How To Catch A Train

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You can buy a handsome vintage Lionel car for less than $100 today, but many desirable engines and sets sell for four-figure prices. Occasionally something soars much higher. This past autumn Stout Auctions, which specializes in toy and model trains, sold a superb example of the Lionel 20th Century Limited set characterized by cream trim around the windows of its four green cars, a great rarity. The buyer paid $253,000, in part because the set included not only the box for each piece but also the carton in which they were originally packed. Pristine boxes can easily double the value of a set. This is just one of the many intricacies aspiring Lionel collectors should learn before venturing out on the acquisition track. Here are some resources for other essential information:

All Aboard! , by Ron Hollander, vividly depicts the Lionel saga. Two other good histories are Classic Lionel Trains and Lionel: America’s Favorite Toy Trains , both by Gerry and Janet Souter.

Greenberg’s Guides , the standard price directories, are available from Kalmbach Publishing Company ( www.kalmbach.com /800-533-6644).

David Doyle’s two-volume Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains depicts just about everything the company ever made.

The largest enthusiast organization is the Train Collectors Association ( www. traincollectors.org / 717-687-8623), which operates the National Toy Train Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania ( www.nttmuseum.org /717-687-8976).

Indiana-based Stout Auctions ( www. stoutauctions.com / 765-764-6901) holds regular sales of toy and model trains and posts its catalogues on the Internet.— D.L.