How to sell old model railroading sets/trains ?

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cheerose

Train Attendant
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Nov 13, 2021
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Hi all

I've got a series of building models and trains (for the most part, both in original boxes) and some track. All of which is probably 40-50 years old (if not a bit older).

Where would be the best place to look for either selling or, at the very least, getting an idea on its value (if any) ?
 

Alice

Conductor
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Mar 6, 2007
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1,053
Location
California
I looked up one of my engines (around 60+ years old) on eBay and found it to be rather more valuable than I thought. You can specify only sold items when you search as asking prices are, well, worthless.

Also, I took a few cars to my local train hobby shop and he told me about what they were worth on consignment or if he bought them, of course this is much less than he'd sell them for. The plastic Lionels are worth a lot less than the metal ones, and the ones still in boxes are worth a ransom. My Swiss Buco O-gauge is impossible to value because it is unique here, a matter of finding the right collector! He would take it on consignment but not buy it outright. He told me which ones would sell very quickly and let me know he'd love to have the collection when I'm ready to let it go. But I kept them. He also knows some people who would be thrilled to build a setup in my house if I bought more track, and told me about the local clubs where people would be happy to modify my engines to run on club track. Unfortunately, the model club I like the best is in San Luis Obispo and I'm rarely down there.

Sometimes I go to model train shows where you can see locomotives and cars like yours. Besides getting an idea of selling prices and having an opportunity to talk with sellers and collectors (and see some good layouts), you can collect business cards of people you like. Most complete list of model train shows I know:
Model Train Shows Calendar 2021
(You'll want to browse their other categories, too.)

And an organization for model train industry participants and enthusiasts, someday I'll get to their convention, I've seen photos and it looks awesome:
2022 National Train Show

Nevada State rail museum has a model layout, go meet the docent and chat, also maybe you'd like to volunteer there and get your model train fix without having to break out your own? It is a beautiful layout.
Model Railroad – Nevada Southern Railway

Las Vegas has a garden railway club, often G-scale owners have something smaller at home and are happy to talk up a guest about all the best places for model trains. And G-scales are fun to visit anyway so it won't be wasted if you don't get the answers you want.
Las Vegas Garden Railway Society

And as long as we are talking about model trains, here is a shout-out to the most fun I've ever had at a layout, Xmas in New Orleans: Historic New Orleans Train Garden
I have read there are similar "botanical" layouts in other cities, too.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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May 31, 2009
Messages
23,646
Location
Austin Texas
I looked up one of my engines (around 60+ years old) on eBay and found it to be rather more valuable than I thought. You can specify only sold items when you search as asking prices are, well, worthless.

Also, I took a few cars to my local train hobby shop and he told me about what they were worth on consignment or if he bought them, of course this is much less than he'd sell them for. The plastic Lionels are worth a lot less than the metal ones, and the ones still in boxes are worth a ransom. My Swiss Buco O-gauge is impossible to value because it is unique here, a matter of finding the right collector! He would take it on consignment but not buy it outright. He told me which ones would sell very quickly and let me know he'd love to have the collection when I'm ready to let it go. But I kept them. He also knows some people who would be thrilled to build a setup in my house if I bought more track, and told me about the local clubs where people would be happy to modify my engines to run on club track. Unfortunately, the model club I like the best is in San Luis Obispo and I'm rarely down there.

Sometimes I go to model train shows where you can see locomotives and cars like yours. Besides getting an idea of selling prices and having an opportunity to talk with sellers and collectors (and see some good layouts), you can collect business cards of people you like. Most complete list of model train shows I know:
Model Train Shows Calendar 2021
(You'll want to browse their other categories, too.)

And an organization for model train industry participants and enthusiasts, someday I'll get to their convention, I've seen photos and it looks awesome:
2022 National Train Show

Nevada State rail museum has a model layout, go meet the docent and chat, also maybe you'd like to volunteer there and get your model train fix without having to break out your own? It is a beautiful layout.
Model Railroad – Nevada Southern Railway

Las Vegas has a garden railway club, often G-scale owners have something smaller at home and are happy to talk up a guest about all the best places for model trains. And G-scales are fun to visit anyway so it won't be wasted if you don't get the answers you want.
Las Vegas Garden Railway Society

And as long as we are talking about model trains, here is a shout-out to the most fun I've ever had at a layout, Xmas in New Orleans: Historic New Orleans Train Garden
I have read there are similar "botanical" layouts in other cities, too.
The one they set up in Kansas City Union Station for Christmas is very nice Alice!

