Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Lessons from York - What we saw: Unusual classics

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States, and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby.

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them. 

This time around there seemed to be a little bit of everything. You could find examples of prewar toy trains, mostly from the late 1920s to mid 1930s. There were several tables with postwar toy trains (1949-1965), a fair number with items from the 1970s and 1980s. And it all wasn't Lionel -- American Flyer was represented (mostly in postwar), and there were smatterings of Ives and Dorfan (two prewar companies), and some foreign examples from Marklin (Germany) and Hornby (UK).

But that's not to say you could find anything and everything. There were gaps, and there were excesses.

F3 for NYC

Without a doubt, the most common item at this show of several hundred vendors in seven exhibit halls was the Lionel F3 diesel in New York Central livery. It was in every hall, in virtually every aisle. Everyone seemed to be selling them for around the same price -- $500 for a pair.

A Little Bit of Background

For many, the 1950s were the golden age for Lionel trains. They produced high-quality, highly detailed models that ran well and looked good. And, for the most part, they've held up with time. In 1948 Lionel introduced their F3 diesel in both Santa Fe and New York Central paint schemes. The Santa Fe proved most popular, and a version of it was offered every year for the next eighteen years. The NYC version, on the other hand, had a shorter -- but respectable -- run of eight years.



Lionel tried other paint schemes on their F3 diesels -- including the Southern Railway's distinctive green livery. That model was only offered from 1954-56.

What's up with the F3?

Although there were versions of the Santa Fe available, at this show the NYC loco was the most common (found on 36 different tables by my count). Running a close second was the Southern F3s (21 tables). Why?

Here's my guess. The Santa Fe version was the most popular when it was on the market, and remains so with collectors. And remember -- toy collectors of all stripes tend to favor the toys of their childhood. At this point, most people that are just starting to collect toy trains are Boomers, so toys from the 1950s and 60s are in demand.

At the same time, older collectors continue to downsize as they more to smaller homes and/or retirement communities. I suspect that many of them who had several examples of the postwar Lionel F3s in their collection -- and only now had room for one -- opted to keep the Santa Fe. It's the most colorful, the most popular, and in many ways, the most iconic Lionel postwar locomotive. By comparison, the NYC gray and white is rather drab. So to the vendor table it goes.


The same, I think, might be true of the Southern F3s. Except that its paint scheme is a little more attractive. So perhaps that's why not as many showed up. But there were an exceptionally large number available this time around.

Next: What we didn't see

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