Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lessons from York - Part 1B: What We Saw

A McCoy commemorative boxcar. A unique item over 40 years old.
It's got to be valuable, right? Well....
The Impact of an Aging Demographic
(part 2 of a 4-part series)

As I mentioned in the last post, Dad and I noticed some items that were prominently present and conspicuously absent from the largest regular toy train meet in the world. An item we saw in abundance were McCoy standard gauge cars.

Standard gauge trains were made from about 1906 to 1939, when smaller O-gauge trains took over the market. (After World War II, O-gauge trains would be supplanted by the still smaller HO-gauge trains which still dominate the market).

In the early 1966 Bob McCoy, who had previously manufactured reproductions of vintage standard gauge trains, began offering a line of original locomotives and rolling stock. The designs were very plain and simple, but proved somewhat popular. Through 1998,when the company folded, many national and regional toy train collectors conventions offered commorative standard gauge cars from McCoy.

In the past, McCoy pieces have turned up here and there at York meets. This time, though, there were tables full of them.


Our theory is that we’re seeing the result of an aging market. Most toy collectors are interested in the toys of their youth. When McCoy started their line of originals, it was the first new standard gauge pieces to be offered in 40 years. Collectors who were 10 years old during the golden age of standard gauge (late 1920’s) were just in their 60’s. They had the disposable income, and the desire to own such pieces.

In 2012, those collectors would be in their 80’s and 90’s – if they were still alive. Most of their collections would have been broken up, either through downsizing or estate sales. So these pieces are back on the market. And not commanding too high a price. In some cases, they were being sold for below their original 1970’s selling price – and there didn’t seem to be many takers.

As with the general population, collector groups change focus as the generations are replaced. When the TCA was started in the 1960’s most of the members were interested in standard gauge. Eventually the focus shifted to prewar O-gauge, then postwar O-gauge, and on it goes.

These McCoy pieces only appealed to a specialized subset of the toy train collector’s market. While that shrinking group has freed up more items, it’s also meant that the demand – and therefore the prices – continue to decline.

Part 1A - The Impact of a Specialized Product on its Core Audience

Part 2A - The Impact of Faux-Collectability

Part 2B - The Impact of Practicality

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