How to Sell Your Model Trains

Getting the Most for Your Train

A father and son operating toy trains

Peter Cade Collection/Getty Images

You have many options for selling your old model trains. You will need to do research into how much you can expect for a selling price and decide where you will place it for sale. Be sure you take the steps that can increase your potential sale value.

Know What Your Trains Are Worth

Your first step is to research the model you are selling and getting an idea of what it is worth. Start by looking at the bottom of the model. Often the manufacturer will have their name cast into the car body. Compare it to other models to determine its scale.

Now you can go online to search for what these models are selling for. Other good resources are books on old trains that go into great detail about the sometimes subtle changes that can greatly alter the value of an old model. These sources can also give you information you can use for writing a description of your train for online sales.

Manage your expectations. While there are indeed some rare models which go for tens of thousands of dollars to the right buyer, these are the exception and not the rule. Model trains are made to be enjoyed—not to put in your retirement portfolio. Most model trains will not appreciate in value and it is probably best not to assume that yours will fetch more than a small amount.

Get the Most for Your Sale

Condition is everything in the used train market. Even the rarest and treasured collectible becomes far less desirable if it is in poor condition. Cleaning your models will go a long way. You don't need to replace missing or broken parts or repaint (in fact it may be better if you don't) but a little dusting will make the models shine.

Test the models as well. "It ran the last time we used it" is hardly reassuring to a buyer. You can also negotiate a better price knowing that it runs. If it runs but performs poorly, you may want to take the time to clean and lubricate it for better operation.

Selling Through Local Hobby Shop

Start with your local hobby shop. Those that sell used trains offer convenience and a potentially quick sale. Even if they don't take your trains they can probably offer more information about your train that you can use when you sell it online or at another shop.

Keep in mind that with this ease comes a cost. If they offer 50 percent percent of market value, you're doing very well. Remember, the time and space your old trains will occupy in their store has plenty of real costs. You may be able to work a slightly better deal if you are willing to take store credit instead of cash in the exchange.

Selling Online

Selling directly to the final buyer will allow you to keep more of the sales price, but it takes time and effort. You'll begin to understand why the hobby shop's cut may be worth it.

The internet offers several options:

  • General online auction sites such as eBay
  • Auction sites specializing in model trains
  • Online forums dedicated to model trains

Tips

  • Write an accurate description. Make sure your potential buyers know what you really have.
  • Include photos of the actual models being sold—not catalog art, images of similar trains or old pictures of your model that no longer accurately represents its condition.
  • Be honest. If there are paint scratches or a missing coupler, say so. If your trains have been out of the box and run, they are not in mint condition. They may be "like new" but they are not "new."
  • For older trains, the Train Collectors Association has a grading scale for the condition. Using this scale will help you and the buyer assess the condition and relative value.

If Your Train Doesn't Sell

If these options aren't turning up any sales, consider cutting your losses and selling or even donating the trains to the local thrift store or charity. If nobody online or in the hobby shops has jumped at your trains, you can sell them cheaply with confidence that you aren't holding that one-in-a-million collector's treasure.

It may take some time and work to sell your old trains. Of course, if it doesn't seem worth the effort, there is probably a local club or charity store that will be happy to take them off your hands.