Collector's Corner: Greenberg's Train and Toy Show
By Charles Conley
I am writing this after coming home from the Greenberg Train Show in Wilmington, Massachusetts. The show was well attended. Even more impressive, the attendees included a good mixture of all ages, including lots of kids. After the initial surge, people were leaving the fairly large Shriner's Hall with bags full of things they had purchased: train sets, engines, cars, accessories, etc. I talked with several dealers at the show, and all seemed to be satisfied with their results. At least three of the people I spoke with felt that their sales were better than last year, although they felt that people tended to buy less expensive items this year.
As in the past, the Lego Club layout was a huge success. I don't know how much time it takes to build the skyscrapers, city scenes, trains, and operating circus scenes, but they must take a lot of work. While ordinary Lego parts were plentiful in this display, many of the parts were not from our local Wal-Marts. The buildings, trains, and much of what can be seen in this display are made with parts that are probably available online and to Lego club members. The photos are from the 2007 train show, which was quite similar.
The six or seven large, operating layouts, in several different gauges, were also a big hit. I particularly liked one that was displayed by a "Kids Only Club." For the benefit of anyone who has not been to one of these shows, these large operating layouts are made by clubs where each member, or perhaps family, builds one section that could fit in the back of an SUV. The club agrees on design specifications regarding how the sections fit together. Then at a train show, for example, all of the sections are assembled together to form one large rectangular layout, probably according to the amount of space that's available at the show.
From what I could see, people were buying mostly new items from dealers at the show. There seems to be less interest in older toy trains, some of which might have been considered collectible a few years ago.
Why? My theory is that the toy/model train hobby offers unique opportunities for people, especially younger folks, to learn and experiment with a wide range of technologies compared to other equivalent indoor hobbies. Many of today's trains are operated by remote control. Train sounds are clever and vastly improved. Many operating accessories are available now in enormous variety, and prices, for the most part, are quite reasonable. It is not unusual to see a train with forty or more cars being pulled by two or more engines working in tandem, in part because today's engines appear to have more pulling power and also because many of the newer cars are lighter than older train cars. In short, people seem to favor operating the newer trains rather than collecting older ones. This has been causing the value of older trains to decline.
I left with the feeling that the toy train hobby is thriving. But for people with an old set of Lionel or American Flyer trains - if you have had trouble selling them on the eBay in the past, it probably won't be any better now.
There still seems to be a good market for toy trains that are truly rare, but I think even that market is showing signs of weakness. I saw prices on older trains that varied widely from price guide amounts, so my advice to anyone buying these: Be careful. Still, if we are in midst of the worst financial crises in many years, one would question that after attending this show.
About the author:
Chuck Conley, a member of the Train Collectors Association, is Digital Equipment early retiree. He has had an interest in Lionel trains since he got his first set at the age of 10. Put on the "back burner" for many years, his hobby was rekindled about ten years ago when he and his wife Esther began attending auctions in the MetroWest Boston area and sometimes found very desirable trains. Although he admits that some of the new trains are impressive, he still favors the postwar variety, including his first Lionel. Chuck and Esther live in Framingham, Massachusetts, and often work together putting things on eBay (not just trains). Their eBay ID is "nepacer". Feel free to write him at nepacer @ aol.com.
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