model train set on track

Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains 1945-1969, Second Edition

e*Train Issue: Apr 2007   |   Posted in:

by David Doyle
(2006: Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin; $32.99)

Reviewed by Dr. Joseph Lechner

When David Doyle’s Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains 1945-1969 originally appeared in fall 2004, it quickly became the most-discussed and most-admired book among participants on the TCA-sponsored Toy Trains Mailing List.  At 400 8-1/2″ x 11″ pages, it was the largest and most comprehensive single volume dedicated exclusively to postwar Lionel trains.  The first edition went through at least two printings and could well be the best-selling toy train book of the 21st century.

The best just got even better.

As he did previously, in his new edition David lists virtually every locomotive, car, transformer, accessory, outfit, and catalog issued by The Lionel Corporation between 1945 and 1969.  Each entry includes a textual description, estimated values for the item in VG, EX, and LN condition, and its approximate rarity on an arbitrary scale from 1 to 8, where 1 is the most common and 8 is the rarest.  Almost every item (except cataloged sets) is illustrated with a color photograph.

The most notable improvement in this second edition is in the quality of illustrations.  Doyle’s original edition was already highly-regarded for its color photography; but the new edition has more, better, and in some cases larger, pictures than before.  A majority of the photos appear to have been re-shot for this edition.  They are better-composed and better-lit than ever.

Side-by-side comparison of the same section (electric locomotives) from both editions reveals the surprising extent of the changes.  All of the full-page chapter-opening shots are new.  Doyle’s section on electric locomotives begins with a stunning three-quarter view of an immaculate #2329 Virginian rectifier.  There are new and improved pictures of the humble #520 boxcab from 1956, including the scarcer version with a copper-colored pantograph.  Several new photographs depict the many variations in striping and keystones on Lionel’s GG-1, including five versions of #2332 and six variants of #2360.

The section on small motorized units has been substantially upgraded, including both versions of the #53 Rio Grande snowplow with its backwards or forwards “a” (on #53 right was wrong; and wrong was right), and large clear photos of #55, #56, #57, #59, #65 and two colors of #68.

One very welcome improvement is that many rolling stock, especially locomotives, are now shown in the three-quarter “wedge” pose that has long been favored by photographers of prototype trains.  Diesel locomotives in particular have elaborate nose decals that are not only visually interesting, but their condition significantly affects a model’s value.  Side-elevation views, which have too long been the norm in toy train guides, show none of this detail.  In many cases, a “wedge” pose also permits a larger image of the item to be shown.  David often poses multiple-unit diesels in parallel rather than coupled together, which also yields a larger image.  A side-elevation view of an F3 lashup simply isn’t very impressive when the photo is shrunk to column width and the engine is reduced to half-Z scale.

David is also to be commended for re-photographing many Lionel items with their correct packaging.  The value of a collector-grade train is significantly affected by the presence and condition of its original box.  Many a postwar box was torn by the eager recipient who opened it on Christmas morning, or else it rotted away in a dank basement.  As a result, clean original boxes are in great demand by today’s collectors.  Some people gladly pay $1000 or more for an empty cardboard carton; unfortunately, forgeries have been foisted on unsuspecting buyers.  Clear photos of authentic train boxes are a definite plus.

Not only does this second edition have better photos; it also has more photos, especially of items that came in collectible variations of color and graphics.  Important examples include the so-called “Madison” cars, whose road numbers, type face, word placement and window treatment all changed significantly during their five-year production run.  The first edition of Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains had six photos of 2625-series cars; the new edition has eleven.

Steam locomotives have often received short shrift in price guides.  All too often, a guidebook will state that a #2025 Prairie came with a #6466WX tender, and none but the experts know what a #6466WX looked like.  For this edition, Doyle has added a seven-page guide that includes 27 large, clear photos of the various tenders that came with postwar steamers.

Thank you, David, for including photos of mundane items that are too often relegated to the shadows while scale Hudsons and high-dollar F3s get the spotlight.  Super “O” was Lionel’s top-of-the-line track from 1957 to 1966, but many of today’s enthusiasts have never seen it first-hand.  Doyle’s second edition has pictures of virtually every Super “O” component, as well as non-glamorous electrical items such as the #90 pushbutton.

How was it possible to include more and larger photographs while keeping the book’s 8-1/2 x 11” page size and 400-page length the same as its first edition?  Gone are many of the full-page reproductions of postwar catalog illustrations that graced Doyle’s original book.  They were fun, but the improved photo coverage more than offsets their loss.  Catalogs are interesting to look at, but their artwork didn’t always match what Lionel really manufactured, so in a collector guide like this one, photos of actual trains are more helpful anyway.

Monetary values in this guide are based on the author’s nearly thirty years of experience as a train collector, TCA member and hobby shop owner.  David has reviewed the latest train prices, and revised them where appropriate for this new edition.  He has observed two trends in recent years:  (1) values have risen for choice items in Like New or better condition; and (2) prices have remained steady or even declined for items in Very Good or lesser condition.  The red, white and black New Haven AA ALCO from 1958, one of Lionel’s scarcest and most desirable 027 diesels, illustrates these trends.  David reported a value of $1000 for a Like New #209 in 2004; the same item fetches $1200 today.  But in very good condition, #209 was worth $400 in 2004 and is worth the same amount today.  The implications are clear: collectors are still willing to pay top dollar for original postwar items in pristine condition; however, operators are no longer willing to pay “collectible” prices for scuffed-up pieces when similar brand-new modern-production items are available for less.  Lionel Collectors Club of America recently announced a Lionel reissue of the coveted #1608W Merchant’s Limited set from 1958 that included #209 with four 2430-series passenger cars.  At $470, it is a steal compared with a postwar original that commands up to $2700 in Like New condition, according to Doyle.

At $32.95, Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains is still a phenomenal bargain.  You would need to buy four volumes of Greenberg’s Guide to Lionel Trains to find all the information in this one book.

Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains 1945-1969 remains the book of choice for someone who has discovered postwar Lionel trains in their attic and is wondering what to do with them.  Even a non-hobbyist should be able to identify a train and estimate its value using this guide.  Better yet, David has devoted two final chapters for that most fortunate person who possesses old trains and has decided to keep them.  He shows how to clean up toy trains, and how to operate them.