Era?
- Lionel Disney Mickey Mouse Express Set – 1977
The Disney Mickey Mouse Lionel Express Set was only produced from 1977 to 1978 making it a rare collector’s item. There are 15 pieces in this set which include a diesel engine, caboose, Mickey Mouse boxcar, Cinderella, Snow White, Donald Duck boxcar, Peter Pan boxcar, Pinocchio, and Bambi. Also included in this set is the Mickey Mouse 50th anniversary car.
Today, the Lionel Disney Mickey Mouse Express Set has an estimated market value between $150 to $200.
- Lionel #8600 New York City Hudson & Tender/OB – 1976
The #8600 New York City Hudson & Tender/OB was featured in the Empire State Express catalog of Lionel in 1976. This train features a boiler casting similar to the postwar era engines. Also, it has electronic sound steam, a smoke unit, and magnetic traction.
The estimated market value of this train is between $20 to $500.
Lionel LLC Trains (1995-Present)
In 1995, the company experienced a complete transformation which included reorganizing the products and renaming them Lionel LLC. Now, the main focus of the company is to produce quality Lionel products while incorporating modern technologies. A good example of this is the LionelChief which is a remote control system for all their trains.
In 2000, they reproduced a series of the O and Standard gauge trains from the Pre-War and Post-War eras to commemorate the company’s 100th anniversary. In 2004, they produced “The Polar Express” train set in partnership with Warner Bros. Studios. This collaboration became Lionel’s all-time best seller set.
How Much Are Lionel Trains Worth From the Lionel LLC Trains Era?
- Lionel 30220 Polar Express Streamlined Set – 2004
Since “The Polar Express” train set is one of the best-selling products ever released by Lionel, the price for an authentic set ranges from $200 to $500. Also, the set includes three streamlined cars, FT diesel locomotives, 35290 two-car set, a transformer, track, and boxes.
- Lionel 6-83607 LionelChief Plus US MacArthur (Mikado) Steam Locomotive #4500 – 2006
The LionelChief Plus Mikado Steam Locomotive has the conventional LionelChief wireless remote control with AC or DC power. Some of its features include an operating headlight, ElectroCoupler on the rear of the tender, on/off switches for smoke and sound, synchronized fan-driven smoke, whistle, speed control, and more.
Its estimated market value now is between $300 to $500.
It’s important to remember that the value of a Lionel train depends on the era, design, material, and condition of the item. You can buy or sell Lionel pieces, sets, or accessories from a few dollars to thousands of dollars.
If you’re looking to buy Lionel items, check out this site. Also, they offer collectible items and have a community of model train enthusiasts.
What Scales are Lionel Trains?
A train scale refers to a model train’s size in proportion to an actual train. Whereas, a gauge refers to the distance of the track between the rails. Lionel LLC Trains has three product lines with distinct scales and gauges.
The Ready-to-Play Lionel train sets are approximately 1:24 scale and have a wider O-gauge track. These are the perfect gift for children ages 8 and up. Additionally, these are highly-detailed trains that are battery-powered and run using a remote control. Lastly, kids can make the train go forward or backward and enable bell and whistle sounds.
The Ready-to-Play set has a retail price of around $99.95 to $119.95.
The Lionel O-Gauge electric sets have approximately a 1:48 scale and measure 1 1/4″ between the outer rails. Also, it includes O, O-27, and FastTrack which all use a curved track to run the train. The O-Gauge is divided into two categories, these are:
- Approximate scale proportions
- Based on the classic Lionel design
- Accessible to most customers
- Easy to control smoke, sounds, and light
- Contains an oval track, a transformer, and a train set
- Has a new remote system that has enhanced sounds, easy to set up and operate, has long-distance control and is AC/DC compatible.
- These are higher-end products
- It has separate detailed parts and sophisticated electronics
- Has 1:48 proportions which are bigger than traditional O-gauge
- Marketed for sophisticated hobbyists and collectors
The Lionel S-Gauge locomotives and sets have approximately a 1:64 scale. Also, it operates on the Lionel S-Gauge track which is narrower than the O-gauge track. Although these are accessible to all customers, Lionel recommends them to collectors and hobbyists.
- Follows the classic American Flyer designs
- Easy to control sounds, light, and smoke
- Accessible to all customers
- Customers can add products like rolling stock and track products
- Higher-end products
- Larger than the traditional 1:64 scale because of its realistic proportions
- Has complete features like the control system and command control
- Has an optional Kadee coupler mounting pads
Factors to Consider to Consider When Selling a Lionel Train
There are several ways for you to sell your used Lionel trains. Before selling your trains, it’s important to educate yourself first before diving into the world of buy and sell.
In this section, we will discuss some key points that you need to consider and how they may affect your prices. We will also list down the different ways you can sell your used trains.
There are three important steps to take into consideration to get you the best price for your Lionel train.
Many people are selling an old train that has been unused for years, often they don’t even know if it works. That is totally fine, collectors will buy old trains, even ones that don’t work as they can be fixed.
The key thing here is to get a cloth and maybe a touch of very mild household cleaning spray and get the dust off the train and clean it up. People buy with their eyes, you will get a better price if you clean up your train before you sell it.
Photography is everything. Once your train is clean and you have got the dust off it is time to take some great snaps.