Others I ve seen that I like are in Temple,TX @ the Old Santa Fe Depot that was moved next to the Current Amtrak Station, only open on Weekends and Special Days, and in Burnet ,TX @ the Convention Center next to the Hill Country Flyer Depot.
 

cirdan

Engineer
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Mar 30, 2011
Messages
2,715
I think eBay and other internet resources are a good place to get a rough idea for a valuation, but of course bearing in mind that just because somebody has advertised an item at a certain price does not by any means imply it is worth that or that anybody will pay that price. Beware of items with zero bids.

The rarer the item the more difficult it is to get a valuation because there is nothing to compare it to. Not everything that is rare is valuable, mind you, so surprises can go in both directions.

One trader I talked to last year said there is a glut of stuff on the market right now and to be able to clear inventory he was having to go below price. He also said that HO is still selling but N is very difficult to shift at all these days and he wasn't buying until he had cleared more stocks. If stuff is in almost new condition and still has the original box that is a huge plus. Stuff that is battered and worn is worth much less. But it's also a question of getting lucky.
 

me_little_me

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As someone who is a model railroad club member and involved in selling donated items (we had dozens of boxes of high quality equipment stocked up because of Covid), here is my suggestion:
  • High value items and vintage items particularly anything with original boxes should be sold on eBay
  • Lesser stuff should be sold at a train show. Find your nearest model RR club and ask them where and when the train shows are. Booths are usually very reasonable.
  • Consider also making up lists with condition and age, pictures, etc then contact your local club and ask if they would post or pass on a summary of your information to members. Our club will do that and we ask that people provide contact info so they can be directly contact by any interested members. Our offer is complimentary and the Secretary just emails members with the provided information.
  • Consider also donating your stuff to a club. Our guys have gone to homes and dismantled the layout when they offered us the donation of the collection.
  • Test the equipment. We sold about a hundred DC HO engines at the last show because we verified that each of them worked so could tell people we tested them.
  • Separate the junk. Cars missing wheels, parts, or in poor condition are not worth selling. However, at our club, one of the members put a number of cars on a table with a note that anyone could have one at no cost for their kids if they just made a donation, no matter how small. Now, understand, we have layouts indoors and out and all sorts of other RR things on display and are open and free to the public but I was shill shocked that kids would take a broken caboose and the parent would drop $20 in the donation box.
  • Quite often local clubs have highly knowledgeable members who would evaluate what you have for a small fee. Just ASK!
  • Clubs can be surprisingly helpful. We sometimes will test engines, check out cars, make suggestions on cleaning wheels (and showing people how to do so) and recommending reliable people who do repairs.
 

cirdan

Engineer
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Messages
2,715
  • Separate the junk. Cars missing wheels, parts, or in poor condition are not worth selling. However, at our club, one of the members put a number of cars on a table with a note that anyone could have one at no cost for their kids if they just made a donation, no matter how small. Now, understand, we have layouts indoors and out and all sorts of other RR things on display and are open and free to the public but I was shill shocked that kids would take a broken caboose and the parent would drop $20 in the donation box.
This I agree with. As a kid operating on a tight budget I was always happy to pick up broken stuff for pennies at train shows or in junk shops and it was a great learning experience for me to work out how to fix them, cannibalizing one freight car to find parts to fix another, or learning to do paint or add details to make battered cars look more presentable, and so bring back cars that would otherwise have ended in the trash. Ditto with engines where learning to clean fluff out of motors and lubricate them or clean contacts helped me bring back several non runners and make them usable. When we learnt soldering at school I pestered my parents to get me a soldering iron and that really helped me fix stuff.

Every kid who takes home something cheap and ugly may be a future model railroader. See it as an investment in the hobby.
 

Charles785

Service Attendant
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Nov 24, 2017
Messages
113
I have long since sold my American Flyer collection from the late 40s and early 50s. My dad has started me on American Flyer because of what he thought was its authenticity to scale.

I've always wondered, in the overall scheme of model railroading, how prominent American Flyer was compared to Lionel - and how the values of the two brands compare on the collectors market.

Oh - and what guage was American Flyer? I know it was larger than HO and, as I recall, smaller than Lionel.
 

bratkinson

OBS Chief
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Back about 2003, I decided to sell my 15+ years sitting in boxes HO models including a good number of brass trolleys, quality track, unopened plastic as well as 'craftsman' building kits, etc. It was also the impetus to try digital photography after 40+ years shooting film.

