- Historic Sites
Lionel’s 10 Greatest
A roster of the company’s most desirable products
November/December 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 6
One prominent Lionel enthusiast and collector, Michael Shames, thinks these are the company’s greatest classics.
1. 20th Century Limited set: This set first appeared in the 1931 catalogue with a 400E steam locomotive, tender, and three passenger cars, each of which carried the name of a state.
2. Blue Comet set: Produced for several years beginning in 1930, this coveted standard-gauge passenger train must have been the set that brightened the boyhood Christmases of Owen Mackenzie, hero of John Updike’s 2004 novel Villages : “Around the oval three-rail track ran his little blue Lionel train with its obedient speed shifts and translucent smell of lubricating oil.”
3. 400E engine: This standard-gauge steam locomotive came in various colors. The one Shames considers outstanding is the rarely seen 1935 crackle-black 400E.
4. Santa Fe four-car set: Shames includes the 1950s passenger set with a colorful stripe accenting its silver and red double diesel engine, not for rarity but because it has proved especially popular with collectors.
5. Pennsylvania GG1 engine: Pantographs that could be raised and lowered show that this late-1940s engine replicated one that also relied on electric power.
6. 700E Hudson engine: Many collectors consider this detailed O-gauge replica Lionel’s most desirable locomotive.
7. No. 300 Steel Bridge: This accessory, one of Lionel’s largest, was inspired by the Hell Gate Bridge that still carries trains over the East River in New York City. It came in two color combinations. The green, cream, and orange version first made in the 1920s is more common than the later one done in silver, red, and cream.
8. No. 840 Power Station: This imposing accessory could actually house the transformers that young engineers used to operate their railroads.
9. No. 444 Roundhouse: Now exceptionally rare, the roundhouse comprises four sections that were sold separately. When combined with an optional turntable, it really did become a facility for reversing engines or switching them to different tracks.
10. No. 921 Three-Piece City: About as rare as the roundhouse, this early 1930s accessory also came in sections. Its houses are built on a rise and are connected by flights of steps to an adjoining plaza.— D.L.