Monday, October 24, 2011

Purchasing for an O-Gauge Zen Garden

In the foreground is the Marx Switch Tower
(ca. 1940), and in the background at right,
the Marx Floodlight Tower (ca. 1938)
I picked up a couple of items at the recent TCA Meet in York, PA for my train layout. There's a reason why I call it an O-gauge Zen garden -- it really is something that I work with in the same way one would such a garden, or a bonsai tree. It's not about what it is, but how it transitions.

In this case, I picked up two items that I had been looking for. They're two toy train accessories manufactured by Louis Marx in the late 1930's.

Now most of the 13,000+ people milling around the York Fairgrounds that weekend were looking for toy train items for a few common reasons:

1) They were looking for a bargain -- that moment when you find a piece you know is worth $1,000 marked to sell at $150 (an even that's as common as a unicorn sighting). There were some bargains, but not to that extreme.

2) They're filling in gaps in their collections. Some people are numbers-obsessed. If you have the #112 gondola car, and the #114 box car, then of course you need the #113 cattle car, also! But it doesn't have to be about numbers. Some are looking to complete sets with missing pieces, replace boxes, get all the variations of a particular model, etc. But it's still all about filling in some type of list.

3) They're hoping to upgrade. Just as with any hobby involving mechanical objects (be it vintage radios or antique cars), junkers are always welcome for the spare parts they yield -- and there are plenty of folks manufacturing reproduction parts as well.

4) They want to be first. Modern toy train manufacturers have figured out the most effective way to market to their core demographic, the collector. Put out something desirable in an extremely limited quantity -- and when it's gone, it's gone. Some manufacturers now won't even go into production unless the entire run is pre-ordered, ensuring 100% sell-through. What it means for the collector is that they have to be first in line or get left out. And this show is one of the opportunities to place that pre-order.

I was specifically looking for the Marx pieces, but because I was purchasing for a Zen garden rather than trying to fill in display shelves, I had some different reasons:

1) I wanted something tall and slender, to provide contrast to the cityscape.

2) I wanted something more toylike that realistic, to provide a better balance of real and unreal.

3) I wanted some lights that would better illuminate a dark portion of the layout.

4) I've always liked Marx lithography, and wanted at at least one pre-war example.

Not much of a match between that first and second list! But I was successful, and that's all that matters. A hobby is supposed to be fun, after all, regardless of how "fun" is defined.

And while the pieces aren't especially valuable or rare, they did exactly what I wanted them to do -- so I'm happy.

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