Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lessons from York: What we didn't see -- old favorites

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. As always, we discussed what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and why.

Last post (What we saw -- smaller scale, smaller sets) posited that the emerging trends were based on a change in demographics. If we assume that collectors are primarily interested in the toys of their youth, and the average collector is late middle-aged, then that creates a window of market demand. And it's a window that moves as the population ages.

So what didn't we see this time?

Standard gauge sets
Or indeed, much standard gauge trains at all. Lionel, Ives, American Flyer and other manufacturers offered these large tinplate trains from about 1905-1932. Highly desirable to the first generation of train collectors in the 1950's-1960's. For the current generation looking nostalgically back to the late 1960's, though, not so much.

One in a series of 13. Collect them all!
MPC Commemorative Cars
When General Mills bought Lionel in the early 1970's, they immediately recognized that the primary market for Lionel trains had shifted from children to adult collectors. And so MPC, the division that ran Lionel, churned out dozens of "collectible" series. There were Disney-decorated cars, and a boxcar for each of the 50 states, and Great Moments in Lionel History boxcars, and so on.

Are we nearing the end of the postwar dream?
Most of them sold out, bought by collectors who knew that 5-10 years later, they could flip these cars for a big profit. Only that never happened, because the demand always artificially inflated. The past few years we say tables with stacks of these collectibles with below-retail pricing. This time, almost nothing. Perhaps the vendors finally gave up.

Early postwar trains
It's a subtle thing, but for the first time I didn't see an overabundance of trains made between 1949-1955. Following my premise, this would have been near and dear to collectors born between 1939 and 1949. That population is now in their 70's, when most collectors stop purchasing because of fixed income.

Still no Industrial Rail
In my analysis of the April 2012 York meet I talked about the scarcity of Industrial Rail freight cars. These inexpensive 027 gauge cars were never designed as collectible, but rather be run on layouts.
Still looking for this Industrial Rail tank car.
I did find a few examples, but they were still quite rare, but all modestly priced (they're still not collectible). If our theory about aging is correct, then maybe we'll start seeing Industrial Rail cars appear as elderly collectors downsize and operating layouts are dismantled.

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