Bob Buys Lionel Trains
in Greater Chicago

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How to Sell Your Trains

If you are thinking of selling your toy trains because you don't use them any more or because you would like cash for them, let me share some things you can do to get the most for them.

Don't Clean Your Toy Trains: Before you sell your trains please heed this important warning - do not clean your trains. You can do serious damage to your trains by cleaning them incorrectly. I have a train collector friend that has what was once a beautiful engine that he could have cleaned to almost like new condition that the person he bought it from tried to clean with 409. This turned the bright red lettering into flat pink lowering the value of the engine substantially. Anyone who buys your trains will pay you based on what they will look like after they have been correctly cleared. Don't let this happen to you.

Rent a Table at a Train Show:

Another alternative is to rent a table at a train show. There are local train clubs that have train shows that are open to the public. For about 30 dollars you can rent a table and put your trains out on display. Most train shows have rules that prohibit best offer pricing. You must price each item. If you choose this method, you will sell everything that you've under-priced, and be left with wherever you have priced to high and all the items that no one wants. You will also have to put up with all the looky-lous that are only interested in looking and touching, not in buying.

Train Show

Local Chicago Area Train Show

Do Some Research:

When you sell your train you should do research. You wouldn't sell your old car without finding out what it's worth. So why would you sell your trains without doing a little research first? Any yet people do. I have heard many stories about the great deal at a yard sale, or antique store, where a collector bought a train worth a few hundred for twenty dollars. On the other hand, I have seen many (too many) cheap inexpensive trains offered at greatly inflated prices.

Start at the Library:

A good place to start is at the library. There are many different books about toy trains, and most of them include pricing information. In order to look up your trains you will need to know who made them (Lionel, Marx, American Flyer, etc.) And what era they were made in. That is before world war two or after. There are books that cover multiple manufacturers and eras in one volume but they should b avoided. These comprehensive books are incomplete and at best confusing. There is an excellent series of books by Greenberg Publishing covering each of the different manufactures and the different time periods.

In order to find the right book you will need to take your engine's model number with you to the library. Almost all toy trains have the manufacturers model number on the engine and cars. For your infomration, 0-27 is not a model number, it refers to the track size. Most manufactures used the same number for different items so, to ensure that you have the right book, read the entry under your engine in the book. It will be easier for you to check the book out, and take it home than to take a list to the library. By taking the book home you can look through the book and compare the pictures with your trains.

Go through the book and look up each of your trains and accessories. (Don't waste your time counting track as every train came with track) There will be two or three values listed for each item. These different values reflect differences in condition. In the front of the guide there is an explanation of the grading standards. Generally sellers tend to think that their trains are in better condition than they are; while buyers tend to see the condition in a worse light. It is important to be realistic. After all the trains were purchased to be played with, not for investment. The fact they have gone up in value is just an added bonus.

After you have made a list of your trains, and the values that the guide gives you will need to find a buyer. You can find stores that deal in old toy trains in the phone book. Generally they will want you to load the trains into your car and bring them to the store on the day that their buyer is there. Be careful to avoid damaging the trains on the way to the store. To avoid damaging them, you should wrap each item in newspaper. (Be sure not to do this if the newspaper is wet) Usually a store will pay you between 40% and 60% of what they will sell your trains for after they are cleaned and repaired. This is necessary so the store can pay rent, utilities, advertising, and still have a few dollars left over for employee salaries and store owners income.


Another way to find buyers for your trains is through and advertisement in the classifieds. For just a few dollars you can get lots of bargain hunters to call you.

Auction House:

Another option is to consign your trains to an auction house. This can be very risky. Unless there is a crowd of knowledgeable buyers at the auction, your trains will probably sell for between 100 and 50 dollars. I don't know why this is, but trains usually sell in this range at auctions. This can be a good thing if you only have a chap train set, but if your train is worth more you risk getting less than you should. Also the auction house will charge a commission, usually 10 to 20 percent of the selling price.

The Best Way:

The best and easiest way to get the most money for your train is to sell them to a collector. A collector will pay you up to 100% of the value of your trains. The best way to find a collector is to go to a train show or display and take your list. Show your list to a few collectors and talk to them about your trains. Be honest about the condition. If you mislead someone concerning the condition of your trains or the amount you will accept for them, you will only be wasting your time and energy. Sometimes collectors advertise in the newspapers (I do). Anyone who is serious about buying your trains should take the time to educate you about the trains. Remember, if you don't feel comfortable with someone don't sell to them. Take your time and you will get more money for your trains.

I am a serious buyer of old Lionel trains and accessories. Contact me for a fair, confidential cash sale.


© 2011 Bob Buys Lionel Trains