Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nation Wide Lines and A Hole in the Internet

Although, like many people, I rely on the Interent as a research tool.But it's not the be-all end-all. It's only as good as the information that's been made available online.

Case in point: I recently read an interesting article about a very specific subject: the history of toy train sets made for JC Penney by the American Flyer company between 1929 and 1931.(Don't worry -- this post isn't about toy trains.)

The article, Nation Wide Lines, was pretty interesting, and I wanted to know more. So I went online. And found.... well, not nothing. But a very small set of information endlessly repeated.

The house brand for these toys was Nation Wide Lines. Since all the search terms I was using (American Flyer, Nation Wide Lines, JC Penney, etc.) were common words with many different meanings, I was careful to use phrases and multiple-keyword searches to keep the results focused on my topic.

One of the top search results was the online version of the original article. The remainder were offerings from various auction sites. And worse yet, there were only about three or four different auction lots. All the hits came from sites that scraped data from eBay, Stout Auctions and another major auction house.

So what did I expect to find? Well, even for a subject as obscure as this there should be a fair amount of source material. For starters, there have been several scholarly works written about the American Flyer company which would have information about the Nation Wide line. Then there are histories of the JC Penny company. And there are original (and reproduction) JC Penney catalogs available. And there may be some other articles from other hobby magazines. But none of it is online.

So while I have a good idea of what these toy trains might be worth (thanks to the endless auction listings), I don't know anything else.

This is research that might have to take place offline.

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