Thursday, May 08, 2014

Lessons from York - What We Didn't See: Old Favorites

The Lionel 1938 catalog. Apparently, this is no longer
the book of dreams.
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 always, we discussed what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and why. Last post I shared what we saw -- and what it meant (Minors and evergreens). Here's what was missing.

Six months ago when I shared our observations from the show, I titled this post "What We Didn't See -- Old Favorites." In a sense, that's still true as the demographics of collectors continues to shift. But so does the meaning of the word.

In October 2013 what I meant by old favorites were the items we saw show after show, year in and year out. Specifically, standard gauge train sets, MPC/Lionel product from the 1970's, and classic post-war Lionel trains from the late 1940's-early 1950's.

The Lionel 1962 catalog. This is no longer a book of
dreams, either.

What I meant this time is that we didn't see the old favorites -- the trains of our youth. For my dad, that's the late 1930's. For me, it's the early 1960's. We saw almost no pre-war 0-gauge trains, either in sets or individual pieces. No rolling stock, no accessories, no locomotives.


Two reasons, I think.

First, the value on most of those items has always been somewhat low compared to the premium sets, which still command top dollar (see: What We Saw: Minors and Evergreens).

Second, the primary market for these items were collectors looking to either replace or add to the toys of their youth. And with preteens of the late 1930's now in their eighties, that's a rapidly shrinking market.

And unfortunately, it's the same with toys from my own youth. The extremely rare and desirable items retain their value (although we didn't see many for sale). But the commonplace trains of the early 1960's are no longer in demand.
Children of the sixties who are collecting now are looking to upgrade to the good stuff Santa forgot to bring them -- or if they have operating layouts, are more interested in the current products offered by modern manufacturers such as Lionel, MTH, or Atlas.

An industrious change

In reports of past shows, I've noted the almost complete absence of Industrial Rail products. This was a line of inexpensive 0-scale rolling stock designed to fill out freight trains on operating layouts. There's never been any real collecting appeal to these practical products, and I've always had a hard time finding them at the shows.

This modest line of rolling stock may have
finally, come into its own.
But when I did, the price was always between $10-$20. This time, I found at least one Industrial Rail piece in every exhibit hall (there are seven in all). Not a lot of variety, but far more quantity then I've ever seen. And the prices ranged from $15-$20.

Why? I think because more people want inexpensive rolling stock for their operating layouts. So demand has picked up -- but I think that will continue only as long as the price remains flat.

No comments:

Post a Comment