I naturally researched what I might get on ebay, as that looked like the easiest way to get the best 'coverage', global, in fact! So, taking photos of 5-10 products each week, then learning the freebie very early Photoshop that came with my camera, I then spent some time looking at 'sold' items on ebay.

Perhaps the biggest surprises came when items that I expected to fetch a good price didn't. And other items, from built Athearn kits I'd weathered and equipped with Kadees and Central Valley trucks went for considerably more than what I paid for them. The HO brass trolleys, most were professionally painted, generally went for 4-5 times what I had paid for them in the 70s.

Lessons learned:
1. Decide whether it's more important to get 'top dollar' or 'get it gone' at a good price, 5% or so less than what others are getting for identical items. I always wanted it gone.
2. Back then, ebay did not have a 'buy it now' feature, so everything was an auction, 3, 7 or 10 days, as I recall. I typically started at 60% of what I hoped to get. That way I knew it would sell.
3. I had roughly 150 'shake the box' assembled plastic railcars. I sold them in lots of 3-5, to make them gone faster as well as reduce the number of packages I had to ship.
4. You'll have to become adept at packing and shipping, even with the original boxes for all my rolling stock. You'll certainly remember the 'savage airline baggage handlers' (a gorilla) advertisements 30-40 years ago for a luggage company. Having worked as a package delivery driver and later package handler (loading and unloading trailers) at a global shipping company, I can tell you from experience that if it 'moves' inside the package (or original box), good chance it will get broken. Plan on stuffing toilet paper into original boxes, and using 'used' packing materials from bubble wrap to boxes. Be sure to remove or use a marker to obliterate all labels on boxes prior to reusing them. The US Postal Service provides free priority mail boxes that are designed to be used as such. Having to buy bubble wrap and/or boxes is guaranteed to THROW AWAY any hopes for making a profit!

Buy clear shipping tape and an appropriate dispenser. I buy Duck brand shipping tape at Walmart. Don't waste your money buying 3M shipping tape, etc. I buy padded envelopes of multiple sizes online as well. By the way, buying stuff online at Walmart and Amazon is a great way to build up a supply of boxes and 'stuffing'. I buy all my over the counter meds as well as some non-perishable food items at Walmart online using my Amtrak credit card for points!

I still sell on ebay now and then. The ebay 'cut' from sales price have gone from 2-3% to 15% on average these days! Shipping costs have tripled (or worse) the past 15 years or so! They used to charge a 'listing fee' of about 1% the 'listing price' and then a 'sale price fee' of about 2%. Payment was by check or money order. They added setting a 'reserve' (minimum bid price to sell) for 10 cents, but now it's 75 cents or more...I learned the hard way to avoid that 10 years ago.

These days, I usually sell everything as 'buy it now', sometimes with 'or offer' if it's over $75 or so (camera gear, electronics, etc), No more auctions unless I don't have a clue about a good price. Buy-it-now used to 'expire' after 30 days, but now anything unsold gets automatically 'renewed' after 30 days. I routinely start at maybe 95% of what I think is a good price for an item and drop it 2-3% after the first day, maybe another 2-3% after a week, and maybe more after 2 weeks. Any 'or offer' items allow you to set a 'minimum' price to automatically accept an offer, as well as an 'automatic reject' amount. I can guarantee from experience that there's always a low-ball offer or two the first day from those looking to resell it at a decent profit...camera gear especially.

Ebay used to not charge 'final sales price fee' that included any shipping costs listed. When I was building computers for friends, I'd buy a used CPU or RAM for $5 with $25 shipping cost (in the listing) as the seller would only be charged a percentage of selling cost. Ebay finally finally figured things out and now both together are used to determine the final fee (12-13% these days!) Their relationship with Paypal changed when they bought out Paypal about 12 years ago, only to spin it off 7-8 years ago, then make it nearly impossible to pay with Paypal and then finally reintegrated it about 2 years ago, but for most buyers, they now pay directly through Ebay. Of course, Ebay now gets the 3% or so that Paypal would be getting. ALSO...as a seller, moving money from Paypal to my bank account was typically 48 hours after I entered the transfer request. On ebay, THEY take their sweet time before starting to move your money to you and now it's 5-6 days after the sale before I get the money...multiple items in a single deposit is common. Oh yea...and now Ebay pockets the money for shipping then bills you later...long after they've sent you money for the sold item. In short, Ebay now gets the 'float' of maybe a billion dollars per day which can amount to 100s of thousands of dollars of interest THEY get on YOUR money!

