Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In Praise of Greenberg

Question: is the Internet always better? No. Over the holidays my dad and I, both toy train collectors, were trying to do a little detective work. We had a steam locomotive and boxcar that had survived from 1942 –- they had been part of a set, but we didn't know what other freight cars came with it.

The Greenberg Guides have been our standard reference work for years. For toy trains, especially Lionel Trains, Greenberg Guides have consistently proven informative and accurate. My father did some writing and editing for a few of Bruce Greenberg's publications, and I got to see first-hand how a pool of knowledgeable hobbyists could create reference works as rigorous in their scholarship as any specialized encyclopedia.

Most fields of collecting have a standard reference work that hobbyists use to determine rarity, value and general background information. Scott publications for stamp-collecting springs to mind.

The particular Greenberg Guide we needed was at Dad's house, so we tried to do a little research on the web and got a real education. All of my searches –- even those using catalog numbers –- yielded ebay pages almost exclusively. While ebay may be a great place to buy, it's a notoriously unreliable information source. We saw mismatched pieces called "sets," common items labeled "rare," and photo captions that were just plain wrong.

The adventure prompted a discussion about the importance of accurate information to collecting. Someone who had not witnessed our online travails wondered if there was any money in publishing such works –- wasn't it easier just to post it on a website?

Sure; as long as the level of scholarship and peer review remains high. Bruce Greenberg and other dedicated enthusiasts set the bar quite high. Higher than what I found online this weekend.

- Ralph


  1. I completely agree that most web information on Lionel trains is too commercial to be reliable. In 95% of the cases google redirects you to auction sites with often poor information and sometimes misinformation. There is no such place where the words "rare", "vintage", "old", etc. are misused so much. I like my Greenberg guide as well, and several other great books and a few really good websites, that unfortunately never come first on google.
    There is one special issue though about Ebay versus Greenberg. Due to Ebay the prices of truely desirable items rises (much demand, little supply) and of normal rolling stock is dropping.
    So, we agree, we keep our books and forget about auction crap!

  2. Right on. That's why I do most of my buying at York. I can see what I'm getting, and can talk face-to-face with the person I'm buying it from.