A smartphone will do, make sure there is natural light around and always capture great photos against a great background.
What do I mean here? Showcase the train as best you can by taking pics against a nice clean surface, a table, a large sheet of paper, and a clean floor. Use a background that will showcase the train’s colors and details.
Take multiple photos, take them of the top, bottom, and all sides. It is also good to take an overall photo of the whole selection you are selling.
Semi-professional photography, which is nice and light is ideal, just use a smartphone, but make sure you have the light right. People will pay more online when the photos do the train justice.
Photograph against a nice clean background eg. a white wall. This will showcase the colors better.
Investing your time to clean and take great pics will result in a better price. While if you’re not willing to invest your time and effort, you might be leaving a lot of money on the table!
Make sure to spend some time researching the method you’re planning to sell. You should also take note of the location, auction, and average price of similar or the same items.
There is no “best” place to sell an old or new train. What you are after is the best buyer. So, now it is time to do your research and let your fingers do the walking. Check out the big two first, eBay and FaceBook marketplace, both sell an abundance of trains.
Look for similar models, try and find a similar model in a similar condition to give you a price indication.
5 Ways to Sell Your Used Lionel Trains
There are ways for you to sell your used Lionel trains, there is none that is really better than another, all require effort.
But at least your train is clean and you have got great pics now to send out online!
Selling on Train Shows
Selling on train shows will allow you to set your price for your used Lionel trains. However, you have to wait for a buyer that’s willing to pay the price that you’ve set.
Search online for a train show near you, they are always popping up around the country!
Train shows can be competitive because you won’t know the train sets you’re up against and their prices. Although, if you’re a competitor and already have an idea of how the trade works, you can bring home a lot of money.
The downside to these train shows is that they can be a bit expensive and take a lot of effort to join. You’ll have to consider your mileage, fuel, food, hotel, and table fees. You have to display your table and leave you standing for hours waiting for someone interested in your Lionel train.
There would be days where you will get a lot of buyers and some days that there’s no one interested at all. Some people quit at their first train show because of the effort it takes and all the waiting. Also, the weather can play at your disadvantage so you must do your research first.
I would say that this is best for people that really know what they are doing.
Selling on eBay
The price on eBay can vary depending on the week’s bidders. The good thing about this platform is that you can be sure of the payout once your product has been delivered and there are no complaints. When putting a price on eBay, be sure to consider Paypal’s cut and the pay reserve that you’re going to set.
Selling your used Lionel trains on eBay can bring you a part-time job as long as you’re willing to spend a lot of your time on it. The amount of money that you can make on this platform is somewhat proportionate to the effort you’ll put into it. Of course, you will need the trains too!
Usually, items with decent pictures and short descriptions can generate a lot of interest in buyers. Although, you still have to do a lot of things rather than just take pictures.
You have to fill out auction forms, research prices, pick categories, upload your products, manage bidders, pack your products, fill out labels, and ship your products. You also have to consider the after-sale procedure which includes handling complaints, tracking your packages, and handling damage claims and returns.
The speed of your payment will depend on how quickly you can list your items. If you can work non-stop, you can list 20 items in a day.
Remember to look for similar items before listing.
Selling at Live Auction Houses
Getting good results from a live auction house depends on the quality of the auction house and your collection. Auction houses work best if you have rare collector’s items that will generate a lot of money in a single product.
There are price cuts if you want to sell at an auction house. The management could keep 30%-40%, and 15%-20% for the buyers’ premium, and your share could be at 40%-55%. But, If you have “inexpensive” items, you can sell them in bulk to ensure that you get the most out of your products.
If your Lionel train is of high value, the auction house will cover the expenses to get your items. However, if you have a “decent” product, you’ll have to figure out how to send them your item.
It could take 3 to 6 months or even longer before you can collect your payment when you choose this method. This is because the auction house needs to draw a large crowd before they can start auctioning. Additionally, there’s an accounting and auditing process before they can release any cheques.
Selling at an Online Auction Service
Online auction services are websites where that sell items from multiple resources. These websites are usually focused on a single niche (model train) and they sell it to the highest bidder. With their experience and history of selling, they already have a database of the best price to sell a certain product.
Their listings include the product’s picture, complete description, and grading on the item. Some online auction websites offer a full consignment service where they will pick up the item from you, enlist the item, and pay you once your product is sold.
Most of the time, the payment speed of online auction services is 30 days after a buyer purchase’s your product.
Trainz.com is a well-known online auction service provider especially focused on model trains and railroads.
Selling to a Single Buyer or a Train Dealer
Selling to a single buyer or a train dealer may give you the lowest price for your product. Although, you don’t have to put too much effort into doing this because you only have to look for a legit seller.
This is also the fastest way to receive your money because you’re in direct contact with the buyer. There will be no waiting procedures and you’ll get the entire price with no cuts.
Facebook marketplace is a surefire way to move your train quickly and will give you access to a lot of buyers for cheap!
How Much Are Lionel Trains Worth? – Conclusion
Lionel model trains and railroads can be worth a few bucks or worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you have a rare collector’s item.
When selling your used Lionel trains, make sure that you check out all your options. As we’ve mentioned above, there are multiple ways you can sell your Lionel items and no one best way.
Best of luck on your journey!