One of my friends used to sell some of his 'junk' on ebay but has since ceased. He and I both have sold some of our basement 'junk' and got decent money. But the big lesson learned about 10 years ago was if you don't think you'll get $5 as a selling price, throw the item away. It takes just as long to take pictures, create an ebay listing with pictures, box it up, and take it to the post office or wherever for a $100 item as a $5 item. These days, anything less than $20 is a waste of time in my book...and I've been retired for 7 years! Between high shipping costs, including SLOOOWWWW delivery (5 days for 2 day priority mail 1000 miles a couple weeks ago, and 2+ WEEKS for priority mail 9 days before last Christmas) and including shipping materials, makes $20 about a break even sales price in my book. The low-expected prices for Athearn box cars was why I bundled them into threes and fives...to get a 'worthwhile' total price.

Also, RR books are near worthless these days. Books that I had that pre-Ebay days would garner $150 or so, fail to sell at $35 these days. Even railroadiana such as switch locks with keys, etc, prices have dropped a LOT in the past 20 years! I had some RR books down to $7 with free shipping and they still didn't sell. I tossed 'em. By the way, if you're selling books or slides, be sure to ship them using 'media mail' rate (available on ebay if you click the 'see all options' shipping, but NOT available at USPS.COM. Go figure.) Media mail is considerably less costly than first class or priority mail, but is for printed or recorded media only!.

Also...There's also crooks out there that will buy your item, advise that it's damaged in transit or was not working up front and demand a refund. When selling used computer parts such as CPUs and RAM, I learned to put a small scratch or Sharpie mark on each item and make sure that shows up in the pictures on ebay. I had one buyer pull that on me with 2 sticks of RAM that sold for $150 or so. He returned them and I didn't see the tiny Sharpie marks, took pictures of his substituted RAM, wrote him so and sent his garbage back to him. I never got a complaint from that clown.

Also, a disappointment...only about 30-40% of ebay buyers ever leave feedback.

So, if you have lots of time to kill or need something to keep you busy, selling on Ebay as a great way to fill the hours.

Plan B: I know 5-6 years ago there was a number of 'we sell on Ebay for you' shops pop up online and in town. That would be a trouble-free way to sell your collection. I don't know if they still exist as between ebay fees and shipping costs, throw in their costs, I'd venture you'll get about 50% of the sale price of the items, assuming they're trustworthy. I even thought about opening an I-sell-4-U place, but the record keeping needed to keep customers, buyers, and the IRS happy makes it not worthwhile in my opinion.

In my opinion, the days of 'send SSAE for listing' advertising in magazines is long past. Even hobby shops with model RR equipment are nearly extinct. Everything these days goes online. Also, as I found selling brass trolley models, at those prices, people model and buy what they remember. How many of us remember seeing street cars or steam engines? For what it's worth, I still check the prices for Suydam CNS&M models on ebay maybe once per year or so and the prices they're getting today is not much higher than what I was getting 15-18 years ago!

Plan C: Sell it all as a few (under 5) lots to someone knowledgeable in what the items might be worth and willing to sell them on ebay or <whereever>. But remember, the few potential buyers would low ball it ensuring a reasonable profit for their time and investment.
 

cirdan

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Messages
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I agree with all this. But would just like to add that before tossing anything in the trash, be it old books or models or magazines or unbuilt kits, I would offer them to your local model railroad club. If they don't want it, fine, don't try any further.
 

Palmland

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Central Florida
I agree with all this. But would just like to add that before tossing anything in the trash, be it old books or models or magazines or unbuilt kits, I would offer them to your local model railroad club. If they don't want it, fine, don't try any further.
I agree with this. My brother and I had a large HO layout in a 30x80 room. We both recently moved. We kept a few ‘important’ locos and cars and donated the rest to a model railroad club that will use them as part of acquiring a building and stariting a layout that will be open to the public. Helping them and having the chance to see our cars rolling again, albeit in a different city, was more important then getting a few dollars from eBay.

Most large cities have a model railroad club that might be interested as well as train shows where you might find a buyer. Good luck!
 

trainman74

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Sherman Oaks, CA
Oh - and what guage was American Flyer? I know it was larger than HO and, as I recall, smaller than Lionel.
You‘re correct - American Flyer was S gauge, 1:64 scale. That’s between Lionel’s O gauge (1:48 scale) and HO gauge (1:87 scale).

Although American Flyer effectively went out of business in the late 1960s, Lionel ended up with their assets and revived the name to make some S-gauge models beginning in the 1980s.
 
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