model train set on track

Lionel Promotional Outfits of the Early 1930’s

e*Train Issue: Apr 2017   |   Posted in: ,

By Glenn K. Stinson, 66-1641, TCA Library CommitteeSpring 2017 

During the early 1930’s, Lionel released a series of sets that had set numbers prefixed with “PO”.  Most have assumed this referred to “Promotional Outfit” and many stories exist about the sets being given away as door prizes at movies and other special events. But a review of materials available on the internet and at the TCA Library yields no supporting documentation for any of the stories.
The depression hit Hollywood hard in the early thirties with declining revenues and attendance. Promoters devised strategies to boost attendance such as lowering admission costs (which averaged about 23 cents in 1934), introducing double features and giveaway promotions. The most popular of the promotions were Dish Night and Bank Night. While documentation exists for many movie theater door prize promotional events, research has not yet revealed any advertising or promotional materials that indicated Lionel trains as a door prize premium. But we’re still looking.

Typical movie theater door prize.

However, the story has been repeated too often and related to collectors by original owners, that there must be some credibility to the story.  In the past few years two previously undocumented PO sets have been obtained by collectors from the original owners. Both are PO 60 sets featuring the dark green 9 with matching passenger cars. Both sets came from the mid–western portion of the US and both came with the same story of the set being obtained as a door prize at a movie theater.

Another story has circulated that a PO 50 set (Orange 9U with matching passenger cars) exists where the original owner wrote information about the history of the set including dates and the name of the theater on top of the set box.  I have checked out over a dozen boxed PO 50 sets but have not found this particular example (Yet – still looking!  If you have it, please email me a photo).

Many of these sets have been documented previously in the “TCA Standard of the World.” These sets included some with unusual color combinations of locomotive and cars and some with features slightly different from the normal catalog set.  And without the set box and the “PO” end label, it can be hard to determine the authenticity of the set as a “PO”.

Several publications have made reference to these sets and dated them as 1930. Close examination of the set boxes for the PO 50 and PO 60 sets show Ives labels under the Lionel label. The reuse of Ives boxes would have occurred after Lionel’s takeover of Ives, probably 1932. Dating these sets based on individual engine and car boxes can be deceiving since many of these sets consisted of left over items that could have been made several years prior to them being sold as “PO”s. The PO 60 set referenced here has no date information on the engine or car boxes but the transformer box that came with the set from the original owners is dated 1932.

The following is a summary of PO sets that I have been able to document with photos of the PO labels:

Set PO 50 consists of an orange 9U with 428, 429, 430 passenger cars in orange.  The set was normally cataloged with an orange 9E as set 349E:

Set PO 51 consists of a pea green 318 with matching 309, 310 and 312 passenger cars. The 310 baggage has dark green baggage doors:

Set PO 60 consists of a dark green 9 with 428, 429,  430 cars in dark green. The cars are mixed window trim with the baggage and observation car having maroon window trim and the coach having orange window trim. Notice the Ives label under the Lionel label:

Set PO 89 consists of a brown 318E with two-tone brown 309, 310, 312 passenger cars:

Set PO 91 consists of a dark green 9 with mojave  418, 419, 490 passenger cars:

Set PO 92 consists of an orange 9E with mojave 418, 419, 490 passenger cars:

Set PO 99 consists of a gray 10E on a green frame with gray 332, 339, 341 passenger cars:

PO 103 consists of an olive green 254 with mojave 610, 610, 612 cars:

PO 104 consists of a gray 251 with matching 605, 605, 606 cars with green clerestory stripe:

PO 106 consists of a green 254E decorated with red hatches and stripe plus matching 610, 610, 612 passenger cars:

Several other PO sets have been reported but, so far, I have not personally been able to verify the set with a photo of the label. If you have any of the following sets, or if you have any other PO sets to add to the inventory, please email me a photo of the label.

  • PO 90 consists of a mojave 380 with apple green 418, 419, 490 passenger cars.
  • PO 94 consists of a black 384E plus a 384T tender with mojave 309, 310, 312 cars.
  • PO 150 empty box reported. No information available on contents.

Without the help of numerous friends and fellow collectors, my knowledge of this unique field of prewar Lionel trains would be extremely limited. So, many thanks to Joe Palermo, Karl Franz, Dr. Bob Isett, Doug Prenderville,  Ron Morris, Jan Athey and Dave McEntarfer and every other collector whom I pestered seeking information about PO sets.

Please, if you have any additional information about PO sets, please email me at [email